Beware When Buying Small SUVs: Many Are Performing Poorly in Certain U.S. Frontal Crash Tests

When you buy a new or used vehicle for your family, you likely shop for good fuel mileage, roominess and perhaps most importantly – safety and crashworthiness.

The problem, though, is that your expectations may not meet the real-world safety and crash-worthiness of some of the vehicles out there, especially if you are shopping for a small SUV.

In new tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), only two widely-available small SUV models earned ratings of “good” or “acceptable” out of a field of 13 small SUVs that were run through certain frontal crashes called “small overlap” crashes.

Just how important is this? It’s huge, because your family’s safety is at stake.

In the IIHS tests, which were announced May 16, only the 2014 Subaru Forester earned an overall rating of “good” for protecting its passengers in a small overlap frontal crash amid a field of 13 vehicles, according to the group. The 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport earned an “acceptable” rating in the small overlap test, which gave it the runner-up spot in the safety tests.

For the other 11 competitors, frontal crash protection in a small overlap crash was a weak spot, earning each of the finalists a “poor” or “marginal” rating.

“With the redesigned Forester, Subaru’s engineers set out to do well in our new test, and they succeeded,” Joe Nolan, the Institute’s vice president for vehicle research, said in a statement. “This is exactly how we hoped manufacturers would respond to improve protection for people in these kinds of serious frontal crashes.”

The small overlap test was added to the IIHS safety evaluations last year to replicate what happens when the front corner of a vehicle strikes another vehicle or an object like a tree or a utility pole, according to the agency. “In the test, 25 percent of a vehicle’s front end on the driver side strikes a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier at 40 mph,” with a crash test dummy strapped into the driver’s seat.

The problem is that vehicles that test well in other frontal and side crash tests don’t necessarily do well in the small overlap crash tests, according to the IIHS. “In a 2009 IIHS study of vehicles with good ratings for frontal crash protection, small overlap crashes accounted for nearly a quarter of the frontal crashes involving serious or fatal injury to front seat occupants.”

When a vehicle is involved in a crash with a 25 percent overlap, the damage typically “misses the primary structures designed to manage crash energy,” which means that passengers aren’t protected, according to the group. “That increases the risk of severe damage to or collapse of the occupant compartment structure. Also, vehicles tend to rotate and slide sideways during this type of collision, and that can move the driver’s head outboard, away from the protection of the frontal airbag.”

While the small SUVs in the tests did well in other crash tests for side, rear, moderate overlap frontal and rollover impacts, the test results for small overlap crashes were disappointing, according to the agency.

The 2013 small SUVs that received “marginal” ratings for frontal crashes are the BMW X1, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, Volkswagen Tiguan, Nissan Rogue and the Jeep Wrangler  2-door, according to the IIHS results.

The 2013 small SUVs that received “poor” ratings for frontal crash protection are the Buick Encore, Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Patriot and the Kia Sportage.

“In one example of poor structure, the front pillar of the Nissan Rogue’s door frame was pushed far inside the occupant compartment and after the crash was almost touching the driver seat,” the report said. “The Jeep Patriot was among the worst for restraints and kinematics. The dummy’s head slid off the frontal airbag as the steering wheel moved 8 inches up and nearly 6 inches to the right. The side curtain airbag didn’t deploy, and the safety belt allowed the dummy’s head and torso to move too far forward.”

Despite the low marks in the small overlap crash tests, 11 of the 13 small SUV that were run through the test were still given the IIHS’ Top Safety Pick+ honors because of good performance in the other moderate overlap front, side, rollover and rear tests. To qualify, a vehicle must earn good ratings in 4 of the 5 tests and no less than acceptable in the fifth, according to the IIHS.

For prospective SUV buyers, these results should at least be considered when making purchasing decisions.

“Small SUVs have become an increasingly popular choice for families, with sales of all SUVs and sport wagons rising 13.6 percent this year through April,” based on statistics from auto researcher Autodata Corp., according to a recent story from Bloomberg News. “Total vehicle sales were up 11.3 percent for that period.”

The new small overlap crash test was introduced by the IIHS “because that type of accident accounts for almost one-fourth of frontal crashes that seriously injure or kill people in front seats,” according to Bloomberg. “Last year was the first year since 2005 when deaths on U.S. roads increased, rising 5.3 percent to 34,080, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.”

Vehicle safety is a critical factor to consider today when buying any new or used vehicle for your family. In fact, by considering vehicle safety and crashworthiness BEFORE a crash in a real-life situation on our nation’s roads, we can work to prevent more serious injuries from happening in the first place.

In the meantime, we here at MyPhillyLawyer want to make sure that you have all the information you need when considering a vehicle purchase. And of course, we stand ready to assist you with your legal case if you or a loved one is ever seriously injured in a vehicle accident anywhere in the United States. We represent the families of victims who die in such tragedies as well, to ensure that their families receive every penny of damages that they are eligible to receive.

Call MyPhillyLawyer at 215-227-2727 or toll-free at 1-866-920-0352 anytime and our experienced, compassionate, aggressive team of attorneys and support staff will be there for you and your family every step of the way as we manage your case through the legal system.

When Winning Matters Most, Call MyPhillyLawyer.