Most of the midsize SUVs recently evaluated in new, tougher side-impact tests earned good ratings. The ten best performers include: the Ford Explorer, Infiniti QX60, Lincoln Aviator, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, Volkswagen Atlas, Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport and Volkswagen ID.4, the only electric vehicle in the group.
The popular Hyundai Palisade and Jeep Wrangler 4-door were among the worst performers.
Overall, the group of 18 midsize SUVs performed better than the 20 small SUVs tested last fall, when only one managed a good rating, and half were rated marginal or poor, though there is still need for improvement.
“It’s encouraging to see so many midsize SUVs from different automakers earn good ratings in this more challenging evaluation,” Becky Mueller, senior research engineer for the Insurance Institute and whose research formed the foundation for the new test protocol, said in a statement. “These results will help confirm the adjustments they need to make to other vehicles going forward.”
The best rating for the insurance institute’s assessments is good followed by acceptable, marginal or poor. Each vehicle received an overall rating and in several sub categories, including safety and structure of occupant compartment, and protections for preventing injuries to drivers and passengers to head, torso and pelvis, the area most frequently injured in real-world side crashes, according to the report.
The small SUVs rated in October also struggled with driver pelvis injuries, but they performed worse than their larger counterparts in preventing injuries to the chest or abdomen, perhaps due to their lower height relative to the striking barrier.
The Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse earned acceptable ratings, and in addition to the Hyundai Palisade and Jeep Wrangler 4-door, four others were rated marginal: the Honda Passport, Honda Pilot, Kia Telluride and Nissan Murano.
No SUVs were rated poor overall, but several received that lowest rank in subcategories, like the Wrangler. It does not have side airbags for the rear seating positions, and as a result, earned a poor rating for passenger head protection.
“The absence of this crucial safety feature allowed the head of the rear passenger dummy to hit the vertical support of the vehicle’s removable roof and the window frame of the rear door,” researchers said in the report. “This fault was serious enough to bring the overall rating down to marginal, despite good ratings in all the other areas.”
The recent round of SUV evaluations is the second group assessed with an updated side crash test that employed a heavier barrier and higher impact speed, which resulted in 82% more crash energy than the institute’s original side test.
The new, tougher side test was introduced to address higher-speed crashes that continue to cause fatalities, researchers said, noting that side impact crashes accounted for 23% of passenger vehicle occupant deaths in 2020.