Kia’s Sorento mid-size crossover and GM’s compact twins, the Chevrolet Trax and Buick Encore, earned the coveted safety status for 2015, following structural improvements that helped both designs earn good ratings in the IIHS’ small overlap frontal crash test. Poor performance in the same test in 2013 kept all three models off the list of top picks.
In the Sorento’s test, physical intrusion was limited to four inches and the airbags helped control dummy movement and avoid contact with hard surfaces; by contrast, a 2014 model tested last year allowed 11 inches of footwell intrusion, the side airbag didn’t deploy, and the steering column moved to the right, causing the dummy’s head to almost completely miss the front airbag.
When the Encore (the Buick was tested, but the results apply equally to the nearly-identical Trax) went through the small overlap wringer, it limited intrusion to six inches at the driver’s door hinge pillar and instrument panel, and the dummy was well-protected by the car’s airbags. Last time around, a 2013 model allowed 13 inches intrusion at the lower door hinge pillar, and like the Sorento, the steering column moved to the right and caused the dummy’s head to mostly miss the front airbag, and the side airbag deployed too late to be helpful.
In the small overlap test, the IIHS determines how vehicles would protect their occupants in a collision in which the vehicle’s front corner strikes another vehicle, or a fixed object like a tree or utility pole. In the latest round of tests, all three models’ results indicated a low risk of significant injuries following this type of crash.