IIHS Puts BMW i3 & Tesla Model S Through Crash Tests – Neither Earn “Top Safety Pick” Designation (w/videos)


Tesla Model S After IIHS Small Overlap test

Despite all the “world’s safest vehicle” boasting put forth by Tesla CEO Elon Musk in the past, the refreshed Tesla Model S fell short this year of receiving the top crash test rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The BMW i3 was tested by the IIHS too and it failed to receive top honors as well.

As Associated Press explains:

“The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tested 2017 models of both vehicles. Neither earned the institute’s “Top Safety Pick” award, which is given to vehicles that get the highest rating in five different crash tests and offer a crash-prevention system with automatic braking. To get a highest “Top Safety Pick-Plus” designation, vehicles must meet all of those criteria and have good headlights.”

For Model year 2017, 38 vehicles have so far received the coveted “Top Safety Pick-Plus” designation. Among those 38 are the Chevrolet Volt (see test results here) and Toyota Prius Prime. To date, no pure electric vehicle has received the IIHS’ top rating though. Here’s a look at the scores for the 4 plug-ins mentioned above:

IIHS Results For 4 Plug-In Vehicles

For the front overlap crash, the IIHS stated that the safety belt in the Model S allowed the test dummy’s torso to move too far forward, allowing the test dummy’s head hit the steering wheel, despite airbag.

Tesla says it made a production change to the Model S just this past month to improve its “small overlap front” rating, and the IIHS says it will re-test the S again soon.

With that said the Model S is unlikely to regain a perfect score, as the all-electric car also received a “poor” rating for its new headlights, and the new P100D individually got a lower ranking for roof strength as the battery is heavy enough that the roof might not hold up as well as other models during a rollover crash.  The safety institute has yet to administer a roof-strength test on the P100D however.


“Neither of these (potential injuries) were so high that we would expect life threatening injuries, but they are too high in our opinion to get “Good” ratings for those body regions,” said Dave Zuby with IIHS via CNBC

BMW i3 IIHS Small Overlap Test

Meanwhile, the BMW i3 fared a bit better overall than the Model S. In fact, the carbon fiber/plastic car aced all of the crash tests, but fell a bit short in head restraints & seats and headlight performance too.

Below are several videos from the IIHS crash tests of both the BMW i3 and the Tesla Model S.

Source: IIHS, Associated Press, CNBC

Categories: BMW, Crashed EVs, Tesla

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53 Comments on "IIHS Puts BMW i3 & Tesla Model S Through Crash Tests – Neither Earn “Top Safety Pick” Designation (w/videos)"

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I wonder what criteria they’re using for roof crush. Is it simply the weight of the tested vehicle vs the roof, or is it a fixed crush rating with weight counting against that number. Essentially, no matter how strong the roof actually is, higher overall weight will lower the score.

You want a roof which can bear the weight of a rollover. That’s the point of this test. Heavier cars need stronger roofs.

That wasn’t my question! I’m asking is this an ACTUAL measure of roof strength, or some type of INDEX! In other words, they’re saying the Model S 60 is ok, but the 100 is not, even though they have the same roof.

Then the question becomes, is that an ASSUMPTION that the roof would fare worse, or an actual MEASUREMENT in which the roof performed differently than the other cars!

The test measure the strength-to-weight ratio.

From the IIHS About Our Tests webpage:
“In the test, the strength of the roof is determined by pushing a metal plate against one side of it at a slow but constant speed. The force applied relative to the vehicle’s weight is known as the strength-to-weight ratio. This ratio varies as the test progresses. The peak strength-to-weight ratio recorded at any time before the roof is crushed 5 inches is the key measurement of roof strength.”

“A good rating requires a strength-to-weight ratio of at least 4. In other words, the roof must withstand a force of at least 4 times the vehicle’s weight before the plate crushes the roof by 5 inches. For an acceptable rating, the minimum required strength-to-weight ratio is 3.25. For a marginal rating, it is 2.5. Anything lower than that is poor.”


