As demand for large SUVs and pickup trucks grows, the odds of colliding with a heavier vehicle have also risen. In response, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety introduced a new side-impact crash test to better simulate the impact of a mid-size SUV. Following an evaluation of small and mid-size SUVs, mid-size cars are the latest batch of vehicles to be put through the wringer. Although the sample size is smaller, they don’t fare as well overall as their higher-riding counterparts: Over half failed to earn the good or acceptable rating needed to qualify for a Top Safety Pick designation in 2023. The 2022 Subaru Outback, the only wagon tested, was also the only one to secure a good rating.
The New Criteria
IIHS redesigned its side crash-test method based on research that shows this type of impact is especially perilous in a crash. The agency says nearly a quarter of passenger vehicle occupant deaths were caused by side-impact collisions and real-world crashes were found to be more severe than its testing protocols were simulating. The new test uses a 4,200-pound barrier (up from 3,300 pounds in the original test) and crashes into the test vehicle at a speed of 37 mph (up from 31 mph). IIHS says the heavier barrier and faster speed better replicate a collision with a typical mid-size SUV.
Which Cars Passed, Which Ones Failed?
2022 Volkswagen Jetta (left) and Jetta GLI | Manufacturer image
IIHS tested six mid-size sedans (model-year 2022 examples of the Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Jetta) and one wagon (Subaru Outback). While all seven vehicles earned a good rating in the agency’s original side-impact test, most fell short when pitted against the heavier barrier.
- Good: Subaru Outback
- Acceptable: Hyundai Sonata, Volkswagen Jetta
- Marginal: Honda Accord
- Poor: Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry
The Outback had the best results, scoring good or acceptable ratings across all driver and rear-occupant injury measures and a good rating overall. The Jetta and Sonata weren’t far behind with acceptable ratings. The Jetta missed out on a good rating due to an increased injury risk to the driver’s pelvis and rear occupant’s torso, while the Sonata scored a marginal rating in the rear-occupant pelvis category. All three vehicles performed well in the head and neck categories thanks to their head-protecting airbags.
The Accord scored a marginal overall rating, while the Malibu, Altima and Camry got poor scores. The Accord had moderate intrusion into the occupant compartment and an increased injury risk to the driver’s pelvis and head. Meanwhile, the Altima and Malibu had more intrusion into the occupant compartment and increased injury risk in multiple categories. The Camry’s safety cage held up better than the Altima and Malibu’s, but the sedan scored marginal ratings in the driver torso, pelvis and head categories as well as a poor rating in the rear-occupant pelvis category. Additionally, all three of the vehicles’ side airbags did not prevent the test dummies’ heads from making contact with the windowsill.
A Height Disadvantage
2022 Honda Accord IIHS crash test | IIHS image
According to IIHS, many of the tested cars underperformed compared to previously tested SUVs due to their lower ride height.
“With vehicles that sit lower to the ground, the striking barrier hits higher on the door panel,” says IIHS President David Harkey in a statement. “That potentially puts sedans and wagons at a disadvantage in this evaluation but reflects what happens in a real-world crash when these vehicles are struck by a higher-riding pickup or SUV.”
This theory may offer an explanation for the Outback’s superior outcome: The wagon’s ride height straddles the line between a car and SUV, helping it secure a good rating.
Top Safety Pick Qualification
The updated side-impact crash test does not impact qualification for a vehicle tested for the 2022 Top Safety Pick awards, but that will change when IIHS will require a good or acceptable rating in the new test to qualify for the 2023 awards. Top Safety Pick contenders will need a good or acceptable rating, while the highest Top Safety Pick Plus designation will require a good rating.
For 2022, the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Subaru Outback and Toyota Camry earned the Top Safety Pick Plus designation, and the Hyundai Sonata is a Top Safety Pick.