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Consumer Reports withdraws its recommendations for Honda Pilot, Kia Sorento, and Mazda CX-9

Poor performance in new crash test knocks 3 midsized SUVs off list

Published: April 08, 2014 12:01 AM

Honda Pilot
Photo: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The Honda Pilot, Kia Sorento, and Mazda CX-9 were each rated Poor in the latest small overlap front crash test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Due to their low ratings in this test, those three models are no longer recommended by Consumer Reports. Six other midsized SUVs passed this test.

The Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain each scored a Good, earning them an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ accolade. However, both SUVs score too low in Consumer Reports’ road tests for us to recommend.

The redesigned Toyota Highlander earned an Acceptable overall score, with Good marks for injury protection. We just completed our road test of the new Highlander, and this impressive three-row SUV is recommended.

Three other vehicles—Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Toyota 4Runner—scored Marginal in this tough test. Still, these models fall short of meeting our criteria for recommendation—the Explorer and 4Runner scored too low in our tests, and the Grand Cherokee has below-average reliability.

Chevrolet Equinox
Photo: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The small overlap test replicates a scenario that occurs in a quarter of frontal collisions involving serious or fatal injury to front-seat occupants, even in vehicles with otherwise good crash protection. Although it was introduced about two years ago, this test continues to be a challenge for some automakers, particularly with older models engineered before the test criteria was known. This test requires a different engineering strategy to protect occupants from the force being concentrated on a smaller section of the car’s front—just 25 percent compared to the 40 percent for the traditional IIHS front crash test—than other tests. While both IIHS front crash tests are conducted at 40 mph, the familiar moderate offset test sees the vehicle careen into a deformable barrier and the small-overlap test uses a fixed, hard barrier. Striking the solid object with just 25 percent of the front area concentrates crash forces on the vehicle’s outer edges, which aren’t well protected by the traditional crush zones. (Learn more about safety in "Crash Test 101.")

In the latest test group, the Honda Pilot was judged to be the worst performer. IIHS notes that the driver’s space was seriously compromised by intruding structure, and the parking brake pedal moved more than 16 inches. Further, the crash-test dummy’s head barely contacted the front air bag, as the steering wheel was shoved several inches inboard.

Mazda CX-9
Photo: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Five of the models were found deficient in structural protection. IIHS points to the CX-9 as an example, seeing its hinge pillar pushed in 17 inches. In better performing models, the sheetmetal compression force is better isolated in front of the passenger compartment.

These findings show that the Pilot, Sorento, and CX-9 are behind models that are state-of-the-art in crash protection. That is not to say these vehicles are any less safe than they were previously, just that the latest data shows that they don’t rival the best competition by this measure. As used vehicles, all three are decent choices and compare well against their peers in prior years.

Jeff Bartlett

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