Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee Rated Poor in Latest IIHS Crash Tests

June 12, 2018 by Jack Nerad

Most of a group of midsize SUVs tested by an insurance industry group received only poor and acceptable crash ratings.

The Ford Explorer and the Jeep Grand Cherokee were rated “poor” by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS, in its latest small overlap crash test results.

The Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder and Honda Pilot got “acceptable” ratings although there were indications of the possibility of head injuries in the Pilot’s results.

Three of the eight SUVs tested — the GMC Acadia, Kia Sorento and Volkswagen Atlas — earned a “good” rating.

A small overlap test is meant to simulate a crash that occurs when only the front corner of a vehicle strikes another vehicle or an object such as a tree or utility pole at 40 mph.

All of the vehicles tested are 2018 models except for the 2019 Kia Sorento.

Both Explorer and Grand Cherokee had structural problems that resulted in their poor ratings, IIHS chief research officer David Zuby told

“We saw more intrusion or collapsing of the occupant compartment around the driver than we consider to be good performance,” Zuby said about the Explorer.

In the small overlap test the structural collapse may have contributed to the high forces on the test dummy’s legs that would likely have resulted in leg injuries to a human driver, he said.

In the test of the Explorer, portions of the vehicle intruded 15 inches into the passenger compartment at one point and 13 inches in others.

Intrusion is important because in modern vehicles “where people ride, or the safety cage, is supposed to be the last line of defense,” Zuby said.

The dummy's position in relation to the door frame and dashboard after the crash test indicates that the passenger's survival space was not maintained well.

Ford Explorer passenger-side small overlap frontal crash test. The dummy’s position in relation to the door frame and dashboard after the crash test indicates that the passenger’s survival space was not maintained well. (Photo: IIHS)

The Explorer also had poor structural performance in the driver-side test. It received an overall rating of “marginal” for driver-side small overlap protection.

The Grand Cherokee demonstrated less passenger-compartment intrusion than the Explorer. Its maximum intrusion was 10 inches. Despite having a seatbelt and an airbag, the dummy moved forward enough to hit its head on the instrument panel.

“We also saw the door coming open, and I think that had to do with the way the structure was designed,” Zuby said. During the test the dummy’s head slipped outside the vehicle.

“We don’t like to see that in crashes because the more serious crashes resulting in injuries and death often involve ejection or partial ejection of people from the vehicle,” he said.

Head injuries could result from crashes similar to the tests performed on the Grand Cherokee and Honda Pilot, IIHS said. In the case of the Pilot, however, its seat belts and airbags were found to be at fault while its structure was rated “good.”

“We were concerned because the dummy’s head managed to get all the way to the dashboard and strike against it pretty hard,” Zuby said about the Pilot’s test.

The remaining vehicles earned a “good” or “acceptable” rating for passenger-side small overlap front protection.

The GMC Acadia, Kia Sorento and Volkswagen Atlas were “good across the board; the safety cage remained largely intact,” Zuby said.

“The forces that we measured on the dummies were all low, indicating low risks of injury, and the seatbelt and airbags appeared to be doing a good job of controlling where a human would go during a crash like this,” he said.

Among the rated SUVs only the Kia Sorento earned the IIHS’ highest award, Top Safety Pick+. To qualify for the award, a vehicle must be rated “good” or “acceptable” in the passenger-side small overlap and get a “good” rating in the other IIHS crash tests. It also must offer advanced front crash prevention and highly rated headlights.

IIHS began driver-side small overlap crashes in 2012. It started rating vehicles in the passenger-side test last year.

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