Results of crash tests for six SUVs show frontal crash protection has improved. However, the tests reveal significant differences in how well SUVs protect people in serious side crashes, according to a press release from The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), dated Oct. 11.
Among the worst performers in the side test are the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chevrolet TrailBlazer, even though both are equipped with standard side airbags. The front and side tests recently were conducted by the IIHS to evaluate how well midsize SUVs protect people in the two most common kinds of serious crashes. Rear crash protection ratings for these models were released earlier this year.
Five of the six SUVs earn the top rating of good in the Institute’s 40 mph frontal offset test. The Chevrolet TrailBlazer is the only one to earn an acceptable rating for frontal crash protection. Based on overall results of front, side, and rear tests, the TrailBlazer is the lowest rated current model midsize SUV tested by the Institute.
The release says performance varied considerably in the side test that replicates a 31 mph crash in which the striking vehicle is another SUV or pickup. Two Nissan SUVs, the Pathfinder and Xterra, are rated good for protection in side impacts, but only when they’re equipped with optional side airbags. Without the option, these SUVs earn marginal ratings.
The Toyota 4Runner equipped with standard side airbags is rated good, the Ford Explorer with standard side airbags earns an acceptable rating, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chevrolet TrailBlazer, both with standard side airbags, are marginal.
Two of the six SUVs have side airbags that don’t protect the torso
The Grand Cherokee and TrailBlazer are equipped with standard curtain-style side airbags designed to protect the heads of occupants in front and rear seats. But unlike most cars with side airbags, these two SUVs don’t have additional sets of airbags to protect front-seat occupants’ chests and abdomens.
The side structures of the 4Runner, Pathfinder, and Xterra performed better, allowing less intrusion into the occupant compartment. The standard side airbags in the 4Runner and the optional ones in the Pathfinder and Xterra include torso as well as head protection. Torso and head curtain airbags also are standard in the Explorer. While head protection was good in the Explorer, intrusion into the occupant compartment contributed to the possibility that someone in a real-world crash of similar severity would sustain a broken pelvis.
Standard side airbags are becoming more common across the vehicle fleet, but they’re standard in more cars than in SUVs. Among 2007 models, 71 percent of the cars have standard side airbags that protect both the head and chest while such protection is standard in only 48 percent of SUVs.
SUVs improve in frontal crash performance
Some midsize SUVs haven’t been good performers in past frontal tests conducted by the Institute. Four of the models in this group improved compared with their predecessor designs. The 1997-04 model Pathfinder, 1999-04 Grand Cherokee, and 2002-04 TrailBlazer were rated marginal for frontal crash protection. The 2000-04 Xterra was rated acceptable. All four of the new versions improve to good except the TrailBlazer, which improves to acceptable, according to the release.