New IIHS Side-Impact Crash Test Shows Troubling Sedan, Wagon Results

·3 min read
Photo credit: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Photo credit: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
  • The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) continues to roll out its new side-impact crash testing, releasing video and other information this week about seven sedans and wagons that IIHS recently tested.

  • The short version: It may be time to rethink how smaller vehicles are built in an era of extra-large trucks and SUVs with their higher ride heights.

  • Only the 2022 Subaru Outback (pictured above) was given the top score of Good, while the Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry were all rated Poor in the new test. Subaru's four-door sedan, the Legacy, was not included in this batch of testing.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has again revised its side-impact test, and the latest batch of seven sedans and wagons that IIHS tested did not fare well. Only the Subaru Outback managed to score the top Good rating, while the Volkswagen Jetta and Hyundai Sonata (pictured below) got Acceptable ratings. The other four vehicles tested were the Honda Accord, which got a Marginal rating, and three that ended up with a Poor rating: the Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry. All vehicles tested were from the 2022 model year.

IIHS announced in November 2019 that it would change its side-impact test to better reflect real-world crashes where a tall SUV or a pickup truck hits a smaller vehicle. IIHS said that the side-impact test it was using had been in place since 2003, and automakers had designed their vehicles to pass it. This meant that customers could not distinguish which vehicles performed better in a crash. IIHS believes its updated test will force similar changes on the auto industry in the future.

"We expect automakers to respond to our updated side test, providing increased protection for occupants and producing safer vehicles for consumers," IIHS president David Harkey said in a video about the new test results.

IIHS's new side test uses a 4200-pound movable barrier programmed to strike the driver's side of the vehicle being tested at 37 miles per hour. Previously, the barrier weighed 3300 pounds and hit the car at 31 mph. When the test began, "Many SUVs on the road were close to that weight, but they have gotten much heavier since then," IIHS said in 2019.

The new test barrier's larger size and higher speed mean that it generates 82 percent more energy than in the original test. Using two female dummies sitting in the driver's seat and in the rear seat behind the driver's seat, the new test can better determine how much cabin intrusion might happen in an actual crash. IIHS said the female crash test dummies have been used since 2003 and were chosen for this test to see how well the side airbag coverage works for smaller occupants.

Photo credit: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Photo credit: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety



In late 2021, IIHS used its new side-impact crash test on a batch of 20 small SUVs. Of those tested, only one, the Mazda CX-5, scored a Good rating.

The seven sedans and wagons tested with the new procedure will not have their new results used in the 2022 criteria for IIHS awards. But, starting in 2023, IIHS will only hand out Top Safety Pick honors to vehicles that get a Good or Acceptable rating in this test, while Top Safety Pick+ will require a Good rating.

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