When the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tested a batch of SUVs in its small overlap frontal crash test earlier this year, it held off on putting the Toyota RAV4 in the blender because the new, 2013 model was due to arrive shortly after the test. The new crossover might be better than it was before, but it could still only manage a rating of "Poor" in the test that has been a bugbear for a number of manufacturers.

Among other issues, the IIHS noted that the steering column moved seven inches to the right causing the crash test dummy to practically miss the airbag, the dummy's left foot was trapped in deformed sheetmetal and the dummy's head hit the instrument panel.

The 2013 RAV4 earned the Top Safety Pick rating by scoring well in the Institute's four other tests. A good score in this particular test would have earned it the Top Safety Pick+ rating that is so far only claimed by the 2014 Subaru Forester and 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport in the SUV category. There's a press release below with more details and a video of the test.




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The Toyota RAV4 earns a poor rating for protecting people in small overlap frontal crashes.

The Toyota RAV4 earns a poor rating for protecting people in small overlap front crashes. The small SUV was redesigned for the 2013 model year, but the changes weren't enough to lift the RAV4's performance in the Institute's challenging test. A combination of poor structure and inadequate control of the dummy's movement prevented the RAV4 from earning a better rating.

ARLINGTON, Va., July 11, 2013 - The 2013 Toyota RAV4, a small SUV, earns a poor rating for performance in the IIHS small overlap front crash test.

Toyota redesigned the RAV4 for the 2013 model year. The automaker made additional changes to models built after April to better control the stability of the steering column and to provide extra padding under the footwell carpeting.

The changes, however, weren't enough to lift the RAV4's performance in the small overlap test. A combination of poor structure and inadequate control of the dummy's movement prevented the RAV4 from earning better than a poor rating overall.

The driver's space was seriously compromised by intruding structure, and the dummy's left foot was trapped by crushed and buckled sheet metal in the footwell. Injury measures on the dummy indicated a high risk of injury to the lower left leg. The dummy's head barely contacted the frontal airbag before sliding off the left side as the steering column moved more than 7 inches to the right, resulting in little airbag cushioning for the chest. Additionally, the safety belt allowed excessive forward movement of the dummy's head and torso, contributing to the head hitting the instrument panel.

IIHS in May released results for 13 other small SUVs but delayed testing the RAV4 because Toyota was making changes to the redesigned model. If design changes are imminent, the Institute delays tests to ensure that IIHS ratings don't soon become obsolete. The practice also encourages automakers to improve designs more quickly.

In the earlier tests of small SUVs, only the Subaru Forester and Mitsubishi Outlander Sport earned a good or acceptable rating for occupant protection in a small overlap crash and qualified for the IIHS TOP SAFETY PICK+ designation. Eleven other small SUVs are rated marginal or poor (see full ratings here).

"This is a challenging test," says Institute President Adrian Lund. "Most manufacturers are going to need to make significant changes to their vehicles in order to improve protection in these kinds of serious frontal crashes."

The Institute added the small overlap test to its lineup of vehicle safety evaluations last year. It replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle strikes another vehicle or an object like a tree or a utility pole. In the test, 25 percent of a vehicle's front end on the driver side strikes a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier at 40 mph. A 50th percentile male Hybrid III dummy is belted in the driver seat.

The 2013 RAV4 previously earned the TOP SAFETY PICK award for good ratings in the Institute's four other tests - moderate overlap front, side, rollover and rear.