Most Midsize SUVs Fail the IIHS’ New Rear Passenger-Focused Overlap Crash Test

Small SUVs didn't do that great, either, so there's work to be done

  • The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is focusing more on rear passenger protection in its updated moderate overlap crash test.
  • While new vehicles protect front occupants very well, recent evalulations show that there’s major room for improvement in mitigating rear passenger injuries.
  • Of 13 SUVs tested, only four earned “Good” overall ratings for rear pssenger safety.
  • Only the Ford Mustang Mach-E only scored top marks across the board.

Safety is a critical component in today’s family haulers — but there’s still work to do.

Take a look around the current field of midsize, three-row SUVs, and you’d think there’s really not much more room to improve when it comes to passenger safety. Pretty much every model scores a “Good” rating in the IIHS frontal overlap crash tests, but that’s only when you look at the first-row occupants. The agency is now starting to look more thoroughly at rear passenger safety, though, and it appears most models on the market today still have their work cut out to score top marks in the updated moderate overlap crash test.

Over the past several years, automakers’ most impactful safety changes have heavily skewed toward protecting front-seat passengers. After all, that’s what crashworthiness tests scrutinized. However, the IIHS notes people in the back seat — which are children, more often than not — are 46% more likely to be killed in a crash than the driver or front passenger. That led the agency to develop this updated testing regimen, showing SUVs both large and small offer “inadequate front crash protection.”

Of the 13 midsize SUVs it recently tested, only four scored decent or “Good” marks in most areas:

“Poor” ratings indicate a heightened risk of injury in a frontal crash.

The Ford Explorer, Mustang Mach-E, Subaru Ascent and Tesla Model Y provide “solid protection for rear passengers,” per the IIHS’ statement on these tests. In evaluating their performance, testers noted that the seat belt remained properly positioned, the side curtain airbag deployed correctly (protecting the head and neck) and there was no excessive force transmitted to the chest area during the collision.

Obviously, that was not the case for the other 9 models. The last-generation Honda Pilot as well as the current Hyundai Palisade, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mazda CX-9 and Nissan Murano particularly registered excessive force to the head and neck in a frontal crash. In some cases, including the Volkswagen Atlas and Chevrolet Traverse, the seat belt tension was high, increasing the risk of chest injuries.

The Jeep Wrangler, for its part, lacks side curtain airbags in the rear altogether. However, the driver’s side airbag also did not deploy in the IIHS’ evaluation. The lap belt also moved from the pelvis to the abdomen during its crash test, increasing the risk of injury and earning it a “Poor” rating for restraints and kinematics (how well-controlled the dummy’s movement is during a collision).

Since we are talking about brand-new testing, rear occupant protection is not part of the 2023 IIHS Top Safety Pick criteria.

It certainly will be in future model years, though, so automakers will need to address these deficiencies in their new vehicle designs. It’s also worth noting that several vehicles the agency tested, including the Honda Pilot, Nissan Murano and Mazda CX-9, are either old designs that are on their way out, or have already been replaced.

Of the current crop of tests, IIHS senior research engineer Marcy Edwards said, “Zeroing in on weaknesses in rear seat safety is an opportunity to make big gains in a short time, since solutions that are already proven to work in the front can successfully be adapted for the rear.”