2 Small SUVs Earn Poor Score in Tough New IIHS Side Crash Test

    Only the Mazda CX-5 gets a top Good score in the new evaluation, while two compact SUVs get the lowest Poor rating

    Mazda CX-5 side crash test by IIHS
    Mazda CX-5
    Photo: IIHS

    A new, tougher side crash test from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that there’s a lot of room for improvement when it comes to side-impact safety. In the first round of 20 small SUVs that were tested, only one vehicle, the Mazda CX-5, got a top Good rating, while two models, the Honda HR-V and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, earned the lowest score of Poor.

    Unlike prior side-impact tests, this updated evaluation is designed to find out how vehicles fare if they’re struck from the side by a heavier, midsized SUV at a higher speed. Most of the vehicles tested received middling ratings. Other vehicle sizes and types have yet to be evaluated.

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    Automakers have been aware that the test was due to change since 2018, IIHS spokesman Joe Young tells CR. “Given the range of performance, it seems that some automakers did plan ahead with vehicle improvements while others need some time to catch up,” Young says. The official protocols were not published until 2020, and the majority of the vehicles tested were launched prior to that date.

    By 2023, all vehicles will need a Good score on the new test in order to earn a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ award from the IIHS. Until then, a vehicle that performed well in prior side-impact crash tests may still retain the IIHS’ Top Safety Pick designation, but consumers can use this new information to inform their purchasing decisions. 

    “When more car segments are evaluated with this new crash test, we will look to incorporate the findings in our Overall Score,” says Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at CR. 

    The original side-impact crash test was introduced in 2003 and featured a 3,300-pound barrier that struck the side of a test vehicle at 31 mph.

    The new test uses a 4,180-pound barrier that strikes the test vehicle at 37 mph—a change that reflects the larger vehicles and higher speeds that are common on modern American roadways. In addition, the barrier’s surface is designed to better simulate an impact with another vehicle. According to Young, the moving barrier “represents a modern SUV or pickup, but it actually has a lower profile to reflect the more carlike designs that SUVs have taken on in recent years.”

    The Audi Q3, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Toyota Venza, and Volvo XC40 each earned an Acceptable rating, the second-highest of the IIHS’ four ratings. 

    The Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Compass, Jeep Renegade, Kia Sportage, and Lincoln Corsair each earned a Marginal rating, the second-lowest possible rating. 

    All tested vehicles were 2021 models, except for the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross. Mitsubishi skipped the 2021 model year for this vehicle, so the IIHS tested a 2020 model.

    A Honda spokesperson responded to CR with a written response that read, in part, "While all current Honda and Acura models meet or exceed U.S. government standards for side impact performance and, if tested, score Good ratings in the IIHS 2021 side impact test, we will endeavor to meet or exceed future requirements including IIHS’ new, rigorous side impact testing."

    A Mitsubishi spokesman wrote to CR after publication, stating, “Mitsubishi Motors is committed to building vehicles that meet or exceed all required safety standards, because our customers’ safety is our highest priority. The Eclipse Cross has been a strong performer in all IIHS crash testing to date, with scores of Good in all crashworthiness areas. Under IIHS’ newest standard—a standard announced years after the Eclipse Cross was developed—the vehicle was rated a Poor in the Institute’s latest news release. This does not change the vehicle’s performance in any real-world crash, nor Mitsubishi Motors’ commitment to safety.”

    Mazda CX-5 side crash test by IIHS
    Mazda CX-5

    Photo: IIHS Photo: IIHS

    All 20 of these vehicles earned a Good score under the prior side crash test protocol. Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at CR’s auto test center, says it’s clear that the test needed an update. “Once vehicle designs are improved to a point where the majority of them are performing well, it suggests that the test could be changed to address the next areas where designs can be improved to protect occupants even further,” she says. 

    According to the IIHS, the prior crash test led to big improvements in safety: A 2011 study of 10 years’ worth of crash data showed that a driver of a vehicle with a Good side rating is 70 percent less likely to die in a left-side crash than a driver of a vehicle with a Poor rating. However, there’s still work to be done: The IIHS estimates that side impacts still accounted for 23 percent of passenger vehicle occupant deaths in 2019.

    In general, those vehicles that scored poorly tended to have weak overall structures, according to the IIHS. For example, the crash caused the HR-V’s B-pillar—the roof pillar behind the driver’s head—to partially tear away from the frame of the vehicle, which led the side of the vehicle to crush inward almost to the center of the driver seat.

    “The updated test appears to be challenging vehicles in new ways that better replicate real-world crashes,” Stockburger says.

    Honda HR-V side crash test by IIHS
    Honda HR-V

    Photo: IIHS Photo: IIHS

    Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to add a comment from Honda and Mitsubishi.

    Keith Barry

    Despite my love for quirky, old European sedans like the Renault Medallion, it's my passion to help others find a safe, reliable car that still puts a smile on their face—even if they're stuck in traffic. When I'm not behind the wheel or the keyboard, you can find me exploring a new city on foot or planning my next trip.