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In the latest round of IIHS safety testing, many vehicles are falling short of the top scores they earned just one year ago. Despite almost no changes coming to the 2023 Mazda3 lineup, the newest model dropped one level in IIHS safety awards. Updated testing standards have knocked several cars off of the top step, and the smallest Mazda is just one more model that no longer earns top safety ratings.

2023 Mazda3 sedan and hatchback provide great safety, but fall short in one area
2023 Mazda3 lineup | Mazda

Updated side-impact tests deal blow to the Mazda3

At first glance, it looks like the 2023 Mazda3 should earn the highest possible marks in IIHS testing. But when diving deeper into the new crash test standards, it is easy to see where the latest Mazda compact has lost some ground.

In the updated IIHS side-impact crash test, the Mazda earns a Good overall score. However, front driver injury measures show a different story altogether. In testing, the Mazda3 earns just Acceptable torso and pelvis injury scores when applying the new side-impact standards. Perhaps more concerning, the structure and safety cage don’t earn top marks either.

Measurements indicate that the impact pushed the center door pillar into the driver’s compartment, stopping just six inches from the centerline of the driver’s seat. That means direct contact with the body of the driver, though it is a survivable impact. That said, it’s not the first time updated side impact tests have highlighted problems with vehicle construction.

Mazda3 safety tech remains excellent

As crash-prevention technology goes, the new Mazda3 retains its high safety rating. Both collision avoidance and pedestrian detection earn top marks. In vehicle-to-vehicle testing, the Mazda avoided all collisions up to 25 mph. In vehicle-to-pedestrian testing, the Japanese compact avoided all collisions up to 37 mph. Overall, it is one of only a few vehicles to perform so well in these tests.

Why so many cars are falling short of new standards

To understand why the Mazda3, and so many others, are losing their Top Safety Pick Plus ratings, we have to look at how the IIHS has changed side-impact testing for this year.

In the past, the test used a 3,300-pound barrier and an impact speed of 31 mph to conduct side-impact tests. However, the weight of modern SUVs and the average speed of impact fell above those testing standards, making it an unrealistic test for real-world applications.

Furthermore, the original crash barrier was solid, while the new barrier is allowed to flex around door pillars, more realistically mimicking the front end of a modern truck or SUV.

Finally, the IIHS adjusted the height of the crash barrier to more realistically model modern SUV designs. In all, the institute designed these changes to more accurately depict real-world results and expose flaws in vehicle design.

Today, the IIHS uses a 4,200-pound barrier traveling at 37 mph in side impact tests, and the result is an 82-percent increase in impact energy. That, plus the updated flexibility, are why so many cars are now slipping down the safety ratings ladder, including the new Mazda3.

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