Automakers starting in 2018 will have another challenge to face in the crash-test contest: the passenger-side small overlap front test.
"When we published that research, we said we were considering adding a passenger-side test to our awards criteria", Mueller says. Starting in 2018, vehicles must have good or acceptable ratings on the passenger side of the auto in the small front overlap test in order to qualify for the IIHS's coveted Top Safety Pick+ rating.
This latest feather in a Top Safety Pick Plus award recipient's cap will indicate that the auto earned an acceptable or good score for its ability to withstand a collision in which the passenger-side corner strikes, for example, a tree or utility pole.
Last year, the organization found inconsistencies in passenger-side small overlap test results on seven small SUVs from the 2014 through 2016 model years that had good ratings for driver-side protection.
In contrast, the two worst-performing cars, the Malibu and Passat, earned a marginal score for passenger protection. You're putting everyone at risk. The test is basically the passenger version of the existing small front overlap test, a stringent evaluation implemented in 2012 that sends a vehicle into a barrier at 40 miles per hour with just 25 percent of the front end on the driver side overlapping the obstacle.
Automakers are off to a promising start on the new test, with 10 of 13 cars in the first official test group of what IIHS categorizes as "mid-size cars" earning good ratings. The 2017 Compass's optional HID headlights headlights received a marginal headlight rating, while the base halogen headlights earned a poor rating.
"The restraint system didn't do a good job of protecting the dummy's head from contacting the dash", senior research engineer Becky Mueller said in a statement. "Optimizing airbags and safety belts to provide better head protection for front-seat passengers appears to be the most urgent task right now".
The 2017 Compass earned a superior rating for its optional front crash prevention system. It also was clear that what works for small overlap protection on the left side might not work on the right, since vehicles are to a certain extent asymmetrical.
A small group of compact crossover SUVs were given provisional passenger-side evaluations past year by the institute.
Among the midsize cars, all of which have good driver-side ratings, the Subaru Outback was one of the top performers in the new test. "Numerous cars in this group are equipped with improved passenger airbags that appear to be created to do well in our test and in an oblique test that the government is considering adding to its safety ratings". The dummy's head in the tests managed to slip past the front airbag and side airbag and strike the corner of the dashboard in some of the vehicles.
The Passat is one of five cars with an acceptable, instead of good, structural rating.
"In fact, we encouraged them to do that in the short term if it meant that they could quickly make driver-side improvements to more vehicles", Zuby said in the study. Intrusion reached 9 inches at the lower door-hinge pillar, compared with 5 inches in the driver-side test.
While the NHTSA (National Highway Transport Safety Administration) has its own battery of crash tests that all U.S. cars must satisfy, the IIHS has been running its own extra tests for several decades. IIHS will conduct occasional audit tests. While the 2017 Compass did receive a Top Safety Pick rating it missed out on the highest rating.