Only one of seven midsize cars tested earned a good rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)’s updated side crash test.
Vehicles tested were the model year 2022:
- Subaru Outback;
- Hyundai Sonata;
- Volkswagen Jetta;
- Honda Accord;
- Toyota Camry;
- Nissan Altima; and
- Chevrolet Malibu.
The Outback was the only midsize vehicle to earn a good rating. With somewhat higher levels of occupant compartment intrusion, the Sonata and Jetta rated acceptable.
Overall, this initial group of midsize cars did not perform as well as the first batches of small and midsize SUVs evaluated earlier — one reason possibly being their lower ride height, an IIHS news release states.
“With vehicles that sit lower to the ground, the striking barrier hits higher on the door panel,” said IIHS President David Harkey, in the release. “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.”
The head-protecting airbags for the driver and rear passenger, which contribute to low risk of head and neck injuries for occupants in both seating positions, performed well in the Outback, Sonata, and Jetta. However, injury measures were somewhat elevated for the driver’s pelvis and rear passenger’s torso in the Jetta and the rear passenger’s pelvis in the Sonata, according to IIHS’ results.
The Accord earned an overall marginal rating and the Malibu, Altima, and Camry earned poor ratings.
There was moderate intrusion of the B-pillar into the occupant compartment of the Accord and injury measures for the driver’s pelvis were somewhat elevated. The driver’s head also moved down past the side curtain airbag and hit the windowsill during the crash.
The Altima and Malibu showed substantial intrusion into the occupant compartment but the safety cage of the Camry held up well, according to IIHS. Injury measures indicated a high risk of torso and pelvis injuries for the driver in the Altima, a moderate risk of torso and pelvis injuries for the driver, and high risk of pelvis injuries for the rear passenger in the Camry. The driver of the Malibu would be at high risk of head or neck injuries. In all three vehicles, the heads of the driver and/or rear passenger dummies slipped below the side curtain airbags and hit the windowsill.
IIHS developed the updated side crash test after research showed that many of the real-world side impacts that still account for nearly a quarter of passenger vehicle occupant fatalities are more severe than the original evaluation. The institute previously said protecting vehicle occupants in side-impact crashes comes as a challenge because vehicle sides “have relatively little space to absorb energy and shield occupants, unlike the fronts and rears, which have substantial crumple zones.”
The new test was first used in 2021. The original test had been in use since 2003. The updated side crash test uses a heavier barrier traveling at a higher speed to simulate the striking vehicle. The new barrier weighs 4,200 pounds, close to the weight of today’s midsize SUVs, and strikes the test vehicle at 37 mph compared to a 3,300-pound barrier traveling at 31 mph in the original test.
“We expect automakers to respond to our updated side tests, providing increased protection for occupants and producing safer vehicles for consumers,” Harkey said in a video overview of the newest test results.
For now, the updated test is not included in the IIHS award criteria. However, starting in 2023, a good or acceptable rating will be required for the lower-tier “Top Safety Pick” award and a good rating will be needed for the higher-tier “Top Safety Pick+.”
The Outback, Sonata, Jetta, Accord, Camry, Altima, and Malibu all earned good ratings in the original side test.
In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)’s crash safety rating program for side impact, the 2022 Outback scored five stars — the highest and safest possible rating — for both the driver and rear passenger.
NHTSA’s side impact scenario is that the test vehicle is hit in the driver’s side in the middle of a four-way intersection when another vehicle doesn’t yield at the stop sign. The test vehicle is hit with a 3,015-pound moving barrier traveling at 38.5 mph. The test evaluates injuries to the head, chest, abdomen, and pelvis.
NHTSA gave the Sonata, Jetta, Accord, and Camry five stars overall and five stars each for the drivers and rear passengers’ injuries. The Malibu was given four starts overall, four stars for the driver, and three stars for the rear passenger. The Altima received five stars overall, four for the driver, and five for the rear passenger.
Featured image: IIHS President David Harkey gives an overview of how seven midsize vehicles faired in the institute’s latest round of side impact tests. (Credit: IIHS YouTube video screenshot)
A crash test dummy is shown in a 2022 Subaru Outback during a side crash test impact. (Credit: IIHS YouTube video screenshot)