BUYER’S GUIDE: Electric Vehicle Safety – Which Models Score Highest?

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Electric vehicles are about to go mainstream, but are they as safe as mainstream models?

Sales of electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and hybrids may have taken it on the chin as gasoline prices dipped, but in combination, the green vehicle class continues to grow in both model selection and sales.

The Insurance Institute For Highway Safety (IIHS) 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 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.

2017 Chevy Volt & Toyota Prius Prime- The Gold Standard

In the compact / small car class, there is no better green vehicle for safety than the Top Safety Pick Plus (TSP+) rated Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius Prime. The Volt is an extended-range electric vehicle (EREV) 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 two cars aced all of their crash tests and also offer Superior-rated forward crash prevention (FCP) 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.

BMW i3, 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 BMW i3 scored well on all of the difficult crash tests, including the tricky small frontal ovrlap test.

However, the i3 failed to score well on the simple whiplash test that IIHS conducts. Although the whiplash test is easy to pass, 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 future point, but for now, it cannot earn a top safety rating.

Tesla Model S – Room For Improvement

Tesla’s Model S is a large vehicle and extremely heavy. Some think that helps a vehicle in overall safety and it should be factored into anyone’s decision when buying a vehicle (Here are the facts on vehicle size vs. safety).

However, the heaviness of its top-spec P100D trim caused it to fail the roof collapse test IIHS does, thus 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 one 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 as well. On top of all of this, 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.

Nissan Leaf – 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.

Electric vehicles are just as safe as hybrids or gasoline-powered vehicles. However, which model one selects can make a world of difference.

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John Goreham

John Goreham