Far fewer vehicles are winning the Institute's coveted safety awards after IIHS raised the bar to require good or acceptable performance in the small overlap front crash test for TOP SAFETY PICK and a front crash prevention system for TOP SAFETY PICK+. Just 39 vehicles earn either award for 2014, compared with 130 that took home 2013 accolades at this time last year.
"We've made it more difficult for manufacturers this year," says IIHS President Adrian Lund. "Following a gradual phase-in, the small overlap crash is now part of our basic battery of tests, and good or acceptable performance should be part of every vehicle's safety credentials. We also felt it was time to offer extra recognition to manufacturers that are offering a proven crash avoidance technology."
Last year, good or acceptable small overlap performance was required only for TOP SAFETY PICK+. Vehicles that lacked it could still earn TOP SAFETY PICK, without the plus, if they had good ratings in the Institute's other tests (see "Family cars trump luxury models in rigorous new crash test; top performance earns 13 cars 2013 TOP SAFETY PICK+," Dec. 20, 2012). For 2014 that's no longer the case. The higher award now recognizes vehicles that earn at least a basic rating for front crash prevention, in addition to meeting the TOP SAFETY PICK criteria. Besides good or acceptable small overlap performance, these include good performance in the longstanding moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests.
IIHS has been awarding TOP SAFETY PICK to vehicles that perform well in its tests since the 2006 model year and has tightened criteria twice before this year. TOP SAFETY PICK+ was introduced last year to reward automakers that achieved good or acceptable performance in the just-introduced small overlap test, in which 25 percent of a vehicle's front end on the driver's side strikes a rigid barrier at 40 mph. Some manufacturers quickly modified vehicles to meet this new challenge or took the new test into account as they implemented scheduled redesigns, and more have done so for 2014.
The test replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole. Although this type of crash is responsible for many deaths and serious injuries, it wasn't addressed by other frontal tests conducted by IIHS or the federal government (see "Small overlap crashes: New consumer-test program aims for even safer vehicles," Aug. 14, 2012).
A good rating for protection in a small overlap front crash and an advanced rating for front crash prevention qualify the Mazda 3 for TOP SAFETY PICK+.
With the small overlap test now incorporated into TOP SAFETY PICK, IIHS is using the TOP SAFETY PICK+ designation to reward manufacturers that provide the next level of safety. This year, that means vehicles that not only protect their occupants in a crash but also have systems that can prevent or mitigate front-to-rear crashes. Front crash prevention, which includes both warning systems and automatic braking, is intended to help inattentive drivers avoid rear-ending a stopped or slower-moving vehicle in front of them.
IIHS began rating front crash prevention systems earlier this year after HLDI research indicated that forward collision warning and automatic braking systems are reducing crashes (see "First crash avoidance ratings under new test program: 7 midsize vehicles earn top marks," Sept. 27, 2013). Vehicles can earn basic, advanced or superior ratings for systems offered as standard or optional. A vehicle with a forward collision warning system that meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration performance criteria qualifies for a basic rating. Additional points are awarded for autobrake, based on performance in IIHS track tests at 12 mph and 25 mph.
Front crash prevention systems have been spreading quickly through the vehicle fleet. As a result, the list of TOP SAFETY PICK+ winners is, at 22, longer than the list of 17 regular TOP SAFETY PICK winners.
"Consumers who want both crash prevention technology and the latest in occupant protection have a fair number of vehicles to choose from," Lund says. "We hope manufacturers will continue to incorporate front crash prevention, developing more robust systems and adding them to more trim levels or, better yet, making them standard equipment."
The front crash prevention features of the TOP SAFETY PICK+ winners run the gamut from basic warning systems, such as those offered on the Ford Fusion, Lincoln MKZ and Honda's four winners, to Subaru's EyeSight warning and autobrake system. EyeSight avoids a collision in tests at both 12 and 25 mph and is available on the Forester, Legacy and Outback. The Subarus and the Infiniti Q50 are the only vehicles so far to earn 6 of 6 points for front crash prevention.
Most of the TOP SAFETY PICK+ winners qualify for the award only when equipped with optional front crash prevention systems. In the case of the Honda Civic 4-door, forward collision warning is standard on the hybrid version but not available on any other version. A Civic 4-door with a gas engine — or any vehicle on the list not equipped with front crash prevention — still would earn TOP SAFETY PICK.
The only other models that qualify for TOP SAFETY PICK+ based on standard equipment are the Volvo S60, S80 and XC60. These have City Safety, a low-speed autobrake system that on its own is enough for an advanced rating. They also are available with an optional forward collision warning and autobrake system that works at higher speeds and helps the vehicles earn superior marks for front crash prevention.
The 2014 TOP SAFETY PICK+ winners include eight models that didn't earn the award in 2013. Among them are fully redesigned models, including the Acura MDX and RLX, Infiniti Q50, Mazda 3 and Toyota Highlander. Among TOP SAFETY PICK winners, the Chevrolet Spark minicar is a new model. Honda/Acura has the most winners of any automaker, with six models earning TOP SAFETY PICK+ and two earning TOP SAFETY PICK.
Some winners that didn't undergo a full redesign were modified to improve small overlap performance. This includes the Toyota Camry, which now qualifies for TOP SAFETY PICK. The 2012-13 Camry models were rated poor for protection in a small overlap front crash, but the 2014 model earns an acceptable rating. The Toyota Prius and the Mazda CX-5 also were tweaked for the small overlap test and now earn TOP SAFETY PICK+. Changes to these vehicles and some others were made after the 2014 model year started.
The Volvo S80, a large luxury car, is new to the TOP SAFETY PICK+ list because it hadn't been previously tested for small overlap performance. However, it has had the same basic design since 2007, so its good small overlap result applies to earlier models as well.
While many 2013 TOP SAFETY PICK winners didn't make it to the winners' circle for 2014, that doesn't mean they are any less safe than before. Vehicles that have fallen off the list have less than acceptable ratings for small overlap protection or haven't been tested yet. However, all models that earned TOP SAFETY PICK in 2013 continue to offer a high level of protection in four main crash types — moderate overlap front, side, rollover and rear.
Small overlap, front crash prevention ratings
Vehicles can qualify for Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ with either a good or acceptable rating in the small overlap front crash test. In addition, Top Safety Pick+ winners must have a basic, advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention.