Midsized SUVs Do Well in Tougher IIHS Side Impact Testing

More than half of the models tested received a Good rating

IIHS midsized SUV side crash test Volkswagen ID.4
A Volkswagen ID.4 undergoing side impact testing by IIHS.
Photo: IIHS

When the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) beefed up its side impact crash testing last year, most small SUVS fared poorly, with only one vehicle getting the organization’s top Good rating. These vehicles were already on the market and manufacturers had not adjusted the vehicle design to meet the new test standards, further amplifying the importance of regularly updating crash test standards. Now, several months later, IIHS reports that more than half of the midsized SUVs it tested recently using the new, more rigorous side impact test scored well.

“It’s encouraging to see so many midsized SUVs from different automakers earn Good ratings in this more challenging evaluation,” says Becky Mueller, IIHS’s senior research engineer. “These results will help confirm the adjustments they need to make to other vehicles going forward.”

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The new test, which IIHS began using last year, uses a faster, heavier barrier, which plays the role of a theoretical striking vehicle that better represents the vehicles and speeds most motorists are likely to encounter on U.S. roads. The weight of the simulated striking vehicle was increased to 4,200 pounds from 3,300 pounds, and the speed was increased to 37 mph from 31 mph. IIHS says the new simulated side impact crash generates 82 percent more energy than the former test.

In order to receive a Good rating in either the old or the new side impact testing, a vehicle’s basic interior structure needs to hold up well, and the two crash test dummies—which are designed to simulate a small woman or 12-year old child, and are placed in the driver’s seat and the rear seat directly behind the driver—indicate a low likelihood for severe or fatal injuries.

IIHS side crash test Hyundai Palisade
A Hyundai Palisade after the updated IIHS side impact testing.

Photo: IIHS Photo: IIHS

“We hope manufacturers will adapt vehicle design to these changes as quickly as possible,” says Jake Fisher, senior director of Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center. “These tests are based on research that indicates these are the types of crashes American motorists are most likely to be involved in. And with the number of road fatalities going up year after year, everyone deserves a better chance to walk away from a crash.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration just released projections for road fatalities in 2021 and the news is grim: The government agency forecasts that there was a 10.5 percent increase to 42,915 fatalities in 2021 from 38,824 fatalities in 2020. That is the highest number of projected fatalities since 2005.

IIHS ratings, from best to worst, are as follows: Good, Acceptable, Marginal, and Poor. Results of the new IIHS side impact testing are shown below, ranked by performance.

Good rating: Ford Explorer; Infiniti QX60; Lincoln Aviator; Mazda CX-9; Nissan Pathfinder; Subaru Ascent; Toyota Highlander (shown below); Volkswagen Atlas; Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport; Volkswagen ID.4 (shown at top)

Acceptable rating: Buick Enclave; Chevrolet Traverse

Marginal rating: Honda Passport; Honda Pilot; Hyundai Palisade (shown above); Jeep Wrangler 4-door; Kia Telluride; Nissan Murano

IIHS midsized SUV side crash test Toyota Highlander
A Toyota Highlander after the updated IIHS side impact testing.

Photo: IIHS Photo: IIHS


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Benjamin Preston

My reporting has taken me everywhere from Baghdad, Iraq, to the Detroit auto show, along the U.S.-Mexico border and everywhere in between. If my travels have taught me anything, it's that stuff—consumer products—is at the center of daily life all over the world. That's why I'm so jazzed to be shining light on what works, what doesn't, and how people can enrich their lives by being smarter consumers. When I'm not reporting, I can usually be found at home with my family, at the beach surfing, or in my driveway, wrenching on my hot rod '74 Olds sedan.