Three more midsize SUVs achieved good or acceptable ratings in the Institute's latest round of small overlap front crash testing, but many models, including three newly rated SUVs from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and one from Hyundai, continue to struggle with the test.
The Nissan Murano earns a good rating and, with a superior-rated optional front crash prevention system, qualifies for the Institute's highest award, Top Safety Pick+. The Ford Flex earns an acceptable rating and qualifies for Top Safety Pick.
Consumers looking for a midsize SUV now have seven choices that qualify for IIHS awards — five that earn Top Safety Pick and two that earn Top Safety Pick+.
Among the seven 2015 models in this round of testing, the Jeep Wrangler 4-door model also picked up a good small overlap rating. However, the Wrangler offers only marginal protection in side and rear crashes, so it's not a recommended choice. It also lacks a fixed roof, so it can't provide good protection in rollover crashes.
Aside from the Wrangler, three other Fiat Chrysler SUVs were tested for small overlap protection and didn't fare well. The Dodge Journey earns a poor rating, and the Dodge Durango and Jeep Cherokee earn marginal ratings. The Hyundai Santa Fe also earns a marginal rating.
The small overlap test replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or utility pole. In the test, 25 percent of a vehicle's front end on the driver's side strikes a rigid barrier at 40 mph.
The test is more difficult than either the head-on crashes conducted by the government or the IIHS moderate overlap test. That's because, in a small overlap test, the main structures of the vehicle's front-end crush zone are bypassed, making it hard for the vehicle to manage crash energy. The occupant compartment can collapse as a result.
Since IIHS began small overlap testing in 2012, manufacturers have responded to the challenge in two ways. One is by taking the test into account when models are redesigned. The other is by making smaller modifications to beef up the front structure and improve airbags even before a model gets a full overhaul.
"This test presented a major challenge for manufacturers when it was introduced three years ago, and many have adapted quickly," says IIHS Chief Research Officer David Zuby. "Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep have had some successes with redesigned models, but they haven't done much in the way of interim improvements. As a result, they still have many models that rate poor or marginal."
Best and worst performer: The redesigned Nissan Murano (left) hit all the marks for good small overlap protection, starting with the good structural performance shown in this post-crash photo. In contrast, the occupant compartment of the Dodge Journey failed to hold up.
The best performer in the current group of seven is the redesigned 2015 Murano. It hit all the marks for ideal small overlap protection. The driver space held up well, with maximum intrusion of 5 inches at the lower door hinge pillar. The dummy's movement was well-controlled, and its head hit the front airbag and stayed there until rebound. The side curtain airbag deployed with sufficient forward coverage to protect the head from contact with side structure and outside objects. Measures taken from the dummy indicate a low risk of any significant injuries in a crash of this severity.
In addition to earning a good small overlap rating, the Murano improved its roof strength rating to good from the previous generation's marginal rating.
The optional front crash prevention system also is new for 2015. The Murano's autobrake nearly avoided a collision in the 12 mph IIHS track test and reduced the vehicle's speed by 11 mph in the 25 mph test. The Murano also earns a point for meeting federal criteria for forward collision warning systems.
Despite being an older design, the 2007-15 Wrangler's structure incorporates some features that automakers now are adding to provide better protection in small overlap front crashes. A stiff bracket that supports the suspension and is welded to the outside of the frame rail, plus a strong bumper, helped the Wrangler glance off the barrier.
"Some automakers are purposely adding structure to make vehicles move away from the barrier during the small overlap crash test," Zuby points out. "The Wrangler happened to have it already built in."
Thanks to this deflection, the Wrangler's occupant compartment remained intact, with maximum intrusion of 4 inches in the left footwell. Forces on both of the dummy's lower legs were just high enough to indicate a moderate risk of injury in a crash of this severity.
The dummy's movement was well-controlled, and the head hit the front airbag and remained there until rebound. However, a real driver under slightly different crash circumstances could be vulnerable to injuries from intruding structure or outside objects. That's because the Wrangler is one of a handful of vehicles still sold without standard side airbags to protect the head and chest.
The Flex managed an acceptable rating, despite the fact that its structure didn't hold up particularly well. Intrusion reached 8 inches toward the top and bottom of the door hinge pillar and nearly 7 inches at the instrument panel. The steering column was pushed back 4 inches toward the driver.
The dummy's head barely contacted the front airbag before sliding off the left side. The side curtain airbag deployed, though it lacked sufficient forward coverage to fully protect the head.
Despite the Flex's shortcomings, measures taken from the dummy indicate a low risk of any significant injuries in a crash of this severity.
The Flex's rating applies to earlier model years, dating back to its 2009 introduction.
The Journey is the worst performer in the group and a classic example of poor small overlap protection. The occupant compartment failed to hold up, with intrusion measuring as much as 9 inches at the instrument panel and the parking brake pedal, which tore through the dummy's left lower leg. Injuries to the left hip, left knee and right lower leg also would be possible.
The dummy's head barely contacted the front airbag before sliding off, as the steering column moved to the right. The side curtain airbag failed to deploy, leaving the dummy's head vulnerable to contact with side structure and outside objects.
The Journey also was introduced in 2009, and its poor rating applies to the previous models.
Midsize SUV ratings in small overlap front test