Smaller Pickups Outperformed the Big Boys in IIHS Overlap Crash Test

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently ran eight pickups through the small overlap front crash test, which replicates one of the most infamous and deadly of accident types — one where the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or object. The segment, which the IIHS called “small pickups,” could easily be categorized as midsize. But, with no smaller options currently available in the domestic market, their terminology works well enough.

So, how did the smaller pickups stack up when hurled toward a concrete pylon at 40 miles an hour? A little better than you might expect.

If we were absolutely forced to drive into a brick wall, we’d probably prefer to be seated in a full-size truck — specifically the Ford F-150 SuperCab. But the junior pickup group wasn’t a segment full of deathtraps. In fact, they suffered less structural deformation overall and posed less risk of injury to the lower leg region when compared to their full-size brethren. There were exceptions, however. 

Nissan’s Frontier, which is now approximately four thousand years old, performed the worst within its segment. Both the Frontier King Cab and Frontier Crew Cab earned marginal ratings. But the extensive physical deformation of the Crew Cab earned it a poor structural score, while the King Cab fared slightly better.

“This group of small pickups performed better in the small overlap front test than many of their larger pickup cousins,” explained David Zuby, the Institute’s executive vice president and chief research officer. “The exception was the Nissan Frontier, which hasn’t had a structural redesign since the 2005 model year.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t have expected the same level of crash-worthiness from a vehicle that’s been around since 2004. The good news is that the Nissans aren’t breaking in half. (They’re just allowing the footwell to buckle into the driver’s lower extremities by over 12 inches.)

The Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon also had issues keeping foot and leg injuries to a minimum in Extended Cab format, receiving similarly poor marks. The difference is that their structural might proved better than the Nissan’s. The pair received an adequate overall rating in Extended Cab guise and a good score when optioned as a Crew Cab.

Toyota Tacoma’s crew cab, which the automaker calls the Double Cab, was the top performer in the small overlap test. The Tacoma Double Cab earned a good rating with above-average marks for everything but lower-leg protection, which was still deemed adequate. The Access Cab model received a similar assessment but was found to be slightly less structurally sound overall. Still, the issue wasn’t serious enough to keep it from receiving a positive final score.

Despite half the segment receiving good ratings from the IIHS, none were deemed worthy of a Safety Pick award. Only models that earn good ratings in the Institute’s five crashworthiness tests and an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention (with standard or optional automatic braking), can qualify for a 2017 Top Safety Pick achievement. Vehicles with headlights earning good or acceptable ratings can also qualify for a Top Safety Pick Plus awards.

However, none of the trucks made the grade, as all were slighted for having subpar headlamps. The Institute began stressing the importance of headlights last year to encourage manufacturers to improve nighttime driving visibility and reduce glare for oncoming drivers. Every truck in the segment received a poor headlight score.

“Headlights are basic but vital safety equipment. Drivers shouldn’t have to give up the ability to see the road at night when they choose a small pickup,” Zuby said.

A breakdown of each vehicle’s performance can be found on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website, as well as additional details on the small overlap front test.

[Images: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety]


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