The Insurance Institute For Highway Safety (IIHS) has raised the bar again. The leading auto safety testing group in the United States, IIHS has been making its crash tests harder and more numerous over the decades. This week, the group released the first test results using its new side-impact testing protocol. What the tests revealed is that all crossovers are not created equal. Of 20 models tested, the Mazda CX-5 was the only model to score ‘Good.”
Background Story (2013) - What will save your life in a side-impact crash?
The new test simulates a pickup truck or SUV hitting the side of your car. This new test is almost double the severity of the previous test. Instead of a 3,300-pound barrier traveling at 31 mph. The new barrier weighs 4,180 pounds and strikes the test vehicle at 37 mph. This new test imparts 82 percent more crash energy into the vehicle being evaluated. No other safety group in America uses such a rigorous standard.
The newly updated side crash test measures how well the occupant compartment structure maintains its integrity during the crash. Of course, injury evaluations based on sensors mounted to dummies positioned in the driver seat and the rear seat behind the driver offer key information. A supplemental measurement gauges how well the airbags protect the heads of the two dummies. “We developed this new test because we suspected there was room for more progress, and these results confirm that,” IIHS President David Harkey says.
IIHS conducted this round of testing on the class of vehicles that is the largest in the American market. Two-row crossovers the size of the Toyota RAV4. Among the 20 models tested, only one earned the best score possible. The Mazda CX-5 was the sole model ranked “Good.” “The good rating for the CX-5 shows that robust protection in a more severe side crash is achievable,” said Harkey.
The Mazda CX-5’s score eclipsed that of models from notable brands that advertise their vehicles as being ultra-safe, such as Subaru and Volvo. Two models, the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross and Honda HR-V score the lowest possible score of “Poor.” Although the pricey Audi Q3 had an overall score of Acceptable, it scored Poor on one critical measurement, the Pelvis injury. “Obviously, these results aren’t great, but they’re in line with what we expected when we adopted this more stringent test,” says IIHS Senior Research Engineer Becky Mueller, whose research formed the foundation for the new test protocol.
IIHS goes to great lengths to match its crash test ratings to real-world crash injuries and fatalities. The idea is to see if the vehicles that score higher in IIHS testing actually protect the occupants in the real world when crashes happen. A study conducted in 2011 evaluating 10 years' worth of crash data found that a driver of a vehicle with a Good side rating is 70 percent less likely to die in a left-side crash than a driver of a vehicle with a poor rating. That helps IIHS know that its testing does in fact measure real-world protection.
Although vehicles have gotten safer as automakers strived to earn good scores on the side-impact testing IIHS does, side impacts still accounted for a whopping 23 percent of passenger vehicle occupant deaths in 2019. This is why IIHS opted to make its testing standard tougher.
IIHS is giving automakers until 2023 to update their designs before a low score on the new side-impact test will disqualify a model from earning the TOP SAFETY PICK and TOP SAFETY PICK+ award so highly cherished by automakers. Until that time, the old standard will still be used, but IHS will also publish the results of the new test in its overall results for consumers to see. This is typical for IIHS. The group lets automakers know a change is coming, but with models having a five to seven-year re-design calendar, it is difficult for automakers to immediately update the vehicles it already has in production.
For now, the Mazda CX-5 safety score means that it is the highest-rated two-row crossover one can purchase in America. The Mazda CX-5 has earned the TOP SAFETY PICK+ award every year since the 2014 model year.
John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. John's interest in EVs goes back to 1990 when he designed the thermal control system for an EV battery as part of an academic team. After earning his mechanical engineering degree, John completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers, in the semiconductor industry, and in biotech. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American news outlets and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on TikTok @ToknCars, on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin
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