Nissan Murano aces crash tests; Jeep, Dodge and Hyundai fare poorly

Nissan Murano aces IIHS crash test; Dodge, Jeep, Hyundai crossovers rank poorly

Jeep, Dodge and Hyundai all performed poorly in a difficult insurance industry crash test of sport-utility vehicles.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety completed testing of seven crossovers in its small overlap test. The Nissan Murano did the best, scoring “good” across all measurements.

The test evaluates what happens when 25% of a car's front end on the driver's side strikes a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier at 40 mph, with test dummies onboard. It simulates a wreck in which the front corner of the car hits another car or solid object.

Such crashes account for nearly a quarter of frontal crashes involving serious or fatal injury, according to the institute.

Chrysler’s Jeep Wrangler four-door also scored a “good” rating. However, the institute said the Wrangler “offers only marginal protection in side and rear crashes, so it's not a recommended choice.” The institute, an insurance industry group that researches automotive and driving safety, also said the Jeep lacks a fixed roof and won’t provide good protection in rollover crashes.

Ford’s Flex was ranked “acceptable.”

But the Hyundai Santa Fe, Jeep Cherokee and Dodge Durango had only “marginal” ratings. The Dodge Journey was labeled “poor” by the institute.

The test, which has been conducted since 2012, has been challenging to the auto industry because of the high failure rate. Some automakers try to improve the performance of their vehicles when they redesign the car, which generally happens on a five-year cycle. Others have made modifications to strengthen the car and improve airbag performance even before a model gets a complete redesign.

“This test presented a major challenge for manufacturers when it was introduced three years ago, and many have adapted quickly,” said David Zuby, the institute’s chief research officer. “Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep have had some successes with redesigned models, but they haven't done much in the way of interim improvements. As a result, they still have many models that rate poor or marginal.”

He said Nissan’s 2015 Murano, a recent redesign, “hit all the marks for ideal small overlap protection.”

Despite massive damage to the vehicle, the driver space held up well and the dummy's head hit the front airbag correctly. The side curtain airbag deployed with sufficient coverage to protect the head from contact with the side structure of the Murano and outside objects. The test demonstrated that an occupant would have a low risk of any significant injuries in a crash of this severity.

The Murano also improved its roof strength rating to good from the previous generation's marginal rating.

The Nissan crossover also did well in another test. It has an optional front crash prevention system that uses sensors to detect a potential front collision and automatically brake. The Murano's autobrake nearly avoided a collision in the 12 mph track test and reduced the vehicle's speed by 11 mph in the 25 mph test.

The Dodge Journey was at the other end of the spectrum and represented “a classic example of poor small overlap protection,” Zuby said.

The occupant compartment failed to hold up, with structural components of the vehicle intruding as much as nine inches into the cabin. The parking brake pedal tore through the dummy's left lower leg. The dummy's head barely contacted the front airbag before sliding off the left side, as the steering column moved to the right. The side curtain airbag failed to deploy, leaving the dummy's head vulnerable to contact with side structure and outside objects.

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