• IIHS safety evaluation includes new crash test
  • Three of nine midsize SUVs tested named Top Safety Pick+
  • GMC Terrain and Chevy Equinox earn high scores across the board

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) announced three midsize SUV models that earned its top score in recent crash tests. The 2014 GMC Terrain and Chevrolet Equinox, sister models from GM, were both given Top Safety Pick+ recognition, with the highest possible score of Good in each of the five tests. The 2014 Toyota Highlander also grabbed Top Safety Pick+ honors, scoring an Acceptable rating in the newest crash test and Good ratings in others.

Called the small-overlap front crash test, the new test proved challenging for six other midsize SUVs. Vehicles need a score of Good or Acceptable on the test, which mimics crashing into a narrow obstacle such as a utility pole, to be given the Top Safety Pick+ rating. High scores of Good in the other four tests are required, too, along with what IIHS calls a "basic" collision-prevention system.

Weak performance in the small-overlap crash tests kept both the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer from achieving IIHS's highest honor. Both offer collision-prevention technology and scored Good ratings in the other four tests, but Marginal scores in the small-overlap tests are short of the requirements to be named a Top Safety Pick+.

The 2014 Toyota 4Runner matched the Grand Cherokee and Explorer in crash testing, but it faces two hurdles to earn a Top Safety Pick+ rating. It needs both a better small-overlap front crash test and an available collision-prevention system. The 2014 Honda Pilot, Kia Sorento and Mazda CX-9 need the most improvement. Each scored the lowest rating (Poor) on the new small-overlap crash test, and none offers collision-prevention technology.

Crash tests by federal regulators paint a slightly different safety picture for these nine SUVs. All score well, getting either four stars or the maximum five stars. But the 2014 GMC Terrain and Chevy Equinox, which aced IIHS testing, get the same 4-star rating as the CX-9 and Pilot. The Explorer and Sorento, meanwhile, match the 5-star rating of the Toyota Highlander, despite not equaling the Highlander in IIHS scoring.

Just as automotive safety is constantly evolving, so are crash tests and ratings. IIHS is not done testing midsize SUVs; it lists 14 models in the category that have yet to undergo the new small-overlap crash test. For now, the 2014 GMC Terrain, Chevy Equinox and Toyota Highlander are the highest-rated vehicles in the midsize SUV category. Look for more announcements handing out Top Safety Pick+ ratings as the institute tests more of these models.

What it means to you: More rigorous testing by IIHS means fewer models earn its highest safety rating. Two 5-passenger SUVs -- the 2014 GMC Terrain and Chevy Equinox -- and the 3-row Toyota Highlander have each been named a Top Safety Pick+.

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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