You probably didn't realize it, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) — one of America's leading automotive safety judgement groups — updated its side impact crash test this year. The new test uses a heavier 4,200-lb barrier, which is up from 3,300 lbs, and also increases the speed of the collision from 31 mph to 37 mph — the idea being that the new test better replicates the impacts cars will actually be suffering in the real world, where people drive briskly and SUVs and trucks outnumber cars in showrooms.
To begin, the IIHS tested an initial run of seven popular midsize vehicles that all earned Good ratings on the previous test. This time around, only one received a Good rating on the new version: the Subaru Outback.
Lower-riding sedans and wagons fared worse on the test, designed to simulate the impact of getting hit by an SUV. The Outback has an advantage, sitting higher with an SUV-like 8.7 inches of ground clearance in standard spec. The IIHS noted that the Outback’s structure held up reasonably well, preventing intrusion into the occupant compartment. Airbags in the Outback protected the head and neck of both the driver and passenger.
The Outback performing well shouldn’t be too surprising. Subaru places a major emphasis on safety, with features like its EyeSight driver assist technology, which uses front and rear cameras to help prevent and mitigate collisions. The Outback is one of four Subaru vehicles with a Top Safety Pick+ rating for 2022. And safety is an integral part of its all-around appeal for families.
Two of the six other vehicles in the test, the Hyundai Sonata and Volkswagen Jetta, earned Acceptable ratings. The Honda Accord received a Marginal rating. The Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima and Chevy Malibu each received Poor ratings.
The IIHS says the new side impact test will not affect the agency’s 2022 ratings. But starting in 2023, a vehicle will need an Acceptable rating to be named a Top Safety Pick and a Good rating to achieve Top Safety Pick+ status.