Tag Archives: sideimpact

Side Impact Crash Protection: What’s the Safest Station Wagon in 2017?

I love station wagons and I’m pretty fond of hatchbacks. Unfortunately, neither are nearly as popular today in the US as they used to be. They’re still all the rage in Europe (where the roads are safer and the cars are smaller), but in the US and Canada, they’ve largely been replaced by SUVs, which have largely been replaced by crossovers. At any rate, I’m still a fan of them, and there’s a growing number of folks around the US who feel the same way.

However, if you’ve got a family, or are simply safety-conscious, you might be concerned about giving up something by choosing a station wagon or hatchback over an SUV or a minivan. The good news is that you don’t have to sacrifice safety for the practicality of a good wagon. In fact, the leading wagons are among the safest vehicles on the road; you just have to know which ones to look for.

Here’s a recap of my favorites on the market at the moment, along with leading safety features and 3 across car seat guides for fellow parents. The wagons are sorted by levels of side impact resistance, given the importance of reducing B-pillar penetration in surviving side impacts and the high fatality rate of side impact collisions. I’ll write a similar comparison of hatchbacks (e.g., vehicles like the Prius, Golf, 500L, and Impreza) later on.

2014-s212-e-class-wagon-pd2010-2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagon

If you’re looking for luxury combined with safety in wagon form, the E-Class wagon is the vehicle most likely to meet your needs. Based on the E-Class sedan which boasts the highest level of side impact protection of any sedan at 24 cm of B-pillar resistance, we can expect the wagon variant to perform similarly, placing the E-Class wagon at the top of station wagon safety mountain. It has great frontal small overlap and moderate overlap scores, side scores, roof scores, as well as good frontal crash protection. Like most of the vehicles on this list, it received a Top Safety Pick+ award by the IIHS in 2016 when equipped with optional frontal crash prevention packages.

The biggest strikes against the E-Class wagon are its purchase price (it currently retails at $59,000, which is more than the median family household income in the US) and the price to maintain it; like almost all luxury vehicles, you can easily end up spending thousands each year to keep it on the road, which make it a potentially hazardous choice if you don’t have the maintenance skills, social network, or pocketbook necessary to keep it happy.

My 3 across car seat guide to the E-Class wagon is here.

nhtsa-2017-outback2015-2017 Subaru Outback

The Outback is the undisputed king of station wagons and hatchbacks in the US; sales estimates for the year are beyond 160,000 models, making it one of the 30 most popular vehicles sold in the country. Based on the Legacy, its sedan counterpart, the Outback includes a range of modern safety features, including solid crash scores as well as good frontal crash prevention with the purchase of an additional package. It also features 22 cm of side impact intrusion resistance, more than any other non-luxury station wagon (only the E-Class wagon is estimated to be higher at 24 cm). If you want a safe family station wagon, statistically, you’re probably going to end up with the Outback. And that’s not a bad choice at all.

My 3 across car seat guide to the Outback is here.

2017 Volvo V90

The V90 is the station wagon version of Volvo’s recently released S90, which itself is a successor to the S80. Because the IIHS rarely tests luxury wagons and because Volvo, like most manufacturers, doesn’t change much from the sedan to wagon version, we can assume the V90 is structured identically to the S90 from a safety standpoint, which means it’s going to be another good choice for families, as well as a direct competitor to the E-Class wagon. We can estimate its side impact intrusion resistance at 18.5 cm due to the S90’s performance in this area. Similarly, because the S90 received a Top Safety Pick award by the IIHS for 2017, we can expect the V90 to be at the same level of recognition by the IIHS.

The primary downside to the V90 is the fact that it costs almost as much as the E-Class Wagon at $55,000 MSRP while having no availability whatsoever in the used market due to its debuting as a 2017 model year vehicle.

My 3 across car seat guide to the V90 is coming soon.

2010-jetta-sportswagen-pd2009-2017 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen

The Jetta SportWagen design is the oldest of the vehicles on this list, but it competes admirably against the rest. Dating back to 2009, the current design is still relevant among the competition with 15.5 cm of side impact intrusion resistance, as well as good frontal, side, and roof scores. It’s important to note that the IIHS has not evaluated the SportWagen for small overlap performance, so this area is likely poor or marginal. However, in the ultimate test of driver safety–actual driver death records–the IIHS found the ’09-’11 SportWagen to do just as good of a job as the ’10-’11 Outback with a driver death rate of 6, one of the lowest of all vehicles surveyed.

