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Status Report, Vol. 48, No. 4 | May 30, 2013 Subscribe

Redesigned Subaru Forester aces tough new crash test

Only 2 of 13 small SUVs earn Top Safety Pick+

The 2014 Subaru Forester is the first vehicle to ace every aspect of the Institute's challenging small overlap front crash test. The Forester, the only one of 13 small SUVs to earn an overall rating of good in the test, and the 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, which earns acceptable, are the latest vehicles to qualify for the Institute's recently inaugurated top honor, Top Safety Pick+. Each of the other 11 SUVs earns either a poor or marginal rating.

"With the redesigned Forester, Subaru's engineers set out to do well in our new test, and they succeeded," says Joe Nolan, the Institute's vice president for vehicle research. "This is exactly how we hoped manufacturers would respond to improve protection for people in these kinds of serious frontal crashes."

This isn't the first time that the Forester has stood out in a new IIHS crash test. When the Institute first rated small SUVs for side protection in 2003, the Subaru model performed the best and was one of only two to earn a good rating (see Status Report special issue: side impact crashworthiness, June 28, 2003). IIHS added the small overlap test to its lineup of vehicle evaluations last year. It replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle strikes another vehicle or an object like a tree or a utility pole. In the test, 25 percent of a vehicle's front end on the driver side strikes a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier at 40 mph. A 50th percentile male Hybrid III dummy is belted in the driver seat (see "Small overlap crashes: New consumer-test program aims for even safer vehicles," Aug. 14, 2012).

Most vehicles today are designed to do well in the government's full-width front crash test and in the IIHS moderate overlap front test, but that is no guarantee of good performance in a small overlap crash. In a 2009 IIHS study of vehicles with good ratings for frontal crash protection, small overlap crashes accounted for nearly a quarter of the frontal crashes involving serious or fatal injury to front seat occupants. In many vehicles the impact at a 25 percent overlap misses the primary structures designed to manage crash energy. That increases the risk of severe damage to or collapse of the occupant compartment structure. Also, vehicles tend to rotate and slide sideways during this type of collision, and that can move the driver's head outboard, away from the protection of the frontal airbag.

Those difficulties were apparent in the small SUV group. Two-thirds had poor ratings for structure, and about half were poor or marginal for restraints and kinematics, meaning the dummy's movements weren't well-controlled to prevent contact with hard surfaces.

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport: The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport earns an acceptable rating in the small overlap front test. With good ratings in all other tests, the 2013 model qualifies for TOP SAFETY PICK+.

Jeep Patriot

Jeep Patriot: The Jeep Patriot earns a poor rating. The steering wheel moved way up and to the right, allowing the dummy's head to slip off the frontal airbag, and the side airbag didn't deploy.

Nissan Rogue
Subaru Forester

Nissan Rogue and Subaru Forester: The Nissan Rogue (left) and the Subaru Forester (right) illustrate the difference between poor and good structure.

In one example of poor structure, the front pillar of the Nissan Rogue's door frame was pushed far inside the occupant compartment and after the crash was almost touching the driver seat. The Jeep Patriot was among the worst for restraints and kinematics. The dummy's head slid off the frontal airbag as the steering wheel moved 8 inches up and nearly 6 inches to the right. The side curtain airbag didn't deploy, and the belt allowed the dummy's head and torso to move too far forward.

In contrast, the Forester earned good ratings for structure, restraints and kinematics, plus all four injury measures on the dummy. The airbags worked as intended, and the space around the dummy was well-maintained. The Outlander Sport was acceptable for structure and restraints and kinematics and also had good injury measures.

The Forester and the Outlander Sport bring the number of Top Safety Pick+ winners to 20. The award is based on performance in the small overlap front test, as well as in the moderate overlap front, side, rollover and rear tests. To qualify, a vehicle must earn good ratings in 4 of the 5 tests and no less than acceptable in the fifth.

IIHS continues to award Top Safety Pick to vehicles with good ratings in the moderate overlap front, side, rollover and rear tests. Nine small SUVs earn Top Safety Pick, including the BMW X1 and Buick Encore, which are new to the U.S. market for 2013. The others are the Ford Escape; Honda CR-V; Hyundai Tucson and its twin, the Kia Sportage; Mazda CX-5; Volkswagen Tiguan and 2014 Patriot. The 2013 Patriot also qualifies when equipped with optional side torso airbags. The 2013 Toyota RAV4 earns Top Safety Pick but won't be put through the small overlap test until later this year. Toyota plans to make changes to improve the RAV4's performance in the test.

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