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Small overlap test exposes gaps in some midsize SUVs protection

Small overlap test exposes gaps in some midsize SUVs protection
Tristan Honeywill

A year and a half after its introduction, the US small overlap test is continuing to challenge manufacturers in the US. In the latest round of tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Chevrolet Equinox and its twin, the GMC Terrain, were the only midsize SUVs out of nine evaluated to earn a good rating in the crash test. People buy SUVs expecting them to be tougher than average, so what went wrong?

The small overlap test encourages vehicle manufacturers to design vehicles with better safety structures. In a small overlap crash, the main structures of the vehicle’s front-end crush zone are bypassed, making it hard for the vehicle to manage crash energy. The occupant compartment can collapse as a result.

The automakers are responding, some much faster than others. General Motors made modifications to the front structure and windscreen-pillars of the 2014 versions of the Equinox and Terrain. GM has made it a priority to engineer its new models to do well in the test, also introducing structural changes to the Chevrolet Malibu sedan to improve its protection rating from marginal to good.

The tests also revealed that some popular SUVs just cannot cope with a crash of this type. The Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-9 and Kia Sorento all received a poor rating in the crash test. Side airbags failed to go off, door frames hit the heads of dummies, brake pedals and windscreen pillars came back towards the driver and front wheels ended up level with knees.

Slightly better were the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota 4Runner and Ford Explorer, which managed “marginal” ratings. The Toyota Highlander received an “adequate” rating,

It’s surprising that more haven’t taken the same pre-emptive action as GM. Manufacturers have known about the small overlap test since 2009, giving them enough time to upgrade structures and airbags. It’s hard to believe that some are producing vehicles with airbags that won’t necessarily fire when needed. Launched in 2010, the Equinox and Terrain may no longer be the latest thing, but by getting the basics right on safety they’ve just earned a huge advantage in the US market.

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