Popular Small SUVs Fail Critical Crash Test

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Some of the most popular small SUVs have failed crash tests that simulate a common and deadly front end collision.

"These are troubling results," said Joe Nolan with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "These small SUV's are very popular and for the most part pretty safe, but with these tests most of them did not do well."

For the first time the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted small overlap crash tests with small SUV's. Eleven of the thirteen models tested received marginal or poor ratings.

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"Too often many of these models did a poor job protecting the front occupant cabin," said Nolan.

IIHS Small Frontal Crash Tests

Model Rating

'14 Subaru Forrester Good
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport Acceptable
BMW X1 Marginal
Nissan Rogue Marginal
Mazda CX-5 Marginal
Honda CR-V Marginal
Jeep Wrangler (2 door) Marginal
Volkswagen Tiguan Marginal
Hyundai Tuscon Poor
KIA Sportage Poor
Buick Encore Poor
Jeep Patriot Poor
Ford Escape Poor

First Time Crash Tests

So why did small SUVs struggle with these crash tests?

In part it's because many of these models were not designed to specifically protect passengers involved in small frontal crashes.

In these crashes only the front corner of a vehicle strikes another vehicle, or a tree or pole. The IIHS says this type of accident accounts for about 24% of the serious injuries and deaths that occur in frontal crashes.

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In recent years IIHS has started testing for small overlap crashes because the risk of severe damage or structural collapse of the passenger cabin.

Following these tests, the IIHS was particularly critical of the performance of the Nissan Rogue.

Nissan responded to the results saying, "Nissan will continue to review these and other results from the IIHS 'small overlap front test' as we seek opportunities for improvement."

Top Safety Picks Despite Results

Even though most of the small SUV's tested received a marginal or poor ratings, many have been deemed Top Safety Picks by the IIHS.

(Read More: Bye-Bye Minivans, Sales Slump While CUVs Surge)

While that may seem like a conflict, Nolan points out these small SUVs are still safe vehicles overall.

"I don't think these small overlap tests will force people to sell their SUV," said Nolan. "And in a couple years, when many of these models are re-designed I wouldn't be surprised if they improve their crash test results."

—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau. Follow him on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com