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Small SUVs lose big in new side crash test

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The Insurance institute for Highway Safety introduced a new, tougher side crash test for 2021, and let’s just say the small SUVs didn’t do so well.

In fact, only one out of 20 small SUVs tested got a top score. That vehicle? The Mazda CX-5.

Why do we care about a side crash test? Well, according to IIHS, side impact tests accounted for 23% of vehicle occupant deaths in 2019. And the driver of a vehicle with a “Good” rating – the top score – is 70% less likely to die than a driver in a vehicle with a “Poor” rating.

So, yeah, it’s kinda important.

In order to better protect both the driver and passengers, IIHS updated the test to use a heavier barrier traveling at a higher rate of speed, so this better resembles what would happen if an SUV or truck struck the vehicle from the side.

The results: There is a huge discrepancy in the degree of protection small SUVs provide for the chest and pelvis. IIHS says that to adapt, automakers will need to strengthen horizontal door beams as well as adjust torso- and pelvis-protecting airbags.

The results, as seen in the graphic below, are kind of grim, considering there are eight vehicles that have “Marginal” ratings and two that have “Poor” ratings – and eight of those vehicles are 2022 models.

That means you’re still a few model years out from any corrections or additional protections.

One of the best things I noticed about this new test, however: IIHS is now using a dummy that’s the size of a 12-year-old child or small female in driver’s and rear-seat positions. In other stories we’ve written about IIHS crash testing, we’ve noted they used average-sized male dummies, yet it was women who were 73% more likely to be injured.

So, this small female appreciates that adjustment.

Other than the fact that most small SUVs did poorly in the side crash tests, there are two other things that surprised me: that the Hyundai/Kia duo scored so low and that the Honda HR-V got a poor rating. I suppose the silver lining here is that the HR-V is going away and both the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage tested were the “old” generation models. My takeaway: Don’t buy those used if you’re worried about safety.

Small SUVs side crash test rating

A screen grab from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety website detailing the side crash test ratings for small SUVs.

The bottom line on Small SUVs side crash tests

As trucks and SUVs get larger, crash tests become even more important in the vehicle selection process, and we love that IIHS takes a hard line on giving out its Top Safety Pick awards. It gives automakers an additional shove to strive for continual improvement.

If you want a small SUV and don’t want a Mazda CX-5, there are some “Acceptable” rated vehicles, so be sure to reference the list above but also visit the full explanation of this new test to see what IIHS is doing different.

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Jill Ciminillo

Jill Ciminillo is the Managing Editor for Pickup Truck + SUV Talk as well as a Chicago-based automotive writer, YouTube personality and podcast host, with her articles and videos appearing in outlets throughout the U.S. Additionally, she co-hosts a weekly radio show on car stuff for a local Chicago station. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for both newspaper and broadcast media conglomerates. She is also a past president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. Jill is also currently a juror for the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year (NACTOY).

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  1. Anonymous October 28, 2021

    Great article.

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      Jill Ciminillo October 28, 2021

      Thank you 🙂


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