A tougher new side-impact crash test is being phased into the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) comprehensive evaluation suite starting with 2020 and 2021 model year cars, and early results from testing don't bode well for the current crop of small SUVs.
The test is performed by striking a stationary vehicle with a moving barrier. Previously, the test utilized a barrier weighing approximately 3,300 pounds moving at 31 mph. The updated barrier weighs 4,180 pounds and moves at 37 mph. IIHS says this more accurately represents typical real-world scenarios — that is, getting T-boned by a two-ton SUV rather than a car. Bear in mind that both the speed and mass of the barrier contribute to the total energy of the collision. Neither increase may appear dramatic on paper, but they combine to produce 82% more energy than the method.
The structure of the test barrier was also changed based results from IIHS performing the test using two real vehicles, rather than the barrier. The Institute's researchers found that while the test could fairly accurately measure certain types of cabin deformation from side impacts, the cars being struck didn't always behave the same way in the lab that they would in the real world. The updated, honeycombed barrier transmits impact energy more accurately than its predecessor could.
Of the 20 models of small SUVs that earned a "Good" rating on the outgoing test, only the 2021 Mazda CX-5 (shown in the above video) managed to do the same under the new protocol. The Audi Q3, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Toyota Venza and Volvo XC40 all received "Acceptable" ratings. Eight others — the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Compass, Jeep Renegade, Kia Sportage and Lincoln Corsair — earned "Marginal" ratings, IIHS said.
The Honda HR-V and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross received a "Poor." 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. And with the exception of the Jeep Compass and Hyundai Tucson, these ratings are applicable to their respective 2022 models, IIHS said.
“Obviously, these results aren’t great, but they’re in line with what we expected when we adopted this more stringent test,” says IIHS Senior Research Engineer Becky Mueller, who ran point on the research that prompted the new test.
The new test results won't count against existing IIHS ratings or awards, but they will be published alongside the current ones through 2022. After that, IIHS will use the new side-impact test by default.