2013 Toyota RAV4: What The 'Poor' Small Overlap Rating Means

July 15, 2013

In some kinds of frontal crashes, the 2013 Toyota RAV4 might not provide nearly the level of occupant protection as a Honda CR-V or Mitsubishi Outlander Sport.

New Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) test results for the RAV4 suggest that although this crossover performs well in other crash tests, Toyota may need to revisit its recently redesigned compact crossover and make some more significant structural changes, because the results are disappointing.

With the vehicle run at 40 mph into a rigid barrier that makes contact with 25 percent of the vehicle's front end, the test is Intended to simulate a collision between the vehicle and a tree or utility pole, when it's hit off-center. A crash-test dummy is then used to measure the forces and chances of injury.

In the RAV4 test, the IIHS notes that the dummy's left foot was trapped by buckled sheetmetal, and that based on injury measures there was a high risk of injury to the lower left leg. And because of the steering column shearing so far sideways, the driver's head barely contacted the frontal airbag.

Furthermore, the safety belt allowed too much forward motion of the dummy, its head hitting the dash.

Parsing out what's valuable here, these results say that the chance of driver injury if hitting a tree or pole are greater than they should be--certainly greater than some of those other vehicles roughly its same size and weight.

Although the small overlap test wasn't officially announced until 2012, IIHS research from 2009 set the stage for this next focus for occupant safety.

It didn't catch Toyota completely by surprise either. The automaker had already asked for a temporary exclusion In models built after April 2013, Toyota added padding under the footwell carpeting and made some changes to make the steering column more stable on impact.

The results leave a single vehicle in the IIHS 'small SUV' class that's given top IIHS ratings in all categories: the 2014 Subaru Forester. Both the Forester and the 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport earn the new IIHS Top Safety Pick+ accolade, but the Outlander Sport gets just 'acceptable' in the small overlap test. A long list of vehicles in this class—the BMW X1, Honda Cr-V, Mazda CX-5, Volkswagen Tiguan, Buick Encore, Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Patriot, and Kia Sportage—all get top 'good' ratings for frontal, side, rollover, and rear impact (and Top Safety Pick status) but they earn just 'marginal' or 'good' ratings in small overlap.

But the RAV4 isn't the lowest-rated vehicle in its category. Both the Nissan Rogue and Jeep Wrangler two-door remain lower-rated overall by the IIHS in the small SUVs segment, as they earn scores below 'good' in at least one of the other test categories.

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