The latest tests looked at how well front passengers would be protected in a 40 mph right-side small overlap front crash. Such a crash replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole.
The Institute does not officially issue ratings for passenger-side protection, but is now considering adding such ratings to its roster. The new ratings are considered to be critical, since "good protection doesn't always extend across the front seat," the Institute said.
In other words, some of the vehicles may earn "good" ratings in small overlap protection on the driver's side, but not the passenger's side.
In the passenger-side test, the RAV4 was the worst performer.
"If the Institute issued ratings for passenger-side protection, the RAV4 would earn a poor rating," the Institute said in a statement on Thursday.
The Institute could add the passenger-side small overlap ratings next year and make it a requirement for one of its safety awards as early as 2018, it said.
"This is an important aspect of occupant protection that needs more attention," said Becky Mueller, an Institute senior researcher and the lead author of the study. "More than 1,600 right-front passengers died in frontal crashes in 2014."
Edmunds says: More attention is being focused on passenger protection, something that should please car shoppers who place a high priority on safety.