Getting a perfect score in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) round of crash tests just got that much harder, with the agency introducing a tough new test it says will help spur automakers into improving protection of occupants during severe frontal crashes. The latest test simulates a crash where the front corner of a car collides with a narrow object such as the edge of an oncoming vehicle or a roadside tree or utility pole.

Known in the industry as a “small overlap crash,” the test measures the forces and intrusion when a vehicle is run at 40 mph into a rigid barrier that makes contact with just 25 percent of the vehicle’s front. The results of such crashes are dramatically different to situations where a wider object is hit and have been shown to lead to serious injuries or even death, particularly for those occupants sitting up front.  

The reason is that while most modern cars have safety structures built to withstand head-on collisions, these structures are typically concentrated in the middle 50 percent of a vehicle’s front and not the outer edges. The outer edges, on the other hand, aren’t so well protected and thus crash forces can often go directly into the cabin.

In the first round of testing using the new small overlap crash procedure, the IIHS tested some of the most popular luxury and near-luxury cars as these models typically get advanced safety features sooner than other vehicles. Unfortunately, only three out of the 11 cars tested earned good or acceptable ratings in the new test.

2012 Volvo S60 undergoing IIHS' new frontal crash test

2012 Volvo S60 undergoing IIHS' new frontal crash test

Fairing the best were the 2012 Acura TL and 2012 Volvo S60, which earned “good” ratings. The next best model was the 2012 Infiniti G, which scored an “acceptable” rating.

Further down the line were the 2012 Acura TSX, 2012 BMW 3-Series, 2012 Lincoln MKZ and 2012 Volkswagen CC, all of which scored a “marginal” rating. The worse vehicles for this particular test were the 2012 Audi A4, 2012 Lexus IS, 2012 Lexus ES and 2012 Mercedes-Benz C Class, which rated “poor” in the tests.

You can see how each of the cars perform in the IIHS' overall suite of crash tests by clicking here. Featured in the video above is IIHS president Adrian Lund who explains the reasoning behind the new test procedure.