My 3 across car seat guide to the Jetta wagon is here.

v60 - 2013 - publicdomain cc02015-2017 Volvo V60

Like its larger sibling the V90, the V60 is the wagon version of a sedan, the S60. And like the S90 (on which the V90 is based), the V60 is outfitted with a wide array of safety features and scores well in a range of areas. Notably, unlike the S90 (and V90 by extension), the V60 has a good torso subscore in the side impact test. The B-pillar intrusion resistance is decent at 15.5 cm and tied with that of the SportWagen. As a nod to its good performance in a battery of IIHS tests, it received a Top Safety Pick+ award by the IIHS for 2016 when equipped with optional additional frontal crash prevention technology.

My 3 across car seat guide to the V60 is here.

nhtsa-2014-prius-v2013-2017 Toyota Prius V

The Prius V is the reigning champion of hybrid station wagons, and its smaller cousin, the Prius, was also the safest small car sold in the US a few years ago per the IIHS’ most recent driver death rate study. As a result, I do recommend the V for families or individuals in search of a fuel efficient safe station wagon. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the current Prius V has many more safety features than the prior regular Prius that ranked well in the IIHS study. Howevr, keep in mind that as with many vehicles that rank well in actual death rate studies, I feel the performance has far more to do with the drivers of the vehicles than it does with the vehicles themselves.

The biggest strikes against the Prius V from a side impact standpoint are that it only offers 10.5 cm of intrusion resistance, earning it an “acceptable” subscore in that area from the IIHS (who prefer to see at least 12.5 cm), and the fact that the head protection for rear passengers scored “marginal”, indicating there’d not be an adequate level of head protection in an actual side impact collision. This is something Toyota needs to fix, and soon. That said, the vehicle still received a Top Safety Pick+ award by the IIHS for 2016 when equipped with optional additional frontal crash prevention technology.

My 3 across car seat guide to the Prius V is here.

Conclusions

In conclusion, while these aren’t the only station wagons worth looking at from a safety perspective in the United States, these are definitely the primary players worth considering if safety is a priority.

Each vehicle here has its benefits; if you’re looking for the safest vehicle on paper, the most expensive, or the most luxurious, you’ll want the E-Class wagon. If you’re interested in the cheapest to maintain, you’ll want the Prius V. If you’re looking for the absolute cheapest to buy on the used market, you’ll want the SportWagen. The most ground clearance and the most popular? That’s the Outback. Some luxury without E-Class attractiveness to thieves? The V90 or the V60, depending on your budget and size requirements. Of course, you can look at each of these vehicles in entirely different ways. The most important thing to remember, however, is that at these levels of safety, how you drive will make far more of a difference than what you drive.

We can’t control everything. The safest option is still not driving at all, followed by driving as little as possible. But if you’ve got to drive, drive safely, and do your best to choose a safe vehicle. To that end, my guides to the various safety levels available in used and new vehicles on the market are worth reading.

1. How Old is Too Old For a Safe Used Car / SUV? Part 1

2. How Old is OK For a Safe Used Car, Minivan, or SUV? Part 2

3. What To Look For in a Safe Used Car, Minivan, or SUV? Part 3

4. The Best Safety Features in Used Cars, Minivans, SUVs: Part 4

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. It’s exciting to see where we’re headed in vehicle safety these days. I’ll have followup articles soon comparing comparing car and SUV safety along the same metrics. Stay tuned, remember to avoid common mistakes parents make with car seats, and check out some 3 across car seat guides while you’re here.

If you find the information on car safety, recommended car seats, and car seat reviews on this car seat blog helpful, you can bookmark and shop through this Amazon link. Canadians can bookmark and shop through this link.

Side Impact Crash Protection: The Safest SUVs and Crossovers in 2017

The Q7 is the best SUV you can buy for side impact protection today.
The Q7 is the best SUV you can buy for side impact protection today.

