Your rad Dodge Challenger Hellcat may lord it over the other modern American muscle cars in horsepower, but not when it comes to the small overlap test.
Having nothing better to do, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tested the 2016 Challenger, Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang. And none of them emerge as a Top Safety Pick, the nonprofit institute’s highest and most coveted award.
I would have used them all in a burnout contest instead, but I do not work for the IIHS.
The winner, if there was such a thing, was the Mustang, which was just just one good rating away from earning a Top Safety Pick, the institute said. In second place was the Camaro, which was just “acceptable” and not “good” in terms of roof strength and also lacks an available front crash prevention system.
But in last place was the Challenger, which ranked “marginal” on the very tough small front overlap test and just “acceptable” on its roof strength and head restraints.
That may not be too surprising, given that the Challenger—while having received some substantial updates over the years—is the oldest of the three cars, having been on the market for eight years now. The Camaro is all-new for 2016, and the Mustang is too as of last year.
Here’s more on that dreaded test, and why the Challenger fared so badly, emphasis mine:
Added in 2012, the small overlap 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.
In the test, 25 percent of the total width of the vehicle strikes the 5-foot-tall rigid barrier on the driver side at 40 mph. It is an especially challenging test because it involves a vehicle’s outer edges, which aren’t well-protected by the crush-zone structures. Crash forces go directly into the front wheel, suspension system and firewall.
The Challenger wasn’t up to the challenge of the small overlap test. Extensive intrusion into the lower occupant compartment limited the driver’s survival space and resulted in a poor rating for structure and for leg/foot protection. Measures taken from the dummy indicate a high likelihood of serious lower leg injuries.
The Challenger is hardly the first vehicle to have had trouble with that test. Compact cars, crossovers and even trucks have fared poorly there. It’s only now that we’re really finally starting to see new vehicles that can withstand that test.
It’s not only the Challenger that can’t meet this challenge! (Sorry, I had to.) In the same test the Mustang “the driver’s survival space wasn’t well-maintained,” but the Camaro did well.
Anyway, it’s important to remember that the IIHS’ crash test is different and tougher than the government’s star-based safety rating system. And being that all of these muscle cars are modern vehicles with airbags, various crash avoidance systems and are designed to save passengers and pedestrians alike, you can’t really call them unsafe. And Fiat Chrysler told Automotive News that its vehicles “meet or exceed all applicable government safety requirements.”
It’s just worth keeping in mind when you’re picking out what you want to peel out in at the next Cars and Coffee.