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Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Ford Escape airbag fails to deploy in crash test

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's latest round of crash testing didn't go well for one of America's most popular SUVs.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has released its latest findings, and not everyone is getting a clean report card. The organization tested seven different small SUVs for occupant protection in a passenger-side small overlap front crash test, and while five of the seven earned "Good" overall ratings, two fared decidedly less well: The 2018 Ford Escape and the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport.

"Both the Outlander Sport and Escape allowed too much intrusion into the occupant compartment on the right side," the Institute said in a statement, rating the Escape's overall performance as "Poor" and the Mitsubishi's as "Marginal." In the case of the Ford, the Institute had this to say: 

"[the] intruding structure seriously compromised space for the right-front passenger. Intrusion measured 10 inches at the upper door-hinge pillar, compared with 5 inches in the driver-side test. The passenger-side door sill was pushed 4 inches laterally into the occupant compartment. Measures taken from the dummy indicate that right hip injuries would be likely in a real-world crash of this severity."

The IIHS' small overlap frontal crash test is widely considered to be the toughest test in the business. The test involves the test vehicle hitting an offset barrier at 40 mph, with only a quarter of the vehicle's front hitting a barrier, a scenario that results in a challengingly asymmetric distribution of crash forces. The test is designed to replicate a vehicle's performance when hitting obstacles like trees and poles, or having a less-than-head-on collision with another vehicle. While the IIHS has been testing driver's side impacts in this manner for years, it only added the passenger-side test in 2017.

According to the Institute, Ford reinforced the driver's side to improve its small overlap front crash test score, but did not do the same for the passenger-side structure, a condition that led to the variance in performance from side to side. "Disparities like this one are why we decided to formally rate the passenger side in the small overlap test after five years of evaluating only the driver side," said Becky Mueller, a senior research engineer at the Institute.

The side curtain airbags in the Ford and the Mitsubishi did not deploy during the crash tests, a factor that likely contributed to these vehicles' poor performance. 

When asked for a statement by Roadshow, a Ford spokesperson said:

"Safety continues to be one of the highest priorities in the design of our vehicles. We are committed to designing and building vehicles that meet or exceed applicable laws and regulations across the globe, incorporating updates and new features into our lineup wherever possible. The Escape has earned the highest 5-star overall NCAP ratings in the U.S., Europe, China and Australia and a "good" rating in all other IIHS crash test modes. We expect the new 2020 model also will perform well on this test."

When asked to comment on the Outlander Sport's "Marginal" performance, Mitsubishi sent Roadshow the following comment: 

"Safety is a top priority at Mitsubishi Motors. While the IIHS test results for this small overlap crash test are currently being reviewed, we believe it is important to point out that all of the Driver and Passenger injury measures for the Outlander Sport in this test were rated 'good.' Only three of the vehicles reviewed in this test can make this claim."

The rest of the IIHS' test field of small SUVs -- one of America's most popular and quickest-growing segments -- performed markedly better.

In particular, the BMW X1, Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Jeep Compass and Mitsubishi Outlander (a larger, different model than the similarly named Outlander Sport) all netted "Good" overall ratings. 

All of the aforementioned models fell shy of a Good rating for structure, netting "Acceptable" marks instead, but their combined scores were strong enough to earn overall Good ratings, with the X1 and Outlander turning in best-in-test results. 

  • Check out our IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rundown for a list of the safest cars, SUVs and pickups in the business

Update 9:05 a.m. PT: Statement from Ford added.

Update 10:53 a.m. PT: Statement from Mitsubishi added.