Of 13 midsize SUVs tested, only four — the Ford Explorer, Ford Mustang Mach-E, Subaru Ascent and Tesla Model Y — earn good ratings.
IIHS recently updated its longstanding moderate overlap front crash test to add a rear passenger dummy positioned behind the driver. Although the test still includes a driver dummy, rear passenger protection is the main thing currently differentiating vehicles in this test.
Three others, the Chevrolet Traverse, Toyota Highlander and Volkswagen Atlas, earn marginal ratings. Six more, the Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Wrangler 4-door, Mazda CX-9 and Nissan Murano, are rated poor.
IIHS launched the updated moderate overlap front test last year in response to research showing that the front-seat safety gains that were driven by the original evaluation have not been matched in the rear. In vehicles from model year 2007 onward, the risk of a fatal injury is 46 percent higher for belted occupants in the rear seat than in the front. This isn’t because the rear seat has become less safe, but because restraint technologies have only improved in the front seat.
The new test incorporates a Hybrid III dummy representing a small woman or 12-year-old child positioned in the second row behind the driver and uses specific metrics that focus on the injuries most frequently seen in rear-seat occupants.
To earn a good rating, measurements recorded by sensors in the second-row dummy must not exceed limits indicating an excessive risk of injury to the head, neck, chest, abdomen or thigh. Video footage and greasepaint applied to the dummy’s head must confirm that the restraints prevented the head from hitting the vehicle interior or coming too close to the front seatback and also prevented the dummy’s body from “submarining,” or sliding forward beneath the lap belt, which causes abdominal injuries. A pressure sensor that monitors the position of the shoulder belt on the torso of the dummy is also used to help gauge the risk of chest injuries.
By most metrics, the four good-rated vehicles provide solid protection for rear passengers. The seat belt remained properly positioned on the pelvis, the side curtain airbag performed correctly, and there was no excessive force on the dummy’s chest. Measurements taken from the rear dummy indicated a slight risk of head or neck injuries for the Ascent and Explorer, however. In those two vehicles and in the Model Y, the rear dummy’s head approached the front seatback, which increases the risk of head injuries.
“All these vehicles provide excellent protection for the driver,” said IIHS President David Harkey, “but only a handful extend that level of safety to the back seat.”