Side impact collisions are among the most dangerous kinds of collisions we ever face in a passenger-sized vehicle. In order to keep our loved ones safe if we’re ever unfortunate enough to be involved in a t-bone, it helps to have some of the latest technology on our side. To that end, I’ve spent the last several years compiling lists of vehicles in various classes with the best crash test performance in side impacts to help parents and families make better new and used buying decisions. Previous articles in this series are below:

Side Impact Safety in 2015

The safest cars for side impact survival.

The safest minivans for side impact survival.

The safest small cars for side impact survival.

The safest SUVs and crossovers for side impact survival.

Side Impact Safety in 2016

The safest small SUVs and crossovers for side impact survival.

The safest family cars for side impact survival.

The safest minivans for side impact survival.

The safest small cars for side impact survival.

How dangerous are side impact collisions compared to frontal or rear collisions?

To put it simply, side impact collisions are the collisions that are most likely to take your life or the life of a loved one, when compared with front-, and rear-end collisions. From doing the math in an earlier post on side impact collisions, we know that even though only around 1 out of every 5 collisions involve side impacts, they lead to 1 out of every 3 vehicle occupant deaths in multiple vehicle collisions. In comparison, basically 1 out of 2 collisions involve frontal impacts, which lead to around 1 out of every 2 multiple collision deaths. Even more dramatically, while more than 1 out of every 4 collisions are rear enders, they only result in around 1 out of every 12 multiple collision deaths.

Looking at the numbers shows us side impacts are the collisions most likely to be fatal, even though they’re the least common. Knowing this, it’s worth figuring out how to reduce our risks of dying from one.

How to keep from dying in a side impact collision – what options do we have?

Unfortunately, if you live in the United States, you live in a country that isn’t the most willing to make changes to make our roads safer for everyone. In the US, you can drink much, much more before you’re considered drunk than you would in many parts of Europe (where the driver death rates are lower). Similarly, you don’t really have restrictions on how big your vehicle can be, regardless of how little experience you have as a driver. This isn’t the case in a number of other countries. You also live in a country that turns a blind eye toward many speed limits and is vehemently opposed to traffic cameras, despite their prevalence in countries with lower crash death rates. And of course, you’re also in a country where it’s hard to travel long (or short) distances inexpensively without driving.

I’ve written about some of these issues in past articles, such as one on why Swedish roads are among the safest in the world, and another on why driving in Europe is safer than driving in the US. I’ll have more articles soon about the things we can learn from other countries when it comes to driving safely (e.g., learning from Norway when it comes to child safety, looking into why Iceland has so few traffic deaths per year, and what Norway does differently to make its roads among the safest in the world for all drivers).

However, until we’re willing to make a number of necessary changes, if you’re invested in keeping your family safe from death in t-bone collisions, I’d recommend you:

1.) Avoid driving (e.g., by using public transportation or by cycling or walking…eventually this leads to a critical mass where everyone is safer).

2.) Limit driving (by the same measures above and by combining trips).

3.) Drive the  most side-impact-resistant vehicles possible.

Ultimately, to truly bring an end to side impact collisions, as well as to all collisions, we’re going to need to be forced to invest in the first two measures. I’d consider self-driving or autonomous vehicles to be part of “avoiding driving,” even though those aren’t going to eliminate collisions completely until the vast majority of vehicles on the road are no longer being driven by humans (the critical mass argument).

However, unless you’re in a position to completely follow step 1, you’ll need to focus on 2 and 3. Step 2 isn’t always feasible either, so this post focuses on Step 3, and deals specifically with choosing the safest SUVs and crossovers available for side impact protection in the US in 2016. I realize 2016 is close to an end, but this is also means this is the best time of the year to get discounts on current year models if you’re interested in the latest technology. Fortunately, as you’ll see below, you don’t always need the newest vehicles to be as safe as currently possible. You just need to know who’s doing the best job.

This post focuses on SUVs and crossovers and the best ones to be in if you’re unfortunate enough to be in a side impact collision.

Calculating which SUVs are the safest for side impact collisions by structural integrity (crush distance)

I’ve written about the math behind these calculations in previous posts, such as in the relevant articles on surviving side impacts in cars, minivans, and SUVs and crossovers, so hop back to those articles to read about this in detail. The short version is that the IIHS runs a side impact test. It simulates a 3300 lb SUV crashing into the side of a vehicle at 31 mph, or 143.7KJ of kinetic energy. Every vehicle deforms somewhat at the B-pillar when absorbing such an impact, and there’s a subscore in the IIHS test known as the “structure and safety cage” looks into how close the B-pillar intrudes into the center of the driver’s seat during the collision. Less intrusion is better. Let’s see who has the least intrusion right now in the family car market.

