Automotive safety has come a long way in the past 56 years, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has had a lot to do with it. Founded in 1959, its goal was to improve driving conditions and help to reduce the rate of fatal accidents on American roads. While much has changed since then, the IIHS has always remained ahead of the curve in calling for new safety measures, publicly exposing faults in automotive safety, and lobbying automakers to do better.
While every new car on the road is significantly safer than anything built in 1959, there are still models with some very troubling safety issues. Most cars that receive a poor rating from the IIHS earn it during its small overlap front test, a scenario similar to striking a tree or telephone pole with the front left 25% of the front end. When the IIHS began this test in 1995, more than half the new cars on the market received poor or marginal ratings. Today, that number has been drastically reduced as automakers use the test to expose significant safety and structural issues with their cars, and introduce new measures to protect drivers, like knee airbags.
Still, despite stronger materials, airbags, and a host of electronic warning systems, there are some popular and well-known cars that are shockingly ill-equipped to handle potentially dangerous accidents. From subcompacts to SUVs, here are 8 models with that failed to impress the IIHS with their safety performance.
1. Mitsubishi Mirage
At $12,995, the Mitsubishi Mirage is one of the cheapest new cars on sale today – and it shows. Despite getting an impressive 44 miles per gallon on the highway, the Mirage feels more like a throwback to the subcompact penalty boxes of the 1990s than almost anything else on the road. Squeaks, rattles, and cheap plastic abounds inside, and its Poor rating on the IIHS’ small overlap front test is the icing on the cake.
To be fair, most models in the institute’s “Microcar” segment are lacking protection in this department, but the Honda Fit and Chevrolet Spark still managed to emerge as 2015 IIHS Top Safety picks. The Mirage may be a cheap car, but there are plenty of better (and safer) alternatives out there.
2. Hyundai Accent
Like the Mirage, the Accent is an entry-level subcompact that places value and economy over sportiness or luxury. Also like the Mirage, it’s a bit of a slouch in the safety department. On top of a Poor small overlap front test, the Accent also earned an average rating for side impact protection. With overachievers like the Honda Fit and Chevrolet Spark in its segment, the Accent probably won’t make any safety-conscious buyers short lists anytime soon.
Mazda’s small people mover has been largely unchanged since 2010, and it’s beginning to show its age. Back then, its flowing design language was found across the entire Mazda line. Today, it looks like an antique compared to the elegant Mazda3 and Mazda6 models. Unfortunately, Its safety ratings are also decidedly old-school. It scored a Poor rating for the small overlap front test, a marginal rating for side impact safety, and an acceptable rating for head restraint and seat performance. As Mazda’s lineup continues to evolve and expand, it sees little reason to keep its outdated minivan around, and the Mazda5 will be discontinued after 2015.
4. Audi A4
Introduced in 1995, the A4 is the sport sedan that helped put Audi on the map as a true competitor to BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Known for its sleek, luxurious interior, and smooth 2.0 liter 220 horsepower inline-four, the A4 is more than enough to give the standard-bearer BMW 3-Series a serious run for its money. Unfortunately, it’s the only Midsize Luxury car to earn a Poor rating in the IIHS small overlap front test. Surprisingly, Audi’s smaller A3 sedan fared much better, earning an IIHS “Top Safety Pick +.”
5. Lincoln MKS
While Lincoln begins its ambitious transformation from also-ran to world-class luxury brand, company continues to tread water with the bland MKS sedan. Closely based on the Ford Taurus, the MKS hasn’t won many converts with its polarizing styling and strong similarities to the Ford. Like the Audi, the MKS has the distinction of being the only car in its class to earn a Poor rating in the small overlap front test – an embarrassing performance considering that seven other models in the large luxury segment earned “Top Safety Pick +” status.
6. Jeep Wrangler
The Jeep Wrangler has become legendary for offering incredible off-road performance and old-school simplicity. Unfortunately, that simplicity makes it a safety liability. Unsurprisingly, its iconic removable doors don’t do much in the way of crash protection, and it earned a Poor rating on the side impact test. Combined with marginal ratings in the front small overlap front and head restraint and seats tests, the rugged go-anywhere Jeep leaves something to be desired in the safety department.
7. Mazda CX9
Like the Mazda5, the CX9 is a relic from Mazda’s unfocused past. Despite two facelifts during its lifespan, the CX9 has been largely unchanged since its debut as a 2007 model, and is based on decade-old Ford engineering. As a result, its safety record and lack of safety updates leave much to be desired. On top of a Poor front small overlap front test, its marginal performance in roof strength, head restraint and seat tests make it one of IIHS’ lowest-rated midsize SUVs on the market today. Mazda plans to introduce an all-new CX9 for 2017, and you can expect that many of these issues will be addressed.
8. Nissan Quest
For years, the Nissan Quest has been one of the most stylish and unique minivans on the market. Unfortunately, IIHS executive vice president Dave Zuby described the Quest’s small overlap front test as “one of the worst crash tests we’ve ever seen.” As a result of the 40 mile per hour test, the crash test dummy was pinned between the floor and steering wheel, forcing IIHS engineers to remove the drivers seat and use crowbars to pry the dummy loose. Had the test been a real life accident, Zuby says, “a person experiencing this would be lucky to ever walk normally again.”
Along with a merely acceptable rating for roof strength, the Quest is a far cry from minivan top safety picks like the Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, and Kia Sedona, and is probably best to avoid.
While these eight models are leaps and bounds above even 20 year old models in terms of safety, they still leave plenty to be desired compared to the safer models available today. As an independent organization, the IIHS works to bring their findings to both the consumer and the manufacturer, bringing much needed transparency to the automotive world, and helping to make each successive generation of cars safer than the last.