13 Vehicles Pass Insurance Institute Crash-Tests to Make List of Safest Vehicles

November 22, 2006

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced 13 vehicles that earned its Top Safety Pick awards for 2007. Winners include four cars, seven SUVs, and two minivans.

Three of the 13 winning vehicles for 2007 are from Honda, including an Acura SUV. Three winners are Subarus. No small vehicles were winners this year.

IIHS says its award recognizes vehicles that do the best job of protecting people in front, side, and rear crashes based on ratings in Institute tests. Winners also have to be equipped with electronic stability control (ESC).

The Top Safety Pick winners for 2007 are:

Large car: Audi A6 manufactured in Dec. 2006 and later

Midsize cars: Audi A4, Saab 9-3, Subaru Legacy equipped with optional electronic stability control

Minivans: Hyundai Entourage, Kia Sedona

Luxury SUVs: Mercedes M class, Volvo XC90

Midsize SUVs: Acura RDX, Honda Pilot, Subaru B9 Tribeca

Small SUVs: Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester equipped with optional electronic stability control

Pickups aren’t included in this round of awards because the Institute hasn’t begun to evaluate their side crashworthiness.

“Our crash tests cover the most common kinds of real-world collisions,” says Institute president Adrian Lund. “Designating Top Safety Pick winners based on the tests makes it easier for consumers to identify vehicles that afford the best overall protection without sifting through multiple sets of comparative test results.”

Tougher criteria to win: The Institute rates vehicles good, acceptable, marginal, or poor based on performance in high-speed front and side crash tests plus evaluations of seat/head restraints for protection against neck injuries in rear impacts. The first requirement for a vehicle to become a top pick is to earn good ratings in all three Institute tests.

A new requirement for 2007 is that the winning vehicles must offer ESC. This addition is based on Institute research indicating that ESC significantly reduces crash risk, especially the risk of fatal single-vehicle crashes, by helping drivers maintain control of their vehicles during emergency maneuvers.

“The idea of tightening the criteria for the award is to encourage more vehicle safety improvements,” Lund says. “Last year a car could win with an acceptable rating in the rear test instead of the highest rating of good, and ESC wasn’t considered. Now it’s tougher to win, and some of the 2006 winners don’t meet the criteria for this year’s award because the manufacturers haven’t improved the head restraints from acceptable to good or don’t offer ESC.”

In particular, the Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego, large family cars, are good crash test performers but don’t have ESC, even optional. The midsize Chevrolet Malibu doesn’t have ESC either, and its seat/head restraints aren’t rated good. These cars won in 2006 but not 2007.

No small cars won this year’s award. The four-door Honda Civic won last year, but most 2007 Civics don’t have ESC. Those that do don’t have seat/head restraints rated good for rear crash protection.

Each year the Institute offers to test early the vehicles that manufacturers think will be candidates to win. All current car and minivan models plus small and midsize SUVs are eligible.

Some manufacturers improved their vehicles specifically to earn the awards, according to IIHS, which maintains that Audi redesigned the seat/head restraints in the A4 and A6 to improve performance in the Institute’s rear test and Subaru accelerated plans to offer ESC on some versions of the Forester and Legacy.

“But ESC isn’t on every version of these two Subarus. Initially it’s only on the sporty or pricier models. It’s disappointing that Subaru didn’t add ESC across the board,” Lund says. He said the company plans to expand ESC availability later.

Other vehicles are in the process of being changed to earn award status. For example, Ford will add ESC to 2008 Freestyles, so when this SUV is introduced next year it will qualify. Automakers also have been adding standard side airbags with head protection, even though government regulations don’t require them. All 2007 winners have standard side airbags.

Seventeen other vehicles would have won 2007 awards if they had good seat/head restraint designs. Toyota could have claimed nine awards, including three Lexus winners. Honda could have picked up four additional awards, including one for an Acura.

“Protection in rear crashes is an area where many vehicles lag behind in safety,” Lund notes. “As manufacturers continue to improve seat/head restraints, we expect to see more winners.”

SUVs qualify for 2007: SUVs weren’t eligible to win in 2006 because the Institute hadn’t evaluated the side crashworthiness of many of them. Now more SUVs have been rated, and 2007 winners reflect the safety improvements manufacturers have been making to these vehicles.

“In the past SUVs, especially the smaller ones, weren’t good safety choices compared with cars,” Lund explains. “Many SUVs didn’t earn good ratings in our crash tests, and on the road they were more likely than cars to get in serious single-vehicle crashes, including rollovers, because of their higher centers of gravity. Newer SUVs perform better in crash tests and, when equipped with ESC, are much less likely to roll over. All but one of the seven SUVs that win our 2007 TOP SAFETY PICK have ESC as standard equipment.”

Recent Institute research found that ESC reduces the risk of serious crashes involving both SUVs and cars. The largest effect is in single-vehicle crashes, which were reduced 40 percent with the addition of ESC. Fatal single-vehicle crashes went down 56 percent, and fatal rollovers of cars and SUVs were reduced by about 80 percent.

Source: IIHS

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