Here’s How Small Trucks Fared in New IIHS Crash Tests

The segment receives good marks across the board, thanks to high ride height and strong safety cages.

iihs test on 2022 ford ranger
  • The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety continues to put modern vehicles to the test, with its latest side-impact tests focusing on small trucks.
  • Overall, the six models tested performed well, with adequate safety cages and minimal occupant intrusions. Three of the models earned good marks while two earned acceptable ratings.
  • Toyota's Tacoma received an overall poor rating as a result of a crumpled safety cage, though the model earned good marks for minimized passenger and driver injury measures.

    Every segment of vehicles seems to be getting bigger, and pickup trucks are no different, with small trucks looking more like mid-sized models these days. Payload increases and consumer demand for interior amenities are largely to blame, but this size increase does come with some added bonuses.

    Namely, small trucks are much safer now. In fact, new test data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that three of the six small trucks tested earned the IIHS' top mark: good. Additionally, two of the six models received acceptable ratings, marking the segment as generally safe.

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    Toyota's Tacoma was the only model that received a marginal marking. The popular truck received good testing marks in almost every category and ensured the occupants received minimal injuries, but the overall structure of the truck was easily compromised. Specifically, the door sill and B-pillar were crumpled within inches of the driver's seat.

    2022 toyota tacoma crew cab
    Post-test images show the B-pillar on Toyota's Tacoma pushed particularly close to the driver's seat.

    "That alone pushed the overall rating down to marginal," IIHS Senior Research Engineer Beck Mueller said. "We weight structural performance very heavily because it is tied so closely with survivability."

    Though the Nissan Frontier received an acceptable rating, one mark below good, IIHS test engineers said its safety cage and structure fared the best. Ford's Ranger performed similarly, with an intact safety cage and low risk of injury to the driver and passenger. The reason these models received only an acceptable was a high likelihood of head impacts with the C-pillar. Even the top-rated models weren't perfect, with the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon duo as well as the Honda Ridgeline tests showing possible pelvic injuries.

    2022 nissan frontier crash trest
    Paint spots indicate where the dummy impacts hard objects, such as the seatbelt D-ring and C-pillar on this Nissan Frontier.

    None of the trucks tested received a poor safety mark in this new side impact test, in which a 4200-pound barrier strikes the side of test models at 37 mph. It's worth noting that all six models received good ratings in the current side impact test. And while the new test isn't applicable to current model years, it will become standard in 2023.

    Even so, the small truck segment has received excellent safety ratings as compared to the small car and mid-sized crossover segments. This is not surprising given the super-sizing that small trucks have received, but engineers at the IIHS say this trend is also helping keep owners injury free. The relatively high ride height of the models tested means the strong door sill structure is typically the first point of impact, as compared to small sedans and hatchbacks, where the point of impact is the door itself.

    Crash test data shows that side impacts account for a quarter of all passenger vehicle fatalities, which poses a conundrum for modern car shoppers. In theory, larger vehicles are the obvious choice for better safety, but not all models are built alike. For example, the Mazda3 actually outperforms the Toyota Tacoma in the same side impact test, earning an overall rating of good. Even so, the driver injury measures of the Mazda 3 were worse than the Tacoma. For safety-conscious buyers, vehicle size does matter, but the manufactured structure should be an equally important consideration.

    Share your thoughts on the IIHS side-impact tests with small pickup trucks and how the segment fared overall in the comments below.

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