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Status Report, Vol. 49, No. 11 | December 23, 2014 Subscribe

Safety gains groundMore vehicles earn top honors from IIHS

The number of vehicles earning either of the Institute's two awards has jumped to 71 from 39 this time last year, giving consumers more choices for optimum protection in crashes. The number of winners in the top tier — Top Safety Pick+ — has increased by 11 for 2015, despite a tougher standard for front crash prevention.

"This is the third year in a row that we are giving automakers a tougher challenge to meet," says IIHS President Adrian Lund. "The quest for Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ awards is driving improvement in the small overlap front crash test and getting manufacturers to offer automatic braking technology on more and more vehicles."

While the bar has been raised for Top Safety Pick+, the criteria for Top Safety Pick are unchanged: a good or acceptable rating in the small overlap front test and a good rating in each of the Institute's four other crashworthiness evaluations — moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints (see "A higher standard: 39 vehicles meet new criteria for Top Safety Pick, Top Safety Pick+," Dec. 19, 2013). The 2015 Top Safety Pick+ designation is awarded to vehicles that meet those criteria and also have an available front crash prevention system that earns an advanced or superior rating.

For 2014, vehicles could qualify for Top Safety Pick+ with only a basic rating for front crash prevention. Warning systems that meet the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's performance criteria but don't include autobrake qualify for a basic rating. For an advanced or superior rating, vehicles must stop or slow down without driver intervention before hitting a target in IIHS tests at 12 mph, 25 mph or both (see "First crash avoidance ratings under new test program: 7 midsize vehicles earn top marks," Sept. 27, 2013).

As a result of the change in criteria for 2015, 15 vehicles that qualified for 2014 Top Safety Pick+ are now simply Top Safety Pick winners. In all, there are 33 Top Safety Pick+ winners and 38 Top Safety Pick winners.

"Although forward collision warning on its own is a valuable feature, we decided to tighten our criteria to encourage manufacturers to offer autobrake. Systems that don't require a driver response to avoid or mitigate a crash have the most potential for reducing crashes," Lund says. "Nevertheless, the models that are losing their plus signs are still great choices for safety, as are all the Top Safety Pick winners."

Meeting the small overlap challenge

Most vehicles produced in recent years have had little trouble with the Institute's moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests. The small overlap front test, which replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or a utility pole, represented a new hurdle when it was introduced in 2012 (see "Small overlap crashes: New consumer-test program aims for even safer vehicles," Aug. 14, 2012). The test is difficult because the crash forces bypass most of a vehicle's energy-absorbing structure. But small overlap crashes are common in the real world, so the Institute wanted to push manufacturers to look for solutions.

For 2013, IIHS continued to award Top Safety Pick to vehicles that earned good ratings in the four older tests, regardless of their small overlap ratings. Those with good or acceptable small overlap ratings earned Top Safety Pick+. Only 13 vehicles managed it at the beginning of the award year (see "Family cars trump luxury models in rigorous new crash test; top performance earns 13 cars 2013 Top Safety Pick+," Dec. 20, 2012).

Since then, automakers have steadily increased the number of good or acceptable small overlap ratings by factoring in the test when they redesign a vehicle or introduce a new model and by making modifications to the structure and airbags between redesigns.

The Honda CR-V, a 2015 Top Safety Pick+ winner, is an example of a vehicle that was successfully modified for improved protection. Previously, the small SUV earned a marginal rating when it was tested in 2012. The structure didn't hold up, with intrusion into the driver space exceeding 1 foot. The dummy's head barely contacted the front airbag before sliding off as the steering column moved to the right.

Honda made changes to the vehicle's front-end structure, occupant compartment and restraint system for the 2015 model year. In the most recent test, maximum intrusion was 5 inches at the parking brake pedal, and the dummy's head remained on the front airbag until rebound. Today's CR-V earns a good rating.

The Toyota Prius v, which also earns Top Safety Pick+, saw even greater improvement. The midsize car had been one of the worst performers ever in the small overlap test. In 2012, the structure collapsed, and the dummy's head hit the instrument panel and ended up between the side curtain airbag and the door. Measures from the dummy showed left hip and lower leg injuries were very likely.

After the structure was improved and the side curtain airbag was lengthened, the 2015 Prius v performed well all-around, with low levels of intrusion, good restraint performance and low injury measures.