Details here: http://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/vehicle/v/tesla/model-s-4-door-hatchback

Model S can take a peak force of 19,271 lbs before the roof compresses by 5 inches. The rating is based on a strength-to-weight (SWR) ratio. The lightest Model S 60 weighs 4,452 lbs, resulting in a SWR ratio of 4.33. A minimum SWR of 4 is required for a Good rating.

As a reference, a Mercedes C-Class can take a peak force of 24,642 lbs before the roof compresses by 5 inches. It weights 3,552 lbs and therefore has a SWR ratio of 7.

It’s measure versus the weight of the vehicle. So heavier vehicles need stronger roofs to get the same score.

And the immense weight of the S and X work against them.

Note that when Tesla bragged their car was so strong it broke the test equipment in roof crush it really was the case that the vehicle was so heavy they didn’t have a test machine capable of applying force equal to several times the vehicle weight to finish the test. And to add to that, it was Tessa who bungled that test, not a government agency.

Another (Euro) industrial point of view

Same with Euro NCAP crash test, never got top of the list results.

No doubt, some Dump supporters will use this fact to cancel their Tesla reservations.

No doubt you need to pull up your undies and get on with your post-inauguration life. I have marvelled during the last several quadrennial election cycles at how much emotional space people give to their politics. Please find something else to do besides sprinkle comments columns with the oppo version of “Thanks, Obama” and “libtard” ca. ’09-16 or “Bu****ler” before that. The key point of this story has nothing to do with how much you can’t tolerate people who don’t think as you do. The point is that the “safest car built” mantra touted by Tesla fans of any political stripe is confirmed (again) as incorrect. Please allow me to add: like most modern large sedans the Tesla Model S is so much safer than cars from even 8-10 years past that nobody should doubt its solid structure and excellent passive and active safety features. But NHTSA data never proved it to be “five point four stars”, and comparitive IIHS evaluation methods would point to a really poor start toward statistically significant fatality data. Likewise NCAP testing has shown the Model S to finish low in the pack by comparison to equivalent large luxury sedans. I would feel very safe… Read more »

Judging by the videos I just watched I think I would want to be in the i3. In the small overlap there was barely any impact. The car just glanced off of the barrier and continued on its way. I have never seen anything like that. I don’t think the dummys head even contacted the steering wheel airbag.

I think you are better off in the new Volt overall. =)

So much for the strength of the frunk in a crash. The frunk crushed like it wasn’t even there. Useless frunk

Lol, that’s not why it did not get the top pick.

The frunk is a crumple zone and is supposed to collapse like that and absorb the impact. Teslas supposedly have a larger crumple zone than most cars since no engine up there. Look at the integrity of the cabin after the crash.

As a model S owner (new fascia, AP 2.0 hardware) I can attest to the anemic high beams. Minor grumble only- it’s still a wonderful vehicle!

The frunk didn’t absorb anything! The car didn’t even start slow down until the crash wall hit the firewall.

The frunk IS part of the crumple zone! Yes it does absorb kinetic energy in a frontal crash! It’s supposed to do EXACTLY what it did! Better IT than YOU!

The structural member around/below the frunk is a cast or forged aluminum ring that has proven to be rather brittle (like the wheel that shattered in the small overlap test). I salvaged parts from a P85 Model S in a junkyard with under 5k miles on the clock and a relatively minor-looking front end collision, but that big aluminum ring had fractured in multiple places, which totalled the car.

Lol that’s the point – it’s a crumble zone absorbing energy by crumbling, not supposed to remain intact

Well it’s definitely a crumple zone because it crumbled very well but it sure doesn’t look like it absorb much energy.

It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You need just the right amount or crumple to absorb the impact, not too much crumple and not too little crumple.

The added weight/mass of a Model S with a bigger battery (ie: 100 kWh), a second motor on AWD models, and the larger, heavier motor/motors in P Perfomance models would seem to require these Model S to absorb more force in a crash than a lighter, smaller battery, smaller motor, rear-wheel drive Model S.

The question is whether these heavier Model S are designed to absorb more force in crash tests or whether the design is the same across the board for all Model S regardless of their weight. Hmmm.

When I was in university many years ago I did a lot of crash test research. I have to say the BMW i3 was one of the best performing vehicles I have seen on the small overlap test. On the moderate overlap the windshield didn’t even crack. That carbon fiber safety cell is very strong.

