— Every vehicle in the U.S. must face a battery of crash tests from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Those tests can be tough, but even more demanding are crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a nonprofit organization completely supported by insurance companies.
The latest IIHS test was introduced this year and replicates what happens when the front corner of a car collides with another vehicle, or an object like a tree or utility pole.
Called the small overlap frontal test, it is designed to test a vehicle in a severe frontal crash. Most automakers design their vehicles for good performance in the IIHS moderate overlap frontal test and the federal government's full-width frontal test, but many haven't addressed the problem of small overlap crashes.
According to IIHS, a group of moderately priced midsize 2013 cars outperformed most of their luxury counterparts. Of the 18 midsize family cars evaluated in the small overlap test, two earn the top rating of good, 11 earn acceptable, three earn marginal, and two are poor.
In comparison, just 3 of 11 midsize luxury and near-luxury cars evaluated earned good or acceptable ratings. Midsize moderately priced cars are the second group to be tested. The best performers in this group are the Honda Accord 4-door and Suzuki Kizashi. Both earn a good rating.
"It's remarkable that this group of midsize family cars did so much better than the midsize luxury car group," says Adrian Lund, IIHS president. "The difference is stunning. Thirteen of these midsize cars offer better crash protection than all but three of their luxury counterparts, and at a price that's easier on the wallet."
To reward 2013 models with better crash protection, IIHS created the Top Safety Pick+ award, with the + indicating good or acceptable performance in the new small overlap test.
So far, 13 models qualify for the award.
IIHS Small Overlap Frontal Crash Test Winners
- Dodge Avenger
- Chrysler 200 4-Door
- Ford Fusion
- Honda Accord 2-Door; Honda Accord 4-Door
- Kia Optima
- Nissan Altima 4-Door
- Subaru Legacy
- Subaru Outback
- Suzuki Kizashi
- Volkswagen Passat
IIHS Small Overlap Frontal Crash Test Losers
The worst performers of the midsize group were the Camry, which is the top-selling midsize car in the United States, and the Prius v, a 4-door hybrid wagon, earn poor ratings for small overlap protection.
In the Camry, the force of the impact shoved the front wheel back into the footwell, bending the windshield pillar and pushing the parking brake pedal and the left outer edge of the instrument panel rearward into the driver's survival space.
There was significant intrusion in the Prius v, along with high forces on the dummy's legs and feet. The Prius v is the only car in the midsize test group to earn a poor rating for hip and thigh protection.
The Camry's driver airbag and side curtain airbag deployed, but the steering wheel moved so far to the right that the dummy's head made only minimal contact with the front airbag.
The side curtain airbag didn't extend far enough forward to help prevent the dummy's head from hitting the instrument panel. In the Prius v, the side curtain airbag deployed too late in the crash to offer protection.
Toyota's Response to it's Poor Crash Test Performance
"Toyota engineers have a lot of work to do to match the performance of their competitors," Lund says.
In response, Toyota released the following statement.
”The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) periodically develops new, more severe or specialized tests which go beyond federal requirements. With this new test, the Institute has raised the bar again, and we will respond to the challenge. We are evaluating the new test protocols and can say that there will not be one single solution to achieve greater crash performance in this area.”