News Column

Family Cars Safer than Luxury in New Test

Dec 20, 2012

By Chris Woodyard


More mass-market midsize family cars got passing marks than did luxury cars in a relatively new crash test designed to show how well vehicles protect passengers when they hit a narrow object, the insurance industry's safety arm says today.

Of 19 moderately priced midsize cars tested from the 2013 model year, 13 were rated good or acceptable in a new kind of crash test by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Only three of 11 midsize 2012 luxury cars tested earlier got those ratings.

The "narrow offset" test involves crashing a car so that its front corner -- 20% of its front end -- strikes a vertical, thin object such as a pole or a tree at 40 miles an hour. It is a more severe frontal test than those in the government crash tests.

"About 10,000 deaths a year are in frontal crashes, and about one-fourth of those are 'narrow offset,'" says IIHS spokesman Russ Rader. "We think it is important to look at how people are actually dying in real-world crashes."

He says that the family sedans generally are newer, and makers such as Honda were able to design to meet the new test. Otherwise, he says, it's a mystery as to why the luxury group would score lower.

Safety features such as crash protection and air bags are top selling points for all cars, especially family sedans. But makers often give their pricier luxury cars even more exotic safety features. Thus, Rader says, it'd be logical for them to perform better.

Chuck Thomas, Honda's chief engineer for safety, said in an interview that Honda saw hints of IIHS' plans for a new test in 2009 so it could design the changes into the new family sedan. "It's something we've been following for some time," he says.

He says the team got existing safety structures in the new Accord's body to work better together and used more high-strength steel.

The two getting the top "good" score in the offset test among the 2013 family car pack: Suzuki Kizashi and new Honda Accord sedan, though Suzuki recently announced it will no longer sell cars in the U.S.

Cars rated "acceptable" include Ford Fusion, Honda Accord coupe, Kia Optima, Nissan Altima, Nissan Maxima, Subaru Legacy, Subaru Outback, Dodge Avenger, Chrysler 200, Mazda6 and Volkswagen Passat. "Marginal" performers are the Hyundai Sonata, Chevrolet Malibu and VW Jetta. Those rated "poor" include Toyota's Camry and Prius V hybrid.

In a statement about the low Toyota and Lexus scores, Toyota noted that IIHS "periodically develops new, more severe or specialized tests which go beyond federal requirements. With this new test, the Institute has raised the bar again and we will respond to the challenge."

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2012

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