<p><strong><em>In the small overlap front crash test, the driver's space was maintained reasonably well, and risk of injuries to the dummy's legs and feet was low, IIHS said. Photo courtesy of IIHS.</em></strong></p>

VIDEO: The Buick Encore's IIHS Small Overlap Front Test

After undergoing structural improvements, this year's Buick Encore has earned the Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The Chevrolet Trax, the lower-priced twin of the Encore, also qualified for the honor, IIHS said.

The Encore's award follows improvements to the SUV's structure for better small overlap front protection. The 2015 model drew a “good” rating – the highest score – in the small overlap test. In contrast, the 2013-14 Encore rated “poor” in the test.

Back then, the driver's space was seriously compromised with intrusion measuring as much as 13 inches at the lower door hinge pillar, IIHS said. The dummy's head barely contacted the front airbag before sliding off the left side, as the steering column moved to the right. The side curtain airbag deployed too late and didn't have sufficient forward coverage to protect the head.

But the latest test had an entirely different result.

Photo of the Encore's small overlap front test courtesy of IIHS.

Photo of the Encore's small overlap front test courtesy of IIHS.

In the recent evaluation, the driver space was maintained reasonably well, with maximum intrusion of 6 inches at the door hinge pillar and instrument panel, IIHS said. Also, the dummy's movement was well controlled. The head hit the front air bag and remained there until rebound.

“The side curtain air bag deployed on time and had sufficient forward coverage,” IIHS said. “Measures taken from the dummy indicated a low risk of injuries in a crash of this severity.”

The small overlap test replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or a utility pole. To qualify for a Top Safety Pick award, a vehicle must earn a “good” or “acceptable” rating for small overlap protection and a “good” rating in the institute's moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests. The Encore's ratings in the latter four evaluations carry over from 2014.

The Encore drew a “basic” rating for front crash prevention when equipped with optional forward collision warning. No front crash prevention system is available on the Trax.

To view video footage of the small overlap test, click on the photo or link under the headline.