The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's newest test — frontal small overlap — is pretty tough to ace. The agency recently performed the test, meant to simulate a crash of a vehicle's front corner into another vehicle, a tree or a pole, on 13 compact SUVs; 11 scored Marginal or Poor.
The new-for-2014 Subaru Forester came out ahead of the pack, earning a Good score and the agency's highest overall safety rating, Top Safety Pick+. Behind it is the slow-selling 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport; it pulled an Acceptable score. The test group included 2014, 2013 and 2012 models.
"Two-thirds of the vehicles had Poor ratings for structure, and about half of them were Poor or Marginal for restraints and kinematics, meaning the dummy's movements weren't well-controlled to prevent contact with hard surfaces," IIHS said in a statement. The agency cites Nissan's Rogue as one that demonstrated poor structure; its door-frame front pillar was pushed inside the occupant compartment, almost touching the driver's seat. The Jeep Patriot also had big problems, IIHS reported. The dummy's head slid off the front airbag because the steering wheel moved several inches up and to the right. Also, its side curtain airbag didn't deploy, and the seat belt didn't properly restrain the dummy.
The others in the test group earned the Top Safety Pick status, given to vehicles that earn Good ratings in moderate overlap front, side, rollover and rear crash tests, regardless of their small overlap scores. They include the BMW X1, Buick Encore, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Volkswagen Tiguan and the 2014 Patriot. IIHS says the 2013 Patriot only qualifies if it has the optional side torso airbags.
The test group also included the two-door Jeep Wrangler and Nissan Rouge; neither fared well. Toyota's RAV4 also earned the Top Safety Pick award, but wasn't put through the frontal small overlap test at Toyota's request. According to IIHS, the automaker asked for a delay in order to make modifications to the compact crossover.
IIHS added the new test to its safety evaluation lineup last year and few vehicles have done well. In the test, 25% of a vehicle's driver-side front end crashes into a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier at 40 mph.
According to a 2009 IIHS study of vehicles with Good frontal crash ratings, small overlap crashes accounted for nearly a quarter of the frontal crashes involving serious or fatal injury to front-seat occupants.