I searched through the test scores of every SUV and crossover currently available in the US to make this best-of list. I’m defining SUVs and crossovers as any vehicle that’s not a car, pickup truck, minivan, or cargo van yet capable of transporting at least five individuals. To put it simply, these are the vehicles the IIHS classifies as small, mid-sized, or large SUVs. I also made the lower threshold for inclusion in the list 23 cm of intrusion resistance, which knocked out a lot of vehicles that were present the last time I made this list. These are the best of the best.

Keep in mind that the IIHS continually updates their side impact information while gathering additional information, so in a few months, it’s likely that these numbers may be slightly different, and I’ll have another article to reflect those changes. All data is accurate as of late December 2016, and all images are either from yours truly or courtesy of Wikipedia.

The 7 safest SUVs and crossovers for side impact collisions in 2017

q7 - 2017 - publicdomain27.5 cm – 2017 Audi Q7.

The current generation Audi Q7  is the safest SUV or crossover you can buy today in the US when it comes to side impact crash protection, based on its 27.5 cm of crush protection. As of this writing, no other SUV or crossover does a better job, and to be even more direct, no other vehicle does any better, out of all cars, minivans and SUVs currently on the market. In other words, when it comes to side impact protection, Volvo sets the benchmark for every other vehicle to aspire to at this time. To put it in yet another way, if a Ford Escape (the best of the small SUVs for side impact resistance)  crashed into you at 31 mph while you were driving a Q7 there’d be nearly a full foot of space between the center of your seat and the crushed B-pillar after the collision.

That’s impressive.

The new Q7 is also one of many Top Safety Pick+ choices on this list, which basically means that it features good scores in every crash test currently performed by the IIHS, as well as a good score in front crash prevention when equipped with optional equipment. Not every SUV on this list is sa TSP+, however, so shop carefully.

v09560P00126 cm – 2016 Volvo XC90.

The current generation Volvo XC90 is hot on the heels of the Q7 with 26 cm of side impact protection, even though it also suffers from an only “acceptable” torso subscore within the overall side impact score. However, structurally, it’s a sound SUV, and  I look forward to seeing how it performs in the ultimate measure of driver safety–the next set of driver death rate results a few years from now.

It’s worth noting that the previous generation of the XC90 in the 4WD trim (specifically the 2008-2011 model years) was one of the various vehicles to make the IIHS’ “zero list,” where no drivers were estimated to have lost their lives in a three year driving window. That generation of the XC90 tested at 9.5 cm of intrusion resistance.

My full 3 across car seat guide to the XC90 is available here.

x5 - publicdomain - 201425 cm – 2014-2016 BMW X5.

Immediately after the XC90 comes the BMW X5 with a stellar intrusion-resistance score of 25 cm. Given BMW’s history of attention to safety, this isn’t surprising, but it’s still impressive.

The X5, however, is one of the SUVs on this list that is not a Top Safety Pick+, which is due to the fact that the only crash tests the IIHS has performed on it are the moderate overlap frontal test and the side impact test. The small overlap test, roof test, and head restraint tests are yet to be performed. The IIHS has yet to offer an explanation why.

My full 3 across car seat guide to the X5 is available here.

nhtsa-2016-lexus-rx24 cm – 2016 Lexus RX.

The Lexus RX is one of only three vehicles on the list not hailing from a German automaker (the other two are the Volvos, which are Chinese-owned but Swedish-run), and it makes a strong showing with its intrusion score of 24 cm. The RX also stakes its claim as a Top Safety Pick+ and is easily going to be the most reliable vehicle on this list.

As was the case with the XC90 above, it’s worth noting that the previous generation of the RX in the 4WD trim (specifically the 2010-2011 model years) was one of the various vehicles to make the IIHS’ “zero list”, where no drivers were estimated to have lost their lives in a three year driving window. Six drivers were estimated to have died in the 2WD trim level. That generation of the RX tested at 17.5 cm of intrusion resistance.

