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Head Restraint, Headlights Keep Ford Bronco Four-Door From Winning IIHS Approval

Although the Ford Bronco Four-Door -- full-sized -- is one of the success stories of the auto year, one area where it has not lived up to the successful story line is in the ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety where issues with the head restraints and headlights kept the popular model from earning an IIHS award.
Posted: December 21, 2021 - 9:15AM
Author: Marc Stern

For more than two decades, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has conducted a comprehensive vehicle rating program that has become one of the standards of the automotive world.

IIHS Develops Independent Testing

Since it began rating vehicles, IIHS has continually developed tests that rate the capabilities of vehicles currently sold in the United States. IIHS is an independent safety group dedicated to making vehicles safer. Since that is its mission, it is little wonder that the group publishes its safety ratings.

To say they don't play favorites is an understatement. With the popularity of Ford's new Bronco, one would think that the SUV would meet the group's safety standards hands-down, but they don't. While the Bronco Four-Door doesn't meet the IIHS ratings, it does pass another test, sustainability as the automaker looks to the ocean's giant trash heap for some of its parts.

Indeed, when the IIHS released its assessment of the 2021 Bronco four-door – one of the two full-sized models, the other is the two-door – the safety group noted that while the SUV did well in most of the group's testing categories, it did not earn one of the safety group's awards due to two issues:

  • Headrests
  • Headlights

Testing Explores Major Aspects Of Safety

When IIHS evaluates a vehicle, it looks at two major aspects of automotive safety: crashworthiness and crash avoidance/mitigation. As part of the crashworthiness aspect of its ratings, the safety group looks at six specific tests:

  • Driver-side small overlap front
  • Passenger-side small overlap front
  • Moderate overlap front
  • Original side
  • Roof strength
  • Head restraint

In order to qualify for one of the group's two awards – an IIHS Top Safety Pick or a Top Safety Pick+, a vehicle has to receive a Good rating in one of these six tests. It must also earn an Advanced or Superior rating in vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian front prevention.
And, lastly, the vehicle must receive an Acceptable or Good rating in the available headlight category to receive a Top Safety Pick. Also, the vehicle must receive an Acceptable or Good rating in the standard headlight rating for a Top Safety Pick+ award.

The SUV earned a Good rating in five crashworthiness tests in the Bronco ratings. However, it received an Acceptable rating in the head restraint requirement. IIHS notes the SUV's headrests meet its criteria for geometry but come up short when providing enough support for an occupant if the vehicle is hit from behind by a similar weight vehicle going 20 mph.

Bronco Meets Mitigation Standard

Interestingly, the Bronco meets the IIHS criteria for crash avoidance and mitigation with Superior and Advanced ratings in the vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian tests.

But, the Bronco fell off in the headlight category, and the Bronco was given the second mark that kept it from an award in the available or standard headlight category. Specifically, according to the IIHS, the reason the Bronco didn't earn a better grade was that "both headlight systems available on the Bronco earn marginal ratings because their low beams do not illuminate the road to a far enough distance on curves."

Interestingly, the other Bronco model, the Bronco Sport, did very well in the IIHS tests, earning a Top Safety Pick+ rating in the Small SUV category.

Bronco’s Chief Competitor

Meanwhile, the Bronco's chief competitor, the Jeep Wrangler, also failed to win an IIHS award. According to Car and Driver, the Jeep's head restraints received a Good rating. However, where the Bronco received a Good rating in the Driver's side small overlap crash test, the Jeep's rating was only marginal because it tended to tip "onto its side."

Photo Courtesy Ford Motor Co.

Marc Stern has been an automotive writer since 1971 when an otherwise normal news editor said, "You're our new car editor," and dumped about 27 pounds of auto stuff on my desk. I was in heaven as I have been a gearhead from my early days. As a teen, I spent the usual number of misspent hours hanging out at gas stations Shell and Texaco (a big thing in my youth) and working on cars. From there on, it was a straight line to my first column for the paper, "You Auto Know," an enterprise that I handled faithfully for 32 years. Not many people know that I also handled computer documentation for a good part of my living while writing YAN. My best writing, though, was always in cars. My work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, AutoWeek, SuperStock, Trailer Life, Old Cars Weekly, Special Interest Autos, etc. You can follow me on: Twitter or Facebook.