Manufacturers are employing some common strategies when it comes to beefing up structure for small overlap protection. In the CR-V's case, the door frame was strengthened, and the side frame under the fender was reinforced. The beefed-up side frame ties into the main frame rail, producing an additional load path for energy absorption. On the Prius v, the front bumper was extended and the door frame strengthened. In addition, structure was added to better tie the door-hinge pillar to the frame rail.

Front crash prevention spreads

The list of 2015 Top Safety Pick+ winners shows how quickly front crash prevention systems with autobrake are spreading. In total, there are 27 superior-rated 2015 models and 33 with an advanced rating. (Some of those vehicles don't qualify for Top Safety Pick+ because they don't meet all the crashworthiness criteria.)

Most of the Top Safety Pick+ winners earn the award only when equipped with optional front crash prevention systems. However, when not equipped, they still meet the crashworthiness criteria for Top Safety Pick.

Currently only three automakers offer standard front crash prevention systems. Volvo models have standard City Safety, a low-speed autobrake system. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class and E-Class have a warning and autobrake system, but the standard autobrake components haven't been tested yet. The Mercedes-Benz M-Class and CLA and the Acura RLX offer standard warning systems. All these vehicles are available with optional systems that earn higher ratings than the standard equipment. The CLA, which earns an advanced rating with its optional system, hasn't been tested for crashworthiness.

Kia Sedona is 2nd minivan to rate good in small overlap test

When the Institute released small overlap results for minivans in November, the results were disappointing, with three models performing poorly (see "Minivans with a major flaw: 3 models have dire small overlap results," Nov. 20, 2014). At that time, the Honda Odyssey was the only minivan to earn a good rating in the test. Now the 2015 Kia Sedona joins the Odyssey at the top of the list.

2015 Kia Sedona small overlap test

The 2015 Sedona was tested twice, and the good rating is based on the second test. In the first test, the vehicle didn't perform well because the driver door opened. Doors should remain closed in a crash because an open door increases the risk of ejection. In the Sedona's case, the door also performs an important structural function, so the level of crush ended up being much worse than it would have been had the door remained closed.

The doors of most late-model vehicles automatically lock when the vehicle is in gear or reaches a certain speed. In some cases, the feature can be disabled by the consumer. For those vehicles, the Institute's policy is to unlock the doors for the test.

After the Sedona's first test, Kia told IIHS that the door-locking function would be changed so that consumers could no longer turn it off. Sedonas built after November have the new setting, and the company is planning a service campaign to change this on earlier 2015 Sedonas.

In light of the change, IIHS conducted the second test with the doors locked. This time all doors remained closed, resulting in the good rating.

The new Sedona is a Top Safety Pick winner, with good ratings in all the other crashworthiness tests, including roof strength. The previous generation had poor roof strength. The Sedona's optional front crash prevention system earns a basic rating.

2015 Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ winners

Vehicles can qualify for one of the awards with either a good or acceptable rating in the small overlap front crash test, along with good ratings in the other four crashworthiness evaluations. In addition, Top Safety Pick+ winners must have an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention. The front crash prevention ratings below reflect the highest-rated systems available. In all cases, these are optional systems. A few models have standard systems with lower ratings. Details on standard systems can be found by searching for the specific vehicle in the ratings section.

