• Forester and Outlander Sport named Top Safety Pick+
  • Testing now includes small overlap frontal crash test
  • 11 small SUVs rated poor or marginal in more rigorous test

Redesigned for the 2014 model year, the new Subaru Forester is the only one of 13 small SUVs to earn the top score of Good in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS's) new small overlap frontal crash test. One other model, the 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, also passed the test, scoring an Acceptable rating. All 11 other models were rated as either Marginal or Poor in the new test.

IIHS added the small overlap frontal crash test to simulate the front corner of a vehicle striking a narrow obstacle such as a tree or a utility pole. IIHS also updated its ranking system for new cars to reflect the additional test. Top Safety Pick still refers to any vehicle that earns a top score of Good in four crash tests -- moderate overlap front, side, rear and rollover. To be named a Top Safety Pick+, the vehicle must score Good in four of the five tests, including the new small overlap test, and no less than an Acceptable rating in the fifth.

IIHS gave the designation of Top Safety Pick+ to the 2014 Subaru Forester, which earned a top score of Good in every test category, and the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. Some of the other 11 small SUVs tested keep their Top Safety Pick status, despite weak scores in the new test. These include the BMW X1, Buick Encore, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Volkswagen Tiguan and the 2014 Jeep Patriot. Two others, the Nissan Rogue and the Jeep Wrangler, did not score high enough to be recognized.

In the small overlap test, IIHS crashes the driver's side front corner of a vehicle into a 5-foot-tall barrier at 40 miles per hour. The federal government still tests vehicles in a full frontal collision, and IIHS has its moderate overlap test. But the new test concentrates crash energy in a smaller area, replicating the kind of dangerous crashes that occur in the real world. IIHS found in a 2009 study that, for vehicles with Good frontal crash ratings, a quarter of accidents with severe or fatal injuries to front-seat passengers were small overlap frontal crashes.

Automakers typically respond to these results, working to make their vehicles safer and more effective at passing IIHS and federal crash tests. In fact, one popular model sat out during this round of testing. Toyota asked IIHS to delay testing of the RAV4 so that the automaker could make changes to improve the vehicle's performance in the new test.

What it means to you: Earning a Top Safety Pick+ designation from IIHS proved tough for small SUVs. Only the Forester and the Outlander Sport earned IIHS's best overall rating.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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