Of nine models, only the Chevrolet Equinox and the GMC Terrain received the highest rating. The Toyota Highlander was rated acceptable.
All three of those SUVs performed well in front, side, rear and roll over crashes and they come equipped with technology to help prevent or minimize frontal collisions.
The test showed what could happen if just a small portion of the vehicle crashes into another vehicle or object, like a utility pole or tree.
"This kind of crash, a small overlap where just the corner of the front of your vehicle is involved, accounted for about 25% of the remaining serious injuries in front crashes," explains Adrian Lund, president of the IIHS.
The institute declared the Honda Pilot the worst performer. The Mazda CX-9 and the Kia Sorrento also rated poorly.
The Ford Explorer, Toyota 4-Runner and Jeep Cherokee got marginal ratings.
Researchers say the results show manufacturers what improvements they need to make.
"They need to beef up the occupant compartment, to make sure it doesn't collapse when all this force comes back to it," says Lund.
Despite the ratings, the Institute for Highway Safety says SUVs have gotten much safer over the past twenty years.
The IIHS says the small overlap test is more difficult than straight head-on and moderate crash tests because the structure of the vehicle that would normally manage crash energy is bypassed. Safety-minded consumers find such information useful when car shopping…and automakers use crash test results in their advertising.
(Alexis Christoforous, CBS News)
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