The New IIHS Side-Impact Crash Test Gets Tougher — And Only One Small SUV Scored Top Marks

The new test features a heavier barrier traveling at higher speed

New IIHS side-impact crash test — Mazda CX-5
The IIHS is phasing in a new, tougher side-impact test to more closely simulate real-world crash conditions, with small SUVs undergoing the new evaluation first. (Images: IIHS)

Out of 20 small SUVs tested, only one achieved a “Good” rating in this new crash test.

While you can split the latest crop of Top Safety Pick vehicles on advanced driver systems and how good the headlights are, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) isn’t letting crashworthiness tests fall by the wayside. Now, it’s phasing in a tougher side-impact test for 2020 and 2021 model year vehicles, starting with small SUVs.

For this new battery of tests, engineers redesigned the moving crash barrier to more closely represent collisions from trucks and other SUVs. To that end, the bulkier barrier now weighs in at 4,180 pounds (from about 3,300 pounds before). The speed increases as well to 37 mph, rather than 31 mph. Those updates mean that cars are now subjected to 82% more energy than earlier crash tests.

The result? Not a resounding success for many SUVs that may scored higher under the earlier side-impact test. In fact, only one model out of 20 tested achieved a “Good” rating in this new evaluation: the Mazda CX-5.

We should see some progress in updated models

“Obviously, these results aren’t great, but they’re in line with what we expected when we adopted this more stringent test,” said IIHS senior research engineer Becky Mueller. Aside from the CX-5, nine SUVs scored an “Acceptable” overall rating in the new side-impact test. Eight managed a “Marginal” rating, while two fell into the lowest “Poor” category.

These are the top 10 results in the IIHS’ latest side-impact crash test.

It’s not only the weight and speed of the barrier that matters here, either. The IIHS designed the honeycomb structure based on tests between two actual vehicles, using that data to design a barrier that can more accurately represent a real-world vehicle.

The 2021-2022 Mazda CX-5 still came out with a “Good” overall rating, though the “Acceptable” rating for possible driver chest injuries is one item to note from this round of testing. The Audi Q3, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Toyota Venza and Volvo XC40 all managed Acceptable.

As for the “Marginal” vehicles, the IIHS classified the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, the old 2021 Hyundai Tucson, 2021 Jeep Compass, Jeep Renegade, the outgoing Kia Sportage and Lincoln Corsair into that category.

Finally, the Honda HR-V and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross scored “Poor” in the side-impact test. In the video below, the IIHS actually showed the HR-V’s results, where the B-pillar actually detached from the body structure. All the cars in IIHS were 2021 models, with the exception of the 2020 Eclipse Cross (as Mitsubishi skipped the 2021 model year with their recent facelift).

While we’re still in the transition period, vehicles will undergo these tests in the evaluation for Top Safety Pick from 2022 onwards.