Most compact sport-utility vehicles scored poorly on an insurance industry test that measures damage from front-end collisions with fixed objects such as a tree or pole.
Of the 13 models tested, only the Subaru Forester earned an overall rating of "good." The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport was the second-highest-scoring model, receiving an "acceptable" rating. The rest were rated "marginal" or "poor."
Among the worst tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety was the Nissan Rogue.
"The structural performance of the Nissan Rogue is one of the worst IIHS engineers have seen. The front pillar of the Rogue's door frame was pushed so far inside the occupant compartment that it was almost touching the driver seat," said the insurance industry trade group, which examines automotive safety issues.
But the recently redesigned Forester fared well. Although video of the test collision shows the vehicle suffering severe damage, crash dummy injury measurements for the head, chest, hip and lower legs all were rated as "good."
"With the redesigned Forester, Subaru's engineers set out to do well in our new test, and they succeeded," said Joe Nolan, the institute's vice president for vehicle research. "This is exactly how we hoped manufacturers would respond to improve protection for people in these kinds of serious frontal crashes."
Compact crossovers and SUVs such as the Forester and the Rogue are a growing segment of auto sales, accounting for nearly 10% of vehicles purchased, according to auto information company Edmunds.com.
The insurance institute said it decided to test the vehicles because they are increasingly "the family haulers of choice," because of their combination of fuel economy and utility.
The IIHS devised the new "overlap" crash test because this type of front-corner impact crash accounts for about 24% of the serious injuries and deaths in frontal crashes. Starting last year, the institute used the test to rate luxury cars and family sedans.
In the most recent set of tests, Chrysler's Jeep Patriot also fared poorly.
"The dummy's head slid off the frontal airbag as the steering wheel moved 8 inches up and nearly 6 inches to the right. The side curtain airbag didn't deploy, and the safety belt allowed the dummy's head and torso to move too far forward," the safety group said.
Chrysler spokesman Eric Mayne declined to discuss the institute's overlap crash test results. He noted that the "Patriot meets or exceeds all government regulatory requirements" and has an IIHS "Top Safety Pick" status based on its other test results.
In addition to the Patriot, other vehicles receiving a "poor" grade included the Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Buick Encore and Ford Escape.
Autos earning a "marginal" grade included the BMW X1, Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, the two-door version of the Jeep Wrangler, the Nissan Rogue and the Volkswagen Tiguan.
All were 2013 models or 2012 models that did not have structural changes for the current model year, according to the institute.
In the test, 25% of a vehicle's front end on the driver side strikes a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier at 40 mph. Although most new autos do well in federal safety tests of a full-width front end crash, they often do poorly in the insurance group's overlap crash test. That's because such an impact tends to miss the vehicle's primary structures designed to manage crash energy.
"Also, vehicles tend to rotate and slide sideways during this type of collision, and that can move the driver's head outboard, away from the protection of the frontal airbag," the institute said.
This was a big problem with the SUVs tested. Two-thirds of the vehicles had poor ratings for structure, and about half of them were poor or marginal for restraints and kinematics — meaning the dummy wasn't protected from smashing into hard surfaces in the car.
The front pillar of the Nissan Rogue's door frame was pushed far inside the occupant compartment, and after the crash was almost touching the driver seat, the institute said.
But Bob Yakushi, Nissan's director of product safety, said the Rogue fared better than many of the other vehicles in the latest tests.
"Nissan shares the IIHS's commitment to vehicle safety and believes that consumers should have information about crash protection so they can make educated buying decisions," he said. "Nissan will continue to review these and other results from the IIHS 'small overlap front test' as we seek opportunities for improvement."