On the Tesla Model S on the small overlap you can see that there is a very rapid change in direction when the barrier hits the safety cell causing very high G forces which is likely the cause for the acceptable rating. The trick to the small overlap is to try to smoothly deflect the car away from the barrier.

One of the neat little tricks that BMW did with the i3 was to install a hook under the bolt head of the forward lower control arm mounting bolt. In the event of an accident the hook grabs the material/vehicle that is passing by and breaks the lower control arm bolt off letting the wheel break free of the car rather than getting trapped between the other vehicle and the A pillar causing more damage.

BMW calls that hook an “inertiator” BMW also added serrated teeth onto the back of the bumper ends that bite into the front frame rail when the bumper gets pushed/bent into the front frame rail during the small overlap crash test. The teeth “eliminate the need for additional brackets or structure,” which reduces weight while maintaining safety in small overlap crashes.

The inertiator hook and serrated teeth are shown the video below @2:10.


I’m glad to see that there is still innovation going on in car design, even though it’s been more than 108 years since the debut of the Ford Model T!

Yes, the i3 did very well by using jujitsu to avoid the full impact of the collision, instead of standing there like a boxer, and taking the full brunt of the punch.

It is definitely a smart way to keep people safe and healthy.

It deflects really well, like right off the side of a mountain, maybe?

A lot of people decried Sandy Munro when he said of the i3 “It’s as revolutionary as the Model T was when it came out.” Most critics were focused on propulsion at the time and found his statement to be questionable. In fact he was greatly focused on structure, and he was right. Currently the i3 manufacturing strategy is not cost-effective, but BMW (and the German auto manufacturers in general) are hot on the path to get there.

I think the i3 is irredeemably homely, and that the US/CARB implemtation of the optional RE is lame (not so the Euro implementation — drive one if you get the chance). But there is a hell of a lot of manufacturing advancement imbedded in that car. Stay tuned.


They still have a lot to work out on the i3. The car wastes far too much space under the vehicle floor and I think it’s because it has two frames under there (metal chassis and CFRP space frame). Look at the bolt and i3, they are the same size in all dimensions but the area under the floor is 2.5″ thicker in the i3, robbing it of interior space.

It’s great to see Lambo and BMW working on this CFRP space frame idea. But it still needs some more work.

Google Volvo small overlap.

Embarrassing for a 100000$ car. I see many 20000$ cars receiving the “Top Safety Pick” award http://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/TSP-List/2016
The NHTSA Tests are totally unrealistic cause they dont have the small overlap front test

New “headlights” rules. Looks like “visibility and glare”, without much science offered (lumens?).

If Tesla fixes seat belt slack, I hope they also fix the high approach. It’s one reason to go Model X, an adjustable B-pillar mount.

The Model S has not changed “at it’s core since introduction to my knowledge. basically just different front bumper covers a few more battery cells? If it performed well in testing heretofore what has changed?
* poor headlamps? The test criteria?

This is the first time the Model S has been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which has different and more difficult/stringent tests than Nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). IIHS is run by insurance companies who want to lower payouts for personal injuries in accidents and have a vested interest in doing so. NHTSA is the federal government agency that charged with conducting crash tests.

The previous Model S crash tests were done by NHTSA, which does not conduct a small overlap crash test or test/rate a car’s headlights.

Previously it has not been tested by IIHS, only NHTSA. IIHS tests are more difficult (small overlap, moderate overlap, higher-speed side test, etc.).

Tesla made changes in 2016 to improve IIHS test performance.

Models built after August 2016 have improve head restraints. Models built after September 2016 have redesigned curtain airbags. Models built after October 2016 have reinforced B-pillars and roofrails, as well as deployment guides for the side curtain airbags.

I wonder if this will increase Tesla Model S insurance premiums.

Amazing how the i3 does it without even having a B pillar.

The new Model S Facelift headlights do not make any sense to me. The LED DRL’s are super dim. You can’t even see them on in the daytime. But at night they are very bright. And the LED Headlights aren’t even that bright compared to the xenon’s on a pre facelift S.

