ARLINGTON, Va. — SUVs are advertised as rugged, but few have bumpers designed to withstand a minor bump in a low-speed collision. Eight of nine new midsize sport utility vehicles (SUVs) earned poor or marginal ratings for bumper performance in 5 mph crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In this group, only the 2003 Honda Pilot is equipped with bumpers that resisted major damage. The Pilot earned an acceptable rating. The 2004 Mitsubishi Endeavor, 2003 Nissan Murano, and 2004 Lexus RX 330 are rated marginal. The 2003 Toyota 4Runner, 2004 Chrysler Pacifica, 2003 Infiniti FX35, 2004 Cadillac SRX, and 2003 Kia Sorento are rated poor.
The Institute's series of four bumper tests includes front- and rear-into-flat-barrier plus front-into-angle-barrier and rear-into-pole impacts. The tests assess how well bumpers can prevent damage in 5 mph impacts simulating the fender-bender collisions that are common in commuter traffic and parking lots. A good bumper system should absorb the energy of these minor impacts and protect expensive body panels, headlamp systems, and other components from damage.
5 mph crash test results, midsize SUVs
|2003 Honda Pilot
|2004 Mitsubishi Endeavor
|2003 Nissan Murano
|2004 Lexus RX 330
|2003 Toyota 4Runner
|2004 Chrysler Pacifica
|2003 Infiniti FX35
|2004 Cadillac SRX
|2003 Kia Sorento
|Note: All repair costs reflect September 2003 parts and labor prices.
"The manufacturers of these SUVs try to create a rough-and-tough image for them, but their bumpers are flimsy," says Adrian Lund, the Institute's chief operating officer. "Vehicles shouldn't sustain major damage in a minor collision at a fast walking speed."
Average damage per test ranged from about $400 for the Pilot to more than $1,600 for the Sorento and SRX. Of the 33 current midsize SUV designs the Institute has tested for bumper performance, 23 are rated poor, 6 are rated marginal, and 4 are acceptable. None is rated good.
Rear bumpers fail to protect tailgates
Three of the poor performers had the largest damage costs in the rear-into-pole test. The rear bumpers on the Chrysler Pacifica, Cadillac SRX, and Kia Sorento weren't robust enough to keep damage away from the vehicles' body parts and sheet metal. Damage totals for these vehicles were 5 to 6 times more than the Pilot in the same test.
"Repair costs in the pole test were about $2,200 for the Sorento and more than $2,800 each for the Pacifica and the SRX because the bumpers didn't protect the expensive-to-repair tailgates," Lund says. "In each case, the tailgate was crushed and had to be replaced. Those are big repair bills for a minor bump."
Sorento and SRX are worst performers overall
Damage to these two vehicles totaled more than $6,500 in all four tests.
"In the front-angle test, the SRX's bumper couldn't prevent major crushing of the right fender. After the same test, the Sorento's frame had to be straightened. In the front and rear flat-barrier tests, which are the least demanding because the crash energy is spread across the whole bumper, the Kia had repair bills of more than $1,000 in each test," Lund points out.
Infiniti FX35 and Toyota 4Runner also rated poor
Lund notes that "the Infiniti is getting attention for its swoopy styling, but Nissan engineers ignored the basics of good bumper design." After the front-corner test, there was more than $2,000 damage — much of it under the bumper cover. The bumper bar was cracked and bent, the radiator support was broken, and the headlamp assembly needed to be replaced. In the same test, some of the damage to the 4Runner was because the bumper wasn't big enough to protect the whole front end.
"The right fender buckled and the headlamp was crushed in part because the bumper is too short and leaves the corners of the front end unprotected," Lund says.
Honda Pilot has acceptable bumpers
In this group of midsize SUVs, only the Pilot is equipped with bumpers that did a reasonable job of preventing damage to the vehicle.
"It's not difficult or expensive to build a decent bumper," Lund says. "The Honda bumper system isn't great, but it's the best of a sorry lot. It shows that manufacturers can build SUVs with bumper systems that prevent costly damage in a minor collision."