My full 3 across car seat guide to the RX is available here.

glk - 2013 - publicdomain24 cm – 2011-2015 Mercedes-Benz GLK (e.g., GLK 350).

Hot on the heels of the X5 is the GLK crossover by MB with a highly impressive intrusion score of 24 cm, equaling that of Mercedes-Benz’s E-Class sedan. Given MB’s history of developing safe vehicles, this isn’t much of a surprise. What’s more of a surprise is the fact that the GLK crossover design is at least 4 years old in this generation, meaning it has been providing an exceptional amount of safety for years that other vehicles are just beginning to approach, never mind exceed. I  look forward to seeing the GLK show up on a driver death rate study; MB will need to sell more of them for it to make an appearance.

It’s also worth noting that the GLK is not a TSP+ due to the lack of a small overlap score.

My full 3 across car seat guide to the GLK is available here.

q5 - 2009 - publicdomain23 cm – 2009-2016 Audi Q5.

Audi makes their second appearance on the list with the Q5, which holds the impressive distinction of being the oldest model to make the top list with a design dating back to 2009.  The 2015 edition was also updated with a reinforced front-end to result in a good small overlap score. I look forward to seeing the Q5 show up on a driver death rate study; Audi will need to sell more of them for it to make an appearance. However, given their position in the market as an alternative to MB and BMW, I doubt they’ll lose sleep wondering if they sell enough Q5s to show up in death rate studies, although the A4 and A6 pop up (and do very well) from time to time.

My full 3 across car seat guide to the Q5 is available here.

xc60 - public domain - flickr22 cm – 2010-2016 Volvo XC60.

Volvo makes their second appearance on this list with the XC60. As with the Q5, I look forward to seeing the XC60 show up on a driver death rate study; Volvo will need to sell more of them for it to make an appearance. Given the appearance of the XC90 in the two most recent studies, I’m hopeful this means Volvo’s US car sales are on the upswing. Along with BMW, Mercedes, Subaru, and Audi, Volvo puts an awful lot of their research and development into safety technologies these days.

My full 3 across car seat guide to the XC60 is available here.

How to choose an SUV to keep you safe in side impact crashes

In conclusion, what does this all mean? Should you sell your current SUV and buy one of the above immediately? Is every other SUV on the road just not good enough?

Well, not exactly. There are a number of other great vehicles that I didn’t include on the list to save time that were literally only a centimeter or two away from appearing on the list. Ford, for example, came close with the Edge, its badge twin the Lincoln MKX, and the Explorer with 20, 20, and 19.5 cm respectively. The newly released Buick Envision clocked in at 21 cm, and the Cadillac XT5, an updated SRX, clocked in at 20 cm. There are plenty of other safe choices out there; I just focused on the very best-performing ones.

The takeaway message is that it’s worth looking beyond the overall “good” score and diving into the structural integrity subscore when searching for safe cars for this particular kind of crash. Of course, you’ll start with looking for airbags and the overall “good” score, but beyond that, if you’re choosing between two vehicles that seem good on paper, dive into this subscore and you might be surprised at what you find. And remember that just because a car isn’t anywhere near the top numbers on this list doesn’t mean it’s not safe.

Keep in mind, too, that two of the vehicles on this list, the XC90 and the RX, had previous generations that made the IIHS’ “zero list” with lower levels of side impact intrusion protection. The XC90, in particular, had 9.5 cm when tested, a figure that wouldn’t put it anywhere near the leading vehicles in the list above. Yet no drivers were reported to have died while driving one during the observed years.

We can’t control everything. The safest option is still not driving at all, followed by driving as little as possible. But if you’ve got to drive, drive safely, and do your best to choose a safe vehicle. To that end, my safe family vehicle analyses for cars and SUVs are worth reading.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. It’s exciting to see where we’re headed in vehicle safety these days. I’ll have followup articles soon comparing comparing car and SUV safety along the same metrics. Stay tuned, remember to avoid common mistakes parents make with car seats, and check out some 3 across car seat guides while you’re here.

If you find the information on car safety, recommended car seats, and car seat reviews on this car seat blog helpful, you can bookmark and shop through this Amazon link. Canadians can bookmark and shop through this link.