By John Goreham
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in Auto Buying Guide 2017. Find the full magazine at http://gatehouse.morecontentnow.com/article/20170316/NEWS/303159999.
Sales of electric vehicles and hybrids may have taken it on the chin as gasoline prices dipped, but the green vehicle class continues to grow in both model selection and sales volume.
The Insurance Institute For Highway Safety has now completed a new round of testing, applying its newly updated and more rigorous criteria to four EVs: The Tesla Model S, BMW i3, Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius Prime. IIHS had already evaluated the Nissan Leaf.
Here is a top-down list of five popular EVs on the market right now in the U.S. marketplace. Our rankings will be based primarily on the 2017 IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus parameters.
The Gold Standard
In the compact/small car class, there are no better green vehicles for safety than the Top Safety Pick Plus-rated Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius Prime.
The Volt is an extended-range electric vehicle and the Prius Prime is a plug-in hybrid. Each offers EV-only drive modes with the Volt having an EV range of 53 miles and the Prius Prime a range of 25 miles. Both also can operate on gasoline as extremely efficient hybrids when the batteries are depleted.
These cars aced all of their crash tests and offer Superior-rated forward crash prevention systems. The FCP system is standard on the Prius Prime and optional on Volt, so not all Volts earn this top rating. Both also make the cut for headlights, with the Volt having the better of the two.
Close to Perfect
BMW’s compact i3 comes as either a battery-electric EV or EREV with a gasoline range extender. IIHS was happy to see that the i3 scored well on all of its difficult crash tests, including the tricky small frontal overlap test.
However, the i3 failed to score well on the IIHS’ simple whiplash test. A failure here is not insignificant: The most costly automotive injury in America is a rear-impact whiplash injury. BMW may fix the i3’s seats at some point, but for now, it cannot earn a top safety rating.
Room For Improvement
Tesla’s Model S is a large vehicle and extremely heavy. The heaviness of its top-spec P100D trim caused it to fail IIHS’ roof-collapse test, disqualifying it from contention as a TSP+-rated vehicle.
If that were the only problem with the Model S, it would be easy to overlook this trim and call the vehicle safe, but there are three more reasons the Model S cannot earn a top score.
It scored too low on the small frontal overlap test and the headlight test. Tesla’s forward collision prevention system has not proven Advanced or Superior in IIHS testing, and it is not standard. Tesla has a long way to go on safety.
Not Even Close
The Nissan Leaf has no forward collision prevention system available and scores Poor on the small frontal overlap test. Its scores are low by any measure or comparison.