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2017 Tesla Model S, BMW i3 Disappoint in Crash Tests

img 1165424482 1460474879435 jpg 2017 Tesla Model S | Manufacturer image

CARS.COM — The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently crash-tested two all-electric and two plug-in hybrid vehicles, and the results are mixed. While the plug-in 2017 Toyota Prius Prime and 2017 Chevrolet Volt earned the agency’s top rating of Top Safety Pick Plus, the electric 2017 Tesla Model S and 2017 BMW i3 failed to garner high enough scores.

Related: NHTSA: No Recall for Tesla’s Autopilot

The Model S earned an acceptable rating in the small overlap front crash test, precluding it from Top Safety Pick status. Tesla lengthened the side curtain airbags in the Model S to try to improve its scores, but IIHS said that in the crash, the safety belt allowed the dummy to move too far forward and its head hit the steering wheel.

IIHS also said that P100D versions of the Model S got an acceptable rating on the roof strength test rather than a good rating, which all of the other trims received. This is due to the added weight of the P100D’s larger battery, since this test uses the weight of the vehicle to determine how much force the roof can withstand.

The Model S also would not have qualified for the award since IIHS has not rated it for front crash prevention. Although each Model S has the hardware for forward crash prevention, Tesla hasn’t yet activated the software for all of its vehicles. To compound matters, the Model S is only offered with headlights that received a poor rating.

Tesla says that it made a production change on Jan. 23 that will hopefully improve the results of the Model S in the small overlap front crash test. Tesla also indicated that it is working with its supplier on headlight improvements. Both of these will be reevaluated by the IIHS when available.

The BMW i3 missed the safety mark for different reasons — it earned good ratings for all three crash tests and the roof strength test. It was the i3’s head restraints and seats that did it in. This test is designed to see how well the seats and head restraints protect against neck injuries in a rear crash. It is a strange oversight — the i3 is the only small car that IIHS has tested that didn’t earn a good rating in this category for 2017.

IIHS has two safety awards: Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick Plus. To earn a Top Safety Pick award, a vehicle must earn a good rating in five crashworthiness evaluations — small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints — as well as offer a front crash prevention system that earns a superior or advanced rating. The agency’s top award, Top Safety Pick Plus, is reserved for vehicles that earn a Top Safety Pick designation and have good or acceptable headlight ratings. The headlight tests were added last year as a part of changing criteria for both awards. Click here to see a full explanation of the IIHS testing criteria.

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Former L.A. Bureau Chief Brian Wong is a California native with a soft spot for convertibles and free parking. Email Brian Wong

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