And the pre facelift S has way better brighter LED DRL’s so it doesn’t make sense why Tesla did that and why they have yet to do anything about it

But these crash videos are pointless. Because one crash test does not predict nor dictate how a collision is going to occur in real time.

I mean there have been horrible collisions in Smart Cars and the drivers walked out alive so I’m pretty certain nothing worse could happen in a Tesla being bigger.

Bigger almost always means heavier. A bigger, heavier car needs to absorb much greater forces when it crashes into an immovable object such a large tree, than a smaller lighter car needs to absorb is such a crash. For instance, the doors on a heavy Model S that slams into a large tree sideways has to absorb much more force than a light Smart Car slamming into the same tree sideways at the same speed.

Additional weight works against safety when a car crashes into an immovable object.

“Additional weight works against safety when a car crashes into an immovable object.”

True. But this is also true:

“Additional weight improves safety when a car crashes into a movable object.”

So if you regularly speed straight through the forest and risk hitting trees, it is better to be light in case you hit a tree.

If you drive on roads like normal people, where you are more likely to hit another car than you are at hitting a big tree. Being heavy gives you an advantage in collisions with other cars that is not captured in crash test date from crashing into an immovable object.

“Additional weight works against safety when a car crashes into an immovable object.”

I think accident statistics prove that you are significantly safer in a heavier car when there’s a serious accident. So while there may be some “edge cases” where what you’re saying is true, it’s certainly not true in many or most cases, even when there is no other vehicle involved. Heavier cars also tend to be stronger cars, and so tend to protect better when hitting a supposedly immovable object. Some of those “immovable” objects may move a bit when hit with a heavy vehicle. Even small trees may bend or break under the impact of a heavy car.

Unfortunately, the accident statistics of heavier vs. lighter cars have lead to an “arms race” on American roads, where all too many people use safety as an excuse to drive multi-ton cars for ordinary commuting, and other trips where the car only needs to carry a single person.

Heavier cars are safer for the people inside, but they’re more dangerous for everyone else on the roads!

Again, tesla= exaggeration or hyperbole

Go ahead, explain you post.

In Portuguese, we have a saying. Não há maior cego que aquele que não quer ver.

No, they were never tested by IIHS before. They did receive the highest ratings ever for a production vehicle from the NHTSA tests, which, as it turns out, are not as stringent. Tesla’s boasting was not idle, but based on actual official gov’t results.

TomArt said:
“Tesla’s boasting was not idle, but based on actual official gov’t results.”

And while ignoring the actual official gov’t results from Euro NCAP crash tests, which did not support Tesla’s claim to be the safest car in the world.


The headlight rating seems like a case of new technology replacing old just to be new, not necessarily better.

It makes me wonder how well other car makers who have adopted this LED headlight technology have ranked in this test? Whether this is a case of immature technology, or poor implementation.

So, does this settle the argument whether the Model S is safest vehicle ever?

I think Volvo XC90 would retain that title for now.

Of course, I would still rather be in the heavy Model S than the terrible Nissan LEAF as far as small overlap crash goes.

One failing of the GEN 1 volt has been those horribly dim quartz-iodine (halogen) headlights.

The 2002 VOLT I own was retrofitted by the previous owner with SuperBright LED’s. So now I feel extremely confident driving down the street.

The GEN 1’s original headlights were about as lousy as the 1964 VW beetle I had with a corroded power wire dimming the marginal headlights even more. If my folks weren’t going to replace the car I would have replaced the corroded wire with a heavier #8 (about double the cross-sectional area of the original). (On a 6 volt electrical system with all the ‘guts’ at the extreme rear of the car, you can’t afford much pressure drop in the feeder).

The Model S couldn’t have gotten a top pick plus anyway since it has no forward collision prevention system (automatic braking) right now. It lost that feature when they switched to HW 2.0. Oct 2016 and later cars will get it for the first time in a future update.

Reality is that the Tesla models coming in the next year or so won’t be safer because they can handle a rollover, but because they have a computer that is about a dozen times better than the best human driver to have ever lived. The insurance companies aren’t going to care as much about these ratings when the car itself never gets into accidents. They are data driven and that data will stand up against all other data.