Updated with a statement from Toyota. See below.
Back in 2012, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety added a new challenge for automakers: the small front overlap test. As you might guess from the name, it was designed to evaluate how well cars protected occupants when vehicles collided with narrow objects like trees or light poles.
The initial results were alarming. Unlike full frontal crashes, which bring vehicles to full stops, small overlap crashes allow a vehicle to keep moving forward, increasing potential damage from the collision. Few cars performed well on the new IIHS test, and automakers went back to their drawing boards to institute improvements.
The good news is, of the 97 vehicles that were updated to address the shortcomings exposed by the small front overlap test, nearly 75 percent now earn a "good" rating.
The bad news is, the IIHS test is currently conducted on just the driver's side, so that's where automakers have focused their redesign efforts. Recent IIHS tests involving the passenger's side of vehicles show that there's still plenty of room for improvement. IIHS' David Zuby explains:
"It’s not surprising that automakers would focus their initial efforts to improve small overlap protection on the side of the vehicle that we conduct the tests on. In fact, we encouraged them to do that in the short term if it meant they could quickly make driver-side improvements to more vehicles. As time goes by, though, we would hope they ensure similar levels of protection on both sides."
The passenger-side tests involved seven popular crossovers: the 2015 Buick Encore, 2015 Honda CR-V, 2016 Hyundai Tucson, 2015 Mazda CX-5, 2014 Nissan Rogue, 2014 Subaru Forester, and 2015 Toyota RAV4. All received "good" scores on driver-side tests, but the Tucson was the only model to receive a "good" on the passenger-side test, too. The Encore, CR-V, and CX-5 received ratings of "acceptable".
The Rogue and the Forester fared worse, earning "moderate" scores on the passenger-side test. The Rogue had 10 inches more intrusion on the passenger's side than on the driver's, and the passenger-side door hinge pillar was completely torn off in the collision. The IIHS says that the Forester (as well as the CX-5) had "substantially more intrusion" on the passenger-side, too.
The worst performer of the lot was the Toyota RAV4. It allowed 13 inches more intrusion on the passenger's side, and the door opened during the test. It was rated a "poor".
Interestingly, the IIHS conducted driver- and passenger-side moderate overlap crash tests on two of those vehicles, the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4, just to see what the results would be. (The moderate overlap test affects 40 percent of a vehicle's front bumper.) Both performed well. The IIHS believes that that's because the models are sold in right-hand-drive markets, and regulatory agencies in those markets conduct tests similar to the moderate front overlap. So far, though, the IIHS is the only agency to conduct the more rigorous small front overlap crash test.
Just to be clear, the passenger-side small front overlap test isn't yet mandatory, so the passenger-side scores aren't official--yet. However, the IIHS could change that as early as 2018.
To see the IIHS small front overlap crash test in action, be sure to check out the video above.
Update: This morning, Toyota issued a short statement about the IIHS crash test results:
The IIHS small overlap test is severe, specialized and goes beyond federal vehicle safety requirements. After it was first introduced in 2012, Toyota took steps to improve the performance of its vehicle in the test. Rather than waiting to re-engineer both driver’s and passenger’s sides, we took immediate steps to enhance performance on the driver’s side. Looking ahead, we’ve incorporated enhancements on both the driver’s and passenger’s side for vehicles built on Toyota’s new TNGA platforms, beginning with the 2016 Prius.
We continue to be transparent with IIHS throughout this process about the steps we have taken to improve the performance of Toyota vehicles on the small overlap test.