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Crash test results: 3 small cars earn good overall ratings; passenger van is acceptable, and large pickup improves to good

ARLINGTON, Va. — A recent series of frontal offset crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety included three new small car designs — Subaru Impreza, Mitsubishi Lancer, and Volvo S40 — plus a newly designed large pickup, the Dodge Ram, and a new minivan, the Kia Sedona. All three small cars earn good crashworthiness evaluations, and the Sedona is rated acceptable overall. The Ram is rated good — a big improvement compared with the 2001 Ram, which the Institute rated poor. All five vehicles are 2002 models.

The small car results "are good news. All three are good performers and two of them, the Impreza and Lancer, earn our 'best pick' designation," says Institute president Brian O'Neill. "This brings to 7 the number of good performers among the 15 current small car designs we've evaluated, and 4 of the 7 are best picks. In contrast, a few years ago we only had one good performer among the small cars."

Vehicle ratings reflect performance in 40 mph frontal offset crash tests into a deformable barrier. Based on the results, the Institute evaluates the crashworthiness of passenger vehicles, assigning each vehicle a rating from good overall to poor.

Impreza is top-rated small car

The occupant compartment of the Subaru Impreza maintained its shape extremely well in the offset test, and the dummy's movement was well controlled. All measures recorded on the dummy indicated low risk of injury. "This was a very good performance," O'Neill says.

Lancer improves compared with predecessor Mirage

The new Mitsubishi Lancer replaces the four-door Mirage (a two-door Mirage still is being sold), which was a poor performer in the Institute's offset test. There was major intrusion into the Mirage's occupant compartment, and measures from the dummy's right leg indicated significant injury likelihood. Plus there was too much steering column movement, which compromised restraint performance. In contrast, the Lancer's occupant compartment held up well and injury measures were low. Lower intrusion measures indicate a vehicle's structure is doing what it's supposed to do (keep the occupