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The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently revamped one of its crash tests to improve rear passenger safety. The 2021-2023 Mazda CX-9 was among the models tested under the more rigorous procedure and earned an overall rating of “poor,” a notable designation given Mazda’s three-row midsize SUV is intended to serve as a family hauler.  

The IIHS alters test to focus on rear passenger safety

The gray Mazda CX-9 midsize sports utility vehicle (SUV) is unveiled during the Los Angeles Auto Show
The Mazda CX-9 | Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The IIHS reported it recently updated its “moderate overlap” front crash test intended in response to research showing rear-seat passengers wearing a seatbelt have a 46 percent higher risk of a fatal injury versus front-seat occupants. The organization noted significant improvements to front-seat safety have not made their way into the second and third rows of vehicles. The IIHS said rear seats haven’t become less safe; rather, “restraint technologies” have been limited to the front seats.

Consumer Reports notes most new cars include pretensioners and load limiters for front-seat passenger restraints. To enhance safety, drivers rely on the pretensioners tightening. After a collision occurs, the load limiters release that tension so that the passenger is at a lower risk of injury, particularly in the chest. IIHS spokesperson Joe Young told Consumer Reports that using “advanced seat belt designs” for rear passengers improves rear seat safety under the organization’s new testing procedures.

To update testing, the IIHS uses a crash dummy that substitutes for a small child behind the driver’s seat. This dummy is used to evaluate the impact and potential for injury to the head, neck, chest, and more. It also measures the risk of “submarining,” in which a rear passenger slides forward underneath the lap belt, causing abdominal injuries. Additionally, it measures the “survival space” for the driver ahead of the added second-row dummy.

The test results do not include rear-seat passengers in rear- or forward-facing five-point harness child safety seats. Young told Consumer Reports such child seats deliver “a high level of crash protection.” Here’s how this relates to the 2023 Mazda CX-9.

The 2021-2023 Mazda CX-9 rated “poor” in updated IIHS crash test

The 2021-2023 Mazda CX-9 scored “poor” in the IIHS’s “moderate overlap front: updated test” category. Its overall score was compiled through four rear passenger “injury measures.” The Mazda scored “poor” for rear passenger head and neck injury risk, with the IIHS stating the rear dummy used its test of the CX-9 “indicated a high risk of head or neck injuries.” The test also noted the rear seat belt tension was “high” in the CX-9, which could lead to chest injuries. The CX-9 was rated “moderate” in the chest rear passenger safety category. It earned a “good” rating for thigh and restraints/kinetics for rear passengers.

The Mazda CX-9’s poor rating is a black eye on its overall safety. It was named an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ for 2023 as well as 2021 and 2022.

Jennifer Morrison, a safety specialist and engineer with Mazda, said the CX-9 is not equipped with rear seat belt pretensioners or load limiters. The lack of these features could have greatly impacted the CX-9’s showing in the updated crash test. Young with the IIHS said models with pretensioners and load limiters generally perform better for rear seat safety in crash tests, though their inclusion does not guarantee a “good” rating, Consumer Reports noted.

Morrison said the 2024 CX-90, the CX-9’s replacement, will include pretensioners and load limiters for rear seat belts as standard.

Additional SUVs score ‘poor’ in updated test beyond the 2021-2023 Mazda CX-9

The IIHS’ recent report on its updated crash test showed the Mazda CX-9 among several SUVs to earn a “poor” rating. The 2022 Honda Pilot, 2022-23 Hyundai Palisade, 2022-23 Jeep Grand Cherokee and four-door Jeep Wrangler, 2021-23 Mazda CX-9, and 2021-23 Nissan Murano all earned “poor” ratings in the test. The Chevrolet Traverse, Toyota Highlander, and Volkswagen Atlas from model years 2022-23 earned a “moderate” score.

Of the 13 models tested, only the 2022-23 Ford Explorer, 2021-23 Ford Mustang Mach-E, 2022-23 Subaru Ascent, and 2022-23 Tesla Model Y earned good ratings. The Mach-E was the only model with a “good” rating for all rear passenger injury measures. The hope is that all vehicles with a “poor” rating, including the 2023 Mazda CX-9, are able to make changes to improve safety for rear-seat passengers.