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Some Gigantic SUVs Aren’t as Safe as You Think, Says IIHS Crash Tests

The latest round of crash testing from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) takes a look at full-size SUVs, specifically the Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Expedition, and Jeep Wagoneer. It’s not uncommon to assume size equals safety for those inside, but IIHS found some issues that kept all three from earning a Top Safety Pick+ rating. In fact, the Expedition and Tahoe failed to claim any safety pick award.

The primary concern from IIHS involves cabin deformation in the small overlap front crash test. This is a head-on collision where only a small portion of the vehicle impacts a fixed object. The Wagoneer earned a good rating for this test, showing only minor intrusion into the footwell for the driver and front-seat passenger. The results suggested a modest risk for injury to the driver’s left foot and ankle.

Things were a bit different in the Tahoe, which received an acceptable rating. The collision caused the cabin to buckle inward towards the bottom in both driver and passenger tests. The intrusion was enough to present a substantial risk of lower leg injuries for the driver, and a high risk for right-foot injuries to the passenger. There was also a moderate risk of injuries to the passenger’s left leg.

It was worse in the Expedition, which only garnered a marginal rating for this test. In addition to extensive intrusion low in the passenger compartment, the SUV’s steering column partially detached and the A-pillar split apart from the rocker panel. The IIHS determined a high risk of injury to the driver’s right leg and a moderate risk to the left. Damage on the passenger side wasn’t as extensive.

That’s not the only test in which the SUVs struggled. The IIHS updated its moderate-overlap crash test to include metrics for second-row passengers, and none received a good rating. The Wagoneer and Expedition were rated marginal with test dummies showing a “fairly high risk of chest injuries” due to seat-belt forces. The test dummy in the Tahoe also showed a high risk of head and neck injuries, leading to its poor rating.

There’s more bad news for the Tahoe. The IIHS gave its headlights a poor rating due to excessive glare for other drivers and a lack of low-beam visibility on the right side of the vehicle. It could be a factor in the IIHS also rating the Tahoe marginal in its pedestrian safety test. During daylight, the automatic braking system activated and either avoided or substantially slowed before hitting a simulated person crossing the street. In the dark with low beams on, the SUV never even slowed down.

Vehicle Small Overlap Front Updated Moderate Overlap Front Side Impact
Headlights Front Crash Prevention: Pedestrian Seat belt reminders LATCH ease of use
2023-2024 Jeep Wagoneer Good Marginal Good Good / Acceptible Good Marginal Good+
2023-2024 Chevrolet Tahoe Acceptible Poor Good Poor Marginal Acceptable Good+
2023-2024 Ford Expedition Marginal Marginal Good Marginal Good Good Acceptable

“These discouraging results show that some popular vehicles still lag behind in meeting the most advanced safety standards,” said Raul Arbelaez, IIHS vice president of the Vehicle Research Center. “The good news is that the top performer in this class proves that automakers can readily address these problems.”

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