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Fortifying the Flanks: Initial results of new side-impact crash test a ‘mixed bag,’ IIHS says

Toronto, Ontario — The IIHS is in the process of putting smaller cars through the crash testing ringer following calls from safety advocates to intensify the side-impact test for such vehicles, referring to the initial results of the new test as a “mixed bag” on Thursday.

Of the 11 vehicles put through this revised testing regimen, only the Mazda 3 sedan and Mazda 3 hatchback came away with “good” ratings, while the Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla sedan, Toyota Corolla hatchback, Honda Civic sedan and Honda Civic hatchback were rated as “acceptable.”

The institute commended the structure and safety cage of the tested Mazda 3 models, as well as their head-facing airbags for greatly diminishing crash severity for both drivers and passengers.

Four models, the Kia Forte, Subaru Crosstrek and the Subaru Impreza sedan and wagon, received a rating of “poor.”

Post-test measurements showed that the driver dummies in both the Kia Forte and the two Subaru Impreza models were at high risk of head and neck injury due to the heads of the dummies hitting the windowsill, in addition to significant intrusions into the occupant compartment.

In the previous version of the side-impact crash test, all 11 vehicles passed with “good” ratings.

Representatives from the IIHS point out that it is promising to see automakers like Mazda adjusting the dimensions of their models to account for the effect that ride height has on impact severity for smaller vehicles.

“It’s encouraging to see so many small cars with passing grades in this new side test,” said IIHS senior research engineer Becky Mueller, who spearheaded the development of the evaluation.

“Smaller, lower vehicles are at a disadvantage when struck by the new test barrier, which is a more realistic representation of the front end of a typical modern SUV than our old barrier. Clearly, some manufacturers have already figured out how to provide sufficient protection in a crash like this even for occupants of small cars.”

The loose aim of modern vehicle design is to guide the bulk of the impact from collisions toward the floor of the vehicle, in the aim of protecting more vital areas of the body like the head, neck and torso.

With these new testing parameters from the IIHS, automakers are now working to raise the ride heights of smaller vehicles, so that striking vehicles hit closer to the floor of the occupant compartment.

Vice president of the institute’s vehicle research centre, Raul Arbelaez says that the overall length of a vehicle’s occupant compartment also plays an important role in crash severity.

“Doors tend to be weaker than the B-pillar and the frame surrounding the occupant compartment. Small cars have less of that weaker space because of their shorter wheelbase and occupant compartment,” said v-p of the IIHS’s vehicle research centre.

The new version of the side-impact crash test uses a heavier striking barrier, up from 3,300 to 4,200 lbs., travelling at a higher rate of speed, up from 50km/h to 60.

As it stands, this new test will not have any bearing on eligibility for the IIHS Top Safety Pick awards, 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+, according to the institute.

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