Four out of eight small pickup trucks evaluated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety earn good ratings for occupant protection in all five IIHS crashworthiness evaluations, but the lack of an automatic emergency braking system and poor-rated headlights mean these pickups fall short of qualifying for either of the Institute’s safety awards.
IIHS engineers evaluated two body styles of each pickup — crew cab and extended cab. Crew cabs have four full doors and two full rows of seating. Extended cabs have two full front doors, two smaller rear doors and compact second-row seats. The Institute tests the two most popular versions of pickups because their performance can vary by body style. The ratings in this round of evaluations apply to 2017 models.
To assess crashworthiness, the Institute rates vehicles good, acceptable, marginal or poor, based on performance in five tests: moderate overlap front, small overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints. IIHS also rates the performance of front crash prevention systems and headlights.
“This group of small pickups performed better in the small overlap front test than many of their larger pickup cousins,” says David Zuby, the Institute’s executive vice president and chief research officer. “The exception was the Nissan Frontier, which hasn’t had a structural redesign since the 2005 model year.”
The small overlap test is the most challenging of the IIHS crashworthiness evaluations. Added in 2012, the test replicates what happens when a vehicle runs off the road and hits a tree or pole or clips another vehicle that has crossed the center line.
The Toyota Tacoma crew cab, which Toyota calls the Double Cab, was the top performer in the small overlap test. The Tacoma crew cab earns a good rating, with good individual ratings for structure, restraints and kinematics, and all injury measures but the lower leg and foot, in which it earns acceptable. The Tacoma crew cab is the only small pickup to earn a good rating for structure in the small overlap test. Results for the extended cab, which Toyota calls the Access Cab, were similar, with the exception of an acceptable rating for structure due to some additional occupant compartment intrusion. Toyota re-engineered the Tacoma for the 2016 model year.
The Chevrolet Colorado Crew Cab and its GMC Canyon Crew Cab twin also earn good ratings for occupant protection in a small overlap front crash. The Colorado and Canyon extended cabs earn an acceptable rating.
The Colorado and Canyon were redesigned for the 2015 model year after a two-year absence from the market. Beginning with the 2017 model year, the A-pillar, lower door-hinge pillar and door sill were reinforced to improve protection in small overlap front crashes. The crew cabs’ structure and safety cage largely resisted intrusion and preserved survival space for the driver in the small overlap test. In the extended-cab tests, there was more intrusion into the driver footwell area, contributing to a poor rating for lower leg and foot protection, compared with a good lower leg and foot rating for the crew cabs.
Both the Frontier King Cab and the Frontier Crew Cab earn marginal ratings. The Frontiers are the oldest designs in this group of small pickups, with no structural changes since the 2005 model year. Beginning with 2017 models built after February, Nissan lengthened the side curtain airbags on the Frontiers to improve protection for people in small overlap front crashes. The side curtain airbag protected the dummy’s head from contact with side structure and outside objects in both the crew- and extended-cab tests. The Frontier’s structure, however, allowed considerable intrusion into the occupant compartment, compromising driver survival space. The footwell was pushed back toward the dummy’s legs nearly 17 inches in the crew-cab test and 14 inches in the extended-cab test. In a real-world crash like this, the driver would likely sustain serious injuries to the lower legs and left foot.
The Frontiers earn good ratings in the moderate overlap front, side and roof strength test and acceptable ratings for head restraints. The extended-cab versions of the Colorado and Canyon earn good ratings in the moderate overlap front, roof strength and head restraint evaluations and acceptable ratings in the side test.
Headlights are a dim spot for all the small pickups evaluated. None are available with anything other than poor-rated headlights. The Institute began rating headlights last year to encourage manufacturers to improve nighttime driving visibility and reduce glare for oncoming drivers.
“Headlights are basic but vital safety equipment. Drivers shouldn’t have to give up the ability to see the road at night when they choose a small pickup,” Zuby says.
When it comes to preventing front-to-rear crashes, only the Colorado and Canyon pickups are available with front crash prevention. The pickups are available with an optional forward collision warning system that has a basic rating for front crash prevention.
Toyota says the 2018 model Tacoma will have a standard autobrake system with pedestrian detection and upgraded headlights that include high-beam assist, which automatically switches between high beams and low beams depending on the presence of other vehicles.