America Still Hasn't Crash Tested the Jeep Wrangler After One-Star Safety Ratings Abroad
Europe and Australia say the Jeep Wrangler is unsafe. The U.S. says it's not interested.
Safety has never been the Jeep Wrangler’s raison d'être, that much is true. As the automotive world adopts multi-stage passive and active protection systems, the Wrangler rides among us as a relic of the Second World War that's both a target of fervent obsession and the bearer of a fresh one-star safety rating from regulators in Australia last month, who join their counterparts in Europe in calling out the JL Wrangler as a dangerous anachronism.
And what about the United States? More than a year after Jeep launched the new JL Wrangler, the United States has yet to crash test one of its proudest exports. Surprised? Did you think every car had to be crash tested before going on sale, or within a certain time thereafter? That's not the case—and as we found out after talking to Jeep, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Wrangler doesn't appear to be on the docket anytime soon.
Last year, just as the new JL Wrangler was hitting dealerships, Euro NCAP—Europe’s version of the IIHS and NHSTA—delivered a critical report on its overall safety, handing it just a single star out of five after it was tested against the continent's strict standards. "Dummy readings, together with the penalty applied for [an as tested] unstable bodyshell, resulted in protection of the driver chest being rated as weak," part of Euro NCAP’s report concerning adult protection states. "In the full-width rigid barrier test, dummy readings of chest compression showed marginal protection of the driver chest." Boiled down, there's a significant chance of injury for an adult in a crash.
The agency also dinged the JL Wrangler over its lack of standard passive safety systems including automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, and hood airbags for pedestrians. Pedestrian safety was actually one of the Wrangler’s biggest issues, with Euro NCAP declaring that "the protection provided by the bonnet to the head of a struck pedestrian was predominantly poor or adequate. The bumper provided good protection to pedestrians' legs while protection of the pelvis was mixed."
Australia and New Zealand’s ANCAP—the counterpart to Europe’s NCAP—likewise found the updated Jeep Wrangler wanting in terms of safety last month. Again, based on a five-star metric, ANCAP sided with Euro NCAP to give the Wrangler a single solitary star citing poor pedestrian, occupant, and rollover protection, and the lack of advanced safety systems. The list of grievances is quite similar. Still, it's worth noting that both agencies found the truck exceeds the standard for side-impact crashes. Each gave the Wrangler top marks in that category.
But in the year-plus that the new JL Wrangler has been on sale, neither the IIHS (which is an independent non-profit, not a federal agency) nor the NHTSA have fully assessed the Wrangler’s safety. And neither are mandated by law to do so, because there's no statute stating that crash tests have to occur before a new vehicle is available to consumers. In fact, the tests and ratings provided by the IIHS and NHTSA go “beyond what is required by federal law,” according to an NHTSA statement.
Jeep launched the new Wrangler at the end of 2017, with 2018 model year sales commencing soon after. The only piece of safety information the public’s been privy to is the Wrangler’s rollover protection rating, three out of five stars. That’s it. For comparison, the popular Honda Accord debuted its next generation around the same time as a 2018 car, and the NHSTA has already delivered a 5-star rating in a battery of tests.
When The Drive recognized that the new Jeep Wrangler still hasn’t been subjected to a full assessment by either agency, we reached out to the IIHS, NHSTA, and Jeep for comment on the lack of safety testing data. Jeep’s spokesperson said the company wasn't aware of any future tests planned by either group, adding that it probably wouldn't know regardless because “[the NHSTA and IIHS] make their own schedules.”
The IIHS returned a rather indecisive statement, with its spokesperson confirming that the Wrangler "is not on the IIHS test schedule yet. It may be evaluated in the future." Likewise, there appear to be no tests on the horizon at the NHTSA, with that three-star rollover rating standing as the sole data point. And the Wrangler's unique construction also excludes it from certain tests.
"Per 49 CFR Part 571.214 (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 214), 'vehicles that exclusively have doors that are designed to be easily attached or removed so that the vehicle can be operated without doors' are excluded from the side deformable barrier test as well as the vehicle-to-pole test," an NHTSA spokesperson wrote. "NHTSA’s 5-Star Safety Ratings program bases its side impact testing on the requirements of FMVSS No. 214. Thus, a vehicle such as the Jeep Wrangler, is excluded from the side impact ratings."
What this doesn’t explain, though, is the lack of frontal crash rating. (The IIHS usually handles the other missing assessments normally associated with these tests, i.e. overlap, rear, avoidance tech, and offset crash ratings.) The NHTSA spokesperson stated that the JL-Wrangler does have a frontal rating, but those results don't seem to be publicly available and the agency has yet to provide them.
Given the lack of stateside data, the Euro NCAP and ANCAP tests stand as best results for assessing the safety of the new Jeep Wrangler, and even the JL-based Gladiator to a certain degree. Ergo: It's not the safest way to drive your toddler to daycare, and the eventual U.S. crash test results probably won't show otherwise, whenever they might come, which no one can say. There is an argument to be made that those international tests balance the technological and physical safety in a way that American regulators do not, but regardless, at least they've crashed it too.
Whatever happens, it's not going to affect sales. Every new Jeep Wrangler quickly becomes a money-printing machine as enthusiasts clamor to drop their hard-earned cash on the infinitely customizable off-road rig, which remains one of the most genuine and genuinely fun vehicles you can buy today. Wranglers barely sit on dealer lots for more than a day or two. Hell, the model outsold entire luxury brands like Infiniti and Audi in 2018. With the JL-based 2020 Jeep Gladiator joining the fray this year, safety isn’t about to slow either down.
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