Poor crash-test performance costs the Nissan Quest its Consumer Reports’ recommendation

Minivans struggle in latest IIHS small-overlap front crash test

Published: November 20, 2014 12:01 AM
The Nissan Quest in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's small-overlap test.

Nissan Quest

Consumer Reports has suspended its recommendation of the otherwise high-scoring Nissan Quest minivan because it performed very poorly in a small overlap front crash test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

An IIHS press release stated that the Quest driver’s compartment collapsed so completely that both of the crash-test dummy’s legs were trapped. In fact, to extract the dummy, IIHS technicians “had to cut the entire seat out and then use a crowbar to free the right foot.” The IIHS's Chief Research Officer, David Zuby, is quoted as saying, “A real person experiencing this would be lucky to ever walk normally again.”

The Quest was one of three minivan models tested in the latest round of the IIHS’s tough “small overlap” crash test. The others were the Chrysler Town & Country and its clone, the Dodge Grand Caravan, both of which also scored poor; and the Toyota Sienna.

Chrysler Town & Country

The Sienna racked up an “Acceptable” score, which, while not impressive, was enough to retain Consumer Reports’ recommendation. The Chrysler minivans were already not recommended, but for other reasons. The Honda Odyssey, tested earlier, is the only minivan to score a Good here and also retains Consumer Reports’ recommendation.  

The small overlap test replicates what happens when just a front corner of the vehicle strikes a pole, tree, or another vehicle straight on. Inaugurated in 2012, this 40-mpg rigid-barrier crash is especially challenging because the crash forces are concentrated in a small area and bypass most of a vehicle’s energy-absorbing structures. In the IIHS’s other frontal crash test, which engages nearly half the vehicle’s front end, most vehicles have done very well in recent years.

The latest small-overlap scores apply to the 2008-2015 Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan, 2014-2015 Honda Odyssey, 2011-2015 Nissan Quest, and 2015 Toyota Sienna.

Consumer Reports only recommends a vehicle when it does well in our road tests, demonstrates at least average reliability, and preforms at least acceptably in government and IIHS safety tests.

The poor crash showings for the Quest and the Chrysler minivans are a little hard to fathom because automakers have known this test was coming since at least 2010, when the IIHS announced plans to include it with its suite of other crash tests.

At least two automakers, Honda and Toyota, have made improvements to address performance in this challenging test. Notably, Toyota scrambled to reinforce the 2014 Camry after poor IIHS results in the fall of 2013. Consumer Reports withdrew its recommendation for the car in October 2013, but reinstated it in December after Toyota made upgrades and the IIHS had retested it.

Although late in their model cycles, we hope Chrysler and Nissan can make running improvements to increase their crash test performance. Until then, we think shoppers can find great minivans with proven safety records elsewhere.

Gordon Hard

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