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Midsize sedans fail to impress in IIHS side-impact crash tests

The Subaru Outback was the only model earning a good rating

Crash safety test concept
Photo (c) JestersCap - Getty Images
If safety is your top criterion in choosing a vehicle, you might want to skip over the midsize sedans. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that only three of the seven midsize cars it tested earned good or acceptable ratings when subjected to an updated side impact crash test.

The Subaru Outback was the only midsize car to emerge from the test with a good rating. The Hyundai Sonata and Volkswagen Jetta earned an acceptable rating but were pulled down by slightly higher levels of intrusion into the occupant compartment.

Midsize sedans’ unimpressive showing stands in contrast to the small and midsize SUVs that the IIHS had put to the test earlier. The organization says one reason for that is that the sedans sit lower to the ground.

"With vehicles that sit lower to the ground, the striking barrier hits higher on the door panel,” said IIHS President David Harkey. “That potentially puts sedans and wagons at a disadvantage in this evaluation but reflects what happens in a real-world crash when these vehicles are struck by a higher-riding pickup or SUV.”

Airbag improvements

The Outback, Sonata, and Jetta also performed well in the test because of the head-protecting airbags in the driver and rear passenger seats. The IIHS said that contributes to a low risk of head and neck injuries for occupants in both seating positions. 

However, injury measures were somewhat elevated for the driver’s pelvis and rear passenger’s torso in the Jetta and the rear passenger’s pelvis in the Sonata.

Honda, GM, Nissan, and Toyota may have some additional work to do. IIHS researchers said the Honda Accord managed only a marginal rating, while the Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry earned poor ratings.

In the Accord, the injury measures for the driver’s pelvis were slightly elevated. The test showed that the driver’s head moved down past the side curtain airbag to contact the windowsill during the crash.

Tests on the Altima and Malibu showed substantial intrusion into the occupant compartment, but researchers said the safety cage of the Camry held up well. Injury measures indicated a high risk of torso and pelvis injuries for the driver in the Altima.

There was only a moderate risk of torso and pelvis injuries for the driver and a high risk of pelvis injuries for the rear passenger in the Camry, and there was a high risk of head or neck injuries for the driver in the Malibu. 

Side-impact crashes are serious accidents

Side impact crashes, also called “T-bone accidents,” can have serious effects on the human body. According to JusticePays.com, side impact collisions kill more people each year than rear-end and head-on collisions combined. 

This new research led the IIHS to update its side impact test to hold vehicles to a higher standard of safety than before. The updated side crash test uses a heavier barrier traveling at a higher speed to simulate the striking vehicle.

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