Due to the lack of an automatic emergency braking system and poor-rated headlights, eight small pickup trucks tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) fell short of qualifying for either of the Institute’s safety awards.

Still, four out of the eight did earn good ratings for occupant protection in all five crashworthiness evaluations.

IIHS engineers evaluated two body styles of each pickup -- crew cab and extended cab. Crew cabs have four full doors and two full rows of seating. Extended cabs have two full front doors, two smaller rear doors, and compact second-row seats.

To assess crashworthiness, the Institute rates vehicles as good, acceptable, marginal, or poor based on performance in five tests: moderate overlap front, small overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints. IIHS also rates the performance of front crash prevention systems and headlights.

“This group of small pickups performed better in the small overlap front test than many of their larger pickup cousins,” said IIHS Chief Research Officer David Zuby. “The exception was the Nissan Frontier, which hasn’t had a structural redesign since the 2005 model year.”

The small overlap test is the most challenging of the IIHS crashworthiness evaluations. It replicates what happens when a vehicle runs off the road and hits a tree or pole or clips another vehicle that has crossed the center line.

How they fared

The Toyota Tacoma crew cab, which Toyota calls the Double Cab, was the top performer in the small overlap test, earning a good rating due to good individual ratings for structure, restraints, and kinematics. It also received a good rating on all injury measures except the lower leg and foot, which was rated acceptable.

The extended cab, which Toyota calls the Access Cab, had similar results, with the exception of an acceptable rating for structure due to some additional occupant compartment intrusion.

The Chevrolet Colorado Crew Cab and its GMC Canyon Crew Cab twin also earn good ratings for occupant protection in a small overlap front crash. The extended cabs earn an acceptable rating.

Both the Nissan Frontier King Cab and the Frontier Crew Cab earn marginal ratings. The side curtain airbag protected the dummy’s head from contact with side structure and outside objects in both the crew- and extended-cab tests. Its structure, however, allowed considerable intrusion into the occupant compartment, compromising driver survival space. In a real-world crash like this, the driver would likely sustain serious injuries to the lower legs and left foot.

The Frontiers earn good ratings in the moderate overlap front, side, and roof strength test and acceptable ratings for head restraints.

PhotoThe extended-cab versions of the Colorado and Canyon earn good ratings in the moderate overlap front, roof strength, and head restraint evaluations and acceptable ratings in the side test.

Headlights are a dim spot for all the small pickups evaluated. None are available with anything other than poor-rated headlights.

“Headlights are basic but vital safety equipment. Drivers shouldn’t have to give up the ability to see the road at night when they choose a small pickup,” said Zuby.

Models that earn good ratings in the Institute’s five crashworthiness evaluations and an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention with standard or optional autobrake qualify for a 2017 TOP SAFETY PICK award.

Models that also have headlights that earn a good or acceptable rating qualify for a 2017 TOP SAFETY PICK+ award.


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