Car Crash Safety Tests Are Changing, And That's Bad News For These Affordable Models

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has updated its testing criteria, which will likely result in some safety award rating downgrades in a lot of midsize cars starting next year. This change in testing was prompted by earlier research that found a sizable discrepancy between controlled crash tests and data from real-world side impact accidents, which the IIHS states can account for close to one-fourth of passenger fatalities, and are often much more severe than was previously tested for.

Updated tests will now use increased weights (4,200 pounds) and speeds (37 mph) to better simulate a side-impact collision with a midsize SUV — that's compared to the 3,300-pound barriers moving at 31 mph previously used. It's also believed that the generally lower ride height of these types of vehicles has been a contributing factor to their lower overall evaluations. That lower ride height can lead to impacts hitting higher on the door panel, something that IIHS President David Harkey says "... 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."

Which popular car models were tested?

While the newest round of IIHS testing has so far only been applied to seven midsize vehicles, the updated ratings breakdown between them is fairly significant. Of the test group, only three cars were able to achieve an Acceptable to Good rating, one managed a Marginal, and three received Poor results. According to the IIHS, all of these vehicles had earned a Good rating when tested using the older criteria.

The 2022 Subaru Outback managed to earn the one and only Good rating, while the two Acceptable ratings were given to the 2022 Hyundai Sonata and the 2022 Volkswagen Jetta. The 2022 Honda Accord received the single Marginal rating. Finally, the three Poor ratings were given to the 2022 Toyota Camry, 2022 Nissan Altima, and 2022 Chevrolet Malibu.

Some midsized cars, like the 2019 Audi A8, do include additional active suspension that can automatically lift the side of the car up right before a wreck, resulting in better driver and passenger protection from side impacts. However, these kinds of features are still probably several years away from being made available in more affordable vehicles. For now, these new testing criteria won't affect IIHS safety awards, but they will become the norm starting in 2023.