Several midsize models with the highest scores in recent crash tests, including one that some luxury cars failed
When it comes to new cars, safety sells. Buying a vehicle with a higher fuel economy rating may keep a few dollars in a family's coffers, but buying one that protects its occupants better in a crash literally can be a life-and-death issue.
Automakers love to promote top scores in government and insurance-industry crash tests in their advertising campaigns, though stricter testing standards are making them harder to come by.
Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in Washington, D.C., revised its testing procedures and made it more difficult for new models to earn perfect five-star ratings in frontal and side-impact crashes. Meanwhile, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va., instituted an entirely new evaluation tool in 2012, the so-called small-overlap frontal crash test, in which many popular luxury cars earned poor scores for the first round.
The IIHS continues to test current models according to the new frontal evaluation system and has awarded 12 moderately priced midsize and entry-level luxury models as ìTop Safety Pick+î award winners. These cars earn top ratings in at least four out of five evaluations, including the small- and moderate-overlap frontal crash tests, as well as side-impact, roof-crush and rear-impact tests ñ with at least an acceptable grade in the fifth test.
These include the Acura TL, Chrysler 200, Dodge Avenger, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord (sedan and coupe versions), Kia Optima, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy, Subaru Outback, Suzuki Kizashi, Volkswagen Passat and Volvo S60.
"Of the 29 models evaluated so far in our small-overlap frontal crash test, these 13 cars offer the highest level of all-around crash protection," says Adrian Lund, IIHS president. "We're pleased to recognize them with our new Top Safety Pick+ award for 2013."
These are in addition to 117 other models the IIHS cited as 2013 Top Safety Picks by virtue of their test scores in the Instituteís conventional front, side, roof and rear crash tests. The complete list can be found at the Instituteís website, IIHS.org.
The new small-overlap frontal test smashes cars at 40 mph with only 25 percent of a car's front end on the driver side striking a five-foot-tall rigid barrier. The Institute says the test is designed to replicate what happens when the front corner of a car strikes another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole in more of glancing blow, rather than a full-frontal or offset frontal collision.
The IIHS says small overlap crashes tend to evaluate the crashworthiness of a carís outer edges that tend not to be well-protected structurally by crush zones. They also test a vehicleís airbags and seatbelts in more rigorous ways than frontal tests do. Crash forces in these types of collisions go directly into the front wheel, suspension system and firewall, which the IIHS says results in serious leg and foot injuries.
Apparently, the industry has already responded to the latest frontal testing procedure from the IIHS. "We've seen automakers make structural and restraint changes in response to our small-overlap test," Lund says. "Five manufacturers redesigned their midsize cars to enhance small-overlap crash protection."
The Institute reports that Honda specifically engineered the recently redesigned Accord to do well in the test, and both Ford and Nissan have reportedly made structural alterations to 2013 models already in production. Subaru and Volkswagen are said to have modified the side curtain airbag control modules on their models to afford additional head protection.
The IIHS will issue Top Safety Pick+ awards for small SUVs this spring.
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