Only one of 20 small SUVs — the 2021 Mazda CX-5 — scored a good rating after undergoing a new, tougher side crash test developed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Nine SUVs earned acceptable ratings, eight garnered marginal ratings, and two got poor ratings.
IIHS introduced the rigorous test to help evaluate vehicles for their safety in higher speed collisions that continue to cause fatalities. While the results are somewhat underwhelming, the IIHS says they are in line with what engineers expected when they rolled out the more stringent test.
The fact is, side stability and strength matter because it is already saving lives. A 2011 study of 10 years' worth of crash data found that a driver of a vehicle with a good side rating is 70% less likely to die in a left-side crash than a driver of a vehicle with a poor rating. However, side impacts still accounted for 23% of passenger vehicle occupant deaths in 2019.
To address those collisions, IIHS engineers developed this new side crash test, which uses a heavier barrier traveling at a higher speed to simulate the striking vehicle. The new barrier weighs 4,180 pounds — close to the weight of today’s midsize SUVs — and strikes the test vehicle at 37 MPH, compared with a 3,300-pound barrier traveling at 31 MPH in the original evaluation.
Together, those two changes mean the collision or impact involves 82% more energy.
The nine SUVs that received acceptable ratings include the Audi Q3, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Toyota Venza, and Volvo XC40.
Why each one fell short of a good rating was due to a plethora of reasons. For example, the Encore sustained a marginal driver chest injury, the Rogue is equipped with inadequate head-protecting airbags, and there were heightened injury measures for the driver’s pelvis for the RAV4.
Meanwhile, the vehicles that earned marginal or poor overall ratings in the new test generally struggled with both structural issues and high chest and pelvis injury measurements from both crash dummies.
The eight SUVs that were rated marginal include the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Compass, Jeep Renegade, Kia Sportage, and Lincoln Corsair. Finally, the Honda HR-V and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross received poor ratings.
All but one of the tested vehicles was a 2021 model. Mitsubishi skipped the 2021 model year for the Eclipse Cross, so the 2020 model was tested. The IIHS also notes that with the exception of the Compass and the Tucson, the ratings carry over to 2022 models.