   Small
overlap
test
Front
crash
prevention
MinicarsTOP SAFETY PICKChevrolet Spark
A
none
 TOP SAFETY PICKHonda Fit
A
none
Small carsTOP SAFETY PICK+Lexus CT 200h
built after September 2014
G
Advanced-3pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Mazda 3
G
Advanced-2pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Subaru Impreza
G
Superior-6pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Subaru XV Crosstrek
G
Superior-6pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Toyota Prius
A
Advanced-2pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKChevrolet Volt
A
Basic-1pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKDodge Dart
A
none
 TOP SAFETY PICKFord C-Max Hybrid
A
none
 TOP SAFETY PICKFord Focus
A
none
 TOP SAFETY PICKHonda Civic 2-door
G
none
 TOP SAFETY PICKHonda Civic 4-door
G
Basic-1pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKHyundai Elantra
sedan
A
none
 TOP SAFETY PICKKia Soul
G
none
 TOP SAFETY PICKMini Cooper Countryman
G
none
 TOP SAFETY PICKMitsubishi Lancer
except Ralliart and Evolution
A
none
 TOP SAFETY PICKScion FR-S
A
none
 TOP SAFETY PICKScion tC
A
none
 TOP SAFETY PICKSubaru BRZ
A
none
 TOP SAFETY PICKSubaru WRX
G
none
 TOP SAFETY PICKVolkswagen Golf
4-door
G
Basic-1pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKVolkswagen GTI
4-door
G
Basic-1pt
Midsize moderately
priced cars
TOP SAFETY PICK+Chrysler 200
G
Superior-5pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Mazda 6
A
Advanced-2pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Subaru Legacy
G
Superior-6pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Subaru Outback
G
Superior-6pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Toyota Camry
G
Advanced-4pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Toyota Prius v
G
Advanced-3pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKChevrolet Malibu
G
Basic-1pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKFord Fusion
A
Basic-1pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKHonda Accord 2-door
G
Basic-1pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKHonda Accord 4-door
G
Basic-1pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKHyundai Sonata
A
Basic-1pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKKia Optima
A
none
 TOP SAFETY PICKNissan Altima
A
none
 TOP SAFETY PICKVolkswagen Jetta
G
Basic-1pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKVolkswagen Passat
A
none
Midsize luxury carsTOP SAFETY PICK+Acura TLX
A
Superior-6pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Audi A3
G
Advanced-3pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+BMW 2 series
G
Advanced-4pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Infiniti Q50
A
Superior-6pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Volvo S60
G
Superior-5pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Volvo V60
G
Superior-5pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKLincoln MKZ
A
Basic-1pt
Large family carTOP SAFETY PICKToyota Avalon
G
Basic-1pt
Large luxury carsTOP SAFETY PICK+Acura RLX
G
Advanced-3pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Hyundai Genesis
G
Superior-6pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Infiniti Q70
except V-8 4WD
G
Superior-5pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Lexus RC
G
Advanced-4pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Mercedes-Benz E-Class
G
Superior-6pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Volvo S80
G
Superior-5pt
Small SUVsTOP SAFETY PICK+Honda CR-V
G
Superior-5pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Mazda CX-5
G
Advanced-2pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Mitsubishi Outlander
G
Advanced-3pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Subaru Forester
G
Superior-6pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKMitsubishi Outlander Sport
A
none
 TOP SAFETY PICKNissan Rogue
G
Basic-1pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKToyota RAV4
built after November 2014
G
none
Midsize SUVsTOP SAFETY PICK+Toyota Highlander
A
Advanced-3pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKChevrolet Equinox
G
Basic-1pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKGMC Terrain
G
Basic-1pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKNissan Pathfinder
G
none
Midsize luxury SUVsTOP SAFETY PICK+Acura MDX
G
Advanced-3pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Lexus NX
G
Advanced-4pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Mercedes-Benz M-Class
G
Superior-5pt
 TOP SAFETY PICK+Volvo XC60
G
Superior-5pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKInfiniti QX60
G
Basic-1pt
MinivansTOP SAFETY PICK+Toyota Sienna
A
Advanced-3pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKHonda Odyssey
G
Basic-1pt
 TOP SAFETY PICKKia Sedona
G
Basic-1pt

Crashworthiness ratings

G
GOOD
A
ACCEPTABLE
M
MARGINAL
P
POOR

Front crash prevention ratings

Superior-6ptSuperior-5ptAdvanced-4ptAdvanced-3ptAdvanced-2ptBasic-1pt
SUPERIORADVANCEDBASIC

TOP SAFETY PICK AWARDS

The number of vehicles earning either of the Institute's two awards has jumped to 71 from 39 this time last year, giving consumers more choices for optimum protection in crashes. The number of winners in the top tier — Top Safety Pick+ — has increased by 11 for 2015, despite a tougher standard for front crash prevention.

See all 2015 award winners

"This is the third year in a row that we are giving automakers a tougher challenge to meet," says IIHS President Adrian Lund. "The quest for Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ awards is driving improvement in the small overlap front crash test and getting manufacturers to offer automatic braking technology on more and more vehicles."

While the bar has been raised for Top Safety Pick+, the criteria for Top Safety Pick are unchanged: a good or acceptable rating in the small overlap front test and a good rating in each of the Institute's four other crashworthiness evaluations — moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints. The 2015 Top Safety Pick+ designation is awarded to vehicles that meet those criteria and also have an available front crash prevention system that earns an advanced or superior rating.

