Jeep's latest Wrangler tipped onto its side twice during crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The performance garnered the Wrangler a Marginal rating -- the second worst of four possible ratings in that type of test.
The 2019 model year four-door Wrangler hit a barrier at 40 miles an hour with just the outermost part of the bumper on the driver's side during the two random audit tests conducted by the Insurance Institute. The small overlap crash test is designed to mimic the impact of a vehicle with another car or a pole in a similar type of collision. The scenario represents a relatively rare but particularly dangerous type of crash that concentrates the force of impact into a small area, according to the Insurance Institute.
The Institute said the Wrangler did a good job of protecting the driver from the actual impact. The occupant compartment held up well, for instance.
But tipping over is a major problem because it could lead to occupants being partially or even fully ejected from the vehicle, according to the Insurance Institute. This is particularly a concern with the Wrangler because it's a convertible, the IIHS said. Wranglers are sold with cloth tops or removable hard tops. Even the doors can be removed, leaving occupants without much to keep them inside the vehicle except their seatbelts. (The Wrangler's owner's manual says that door removal is intended for "off road operation only.")
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the company that makes Jeeps, said in a statement that it is unaware of this ever happening in a real crash of this type. The IIHS Marginal rating for this test applies to both the 2019 and 2020 Wrangler models. The Wrangler earned good ratings in four other IIHS crash tests.
"FCA has produced more than 500,000 of these vehicles," Fiat Chrysler said of the redesigned Wrangler. "By conservative estimate, they have accounted for 6.7 billion miles of on-road driving. From this population, we are unaware of any incidents that correlate with the vehicle dynamic portion of the IIHS test result."
Fiat Chrysler also pointed out that the Wrangler meets or exceeds all government safety standards.
After the Wrangler tipped over in the Insurance Institute's test, Fiat Chrysler objected that it may have had something do with a slight difference in how the IIHS performed the test, the Insurance Institute said. So the IIHS did the test again, using a procedure approved by FCA. In the second IIHS test, the Wrangler tipped over again.
This was the first time a vehicle ever tipped over in any Insurance Institute crash test, according to IIHS spokesman Joe Young. That includes previous generations of the Wrangler.
The IIHS is a private auto safety group financed by auto insurance companies. It conducts a variety of crash tests which are different from those performed by the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Wrangler did not tip over when the crash test was first conducted by Fiat Chrysler. Ordinarily, automakers perform crash tests themselves following detailed instructions provided by the Insurance Institute. The IIHS then separately performs some of the tests itself to check the results provided by the automakers.