The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety never rests, always thinking up new ways to expose flaws in contemporary passenger vehicles. Lately, the IIHS has begun applying the dreaded small overlap front crash test to the passenger side of new models. There’s a seat on that side for a reason, and it’s not inconceivable that a roadside utility pole or obstruction could take out that corner of the vehicle.
The latest IIHS test put popular midsize crossovers through their paces, exposing serious safety concerns in two models.
Of the eight midsizers tested, six earned a “good” or “acceptable” rating in the passenger-side small overlap crash. Two rated a “poor” based on the performance of the body structure, passenger restraints, and the likelihood of injuries.
The good utility vehicles include the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas and GMC Acadia, as well as the 2019 Kia Sorento. Top marks all around, though the Acadia gets dinged in the passenger restraint category. During the test, the dummy’s head slid off the side of the airbag, exposing it to potential injury. Otherwise, the vehicle held together as designed.
The acceptable category includes the 2018 Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, and Nissan Pathfinder, though the vehicles arrived at their final score in different ways. The Pilot’s structure didn’t deforn in a serious manner, but its passenger restraints scored a second-from-bottom “marginal” after the dummy’s head slid off the airbag and hit the dashboard. The Pathfinder and Highlander reversed this result, scoring “good” for passenger restraints but only marginal for body integrity.
No vehicles involved in the test scored “marginal” as an overall rating, which makes the performance of the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee all the more glaring. Both models appeared for the 2011 model year, making them the oldest in the test. And both limped away with a “poor” rating.
According to the IIHS, the Explorer’s structure “was seriously compromised.”
“Intrusion reached 15 inches at the lower door hinge pillar and 13 inches at the upper door hinge pillar and the dashboard,” the organization stated. “The door sill was pushed in 6 inches toward the dummy. Measures taken from the dummy showed a high likelihood of injuries to the right hip in a real-world crash of the same severity, as well as a possibility of left lower leg injuries.”
This result is similar to the model’s driver-side small overlap test. Of the eight vehicles, the Explorer was the only vehicle to garner a “poor” rating for structural integrity, and the low score for hip and thigh injuries pushed its overall score to the lowest rung.
While the Grand Cherokee rates a “marginal” for structural integrity, poor passenger restraint performance and the likelihood of lower extremity injuries placed it in the same overall category as the Explorer. The organization said the Grand Cherokee saw a “maximum intrusion of 10 inches at the lower door hinge pillar.”
“More alarming was what happened to the passenger dummy’s head,” the IIHS report stated. “It hit the dashboard hard through the front airbag and then, because the side curtain airbag didn’t deploy and the door opened, it moved outside the vehicle during rebound. Measures from the dummy indicated that right leg injuries would be likely in a crash of this severity and a head injury would be possible.”
It’s a black eye for two strong-selling models, but because of their age, these results likely won’t stand for long. Both the Explorer and Grand Cherokee stand to see a full redesign for the 2020 model year, with the vehicles hitting dealers sometime in 2019.