For 2014, vehicles could qualify for Top Safety Pick+ with only a basic rating for front crash prevention. Warning systems that meet the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's performance criteria but don't include autobrake qualify for a basic rating. For an advanced or superior rating, vehicles must stop or slow down without driver intervention before hitting a target in IIHS tests at 12 mph, 25 mph or both.

As a result of the change in criteria for 2015, 15 vehicles that qualified for 2014 Top Safety Pick+ are now simply Top Safety Pick winners. In all, there are 33 Top Safety Pick+ winners and 38 Top Safety Pick winners.

"Although forward collision warning on its own is a valuable feature, we decided to tighten our criteria to encourage manufacturers to offer autobrake. Systems that don't require a driver response to avoid or mitigate a crash have the most potential for reducing crashes," Lund says. "Nevertheless, the models that are losing their plus signs are still great choices for safety, as are all the Top Safety Pick winners."

Meeting the small overlap challenge

Most vehicles produced in recent years have had little trouble with the Institute's moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests. The small overlap front test, which replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or a utility pole, represented a new hurdle when it was introduced in 2012. The test is difficult because the crash forces bypass most of a vehicle's energy-absorbing structure. But small overlap crashes are common in the real world, so the Institute wanted to push manufacturers to look for solutions.

For 2013, IIHS continued to award Top Safety Pick to vehicles that earned good ratings in the four older tests, regardless of their small overlap ratings. Those with good or acceptable small overlap ratings earned Top Safety Pick+. Only 13 vehicles managed it at the beginning of the award year.

Since then, automakers have steadily increased the number of good or acceptable small overlap ratings by factoring in the test when they redesign a vehicle or introduce a new model and by making modifications to the structure and airbags between redesigns.

The Honda CR-V, a 2015 Top Safety Pick+ winner, is an example of a vehicle that was successfully modified for improved protection. Previously, the small SUV earned a marginal rating when it was tested in 2012. The structure didn't hold up, with intrusion into the driver space exceeding 1 foot. The dummy's head barely contacted the front airbag before sliding off as the steering column moved to the right.

Honda made changes to the vehicle's front-end structure, occupant compartment and restraint system for the 2015 model year. In the most recent test, maximum intrusion was 5 inches at the parking brake pedal, and the dummy's head remained on the front airbag until rebound. Today's CR-V earns a good rating.

The Toyota Prius v, which also earns Top Safety Pick+, saw even greater improvement. The midsize car had been one of the worst performers ever in the small overlap test. In 2012, the structure collapsed, and the dummy's head hit the instrument panel and ended up between the side curtain airbag and the door. Measures from the dummy showed left hip and lower leg injuries were very likely.

After the structure was improved and the side curtain airbag was lengthened, the 2015 Prius v performed well all-around, with low levels of intrusion, good restraint performance and low injury measures.

Manufacturers are employing some common strategies when it comes to beefing up structure for small overlap protection. In the CR-V's case, the door frame was strengthened, and the side frame under the fender was reinforced. The beefed-up side frame ties into the main frame rail, producing an additional load path for energy absorption. On the Prius v, the front bumper was extended and the door frame strengthened. In addition, structure was added to better tie the door-hinge pillar to the frame rail.

Front crash prevention spreads

The list of 2015 Top Safety Pick+ winners shows how quickly front crash prevention systems with autobrake are spreading. In total, there are 27 superior-rated 2015 models and 33 with an advanced rating. (Some of those vehicles don't qualify for Top Safety Pick+ because they don't meet all the crashworthiness criteria.)

Most of the Top Safety Pick+ winners earn the award only when equipped with optional front crash prevention systems. However, when not equipped, they still meet the crashworthiness criteria for Top Safety Pick.

Currently only three automakers offer standard front crash prevention systems. Volvo models have standard City Safety, a low-speed autobrake system. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class and E-Class have a warning and autobrake system, but the standard autobrake components haven't been tested yet. The Mercedes-Benz M-Class and CLA and the Acura RLX offer standard warning systems. All these vehicles are available with optional systems that earn higher ratings than the standard equipment. The CLA, which earns an advanced rating with its optional system, hasn't been tested for crashworthiness.

SIDEBAR
Strategies for small overlap protection

Three main strategies have emerged for improving vehicle structure to better protect occupants in small overlap front crashes.

©1996-2016, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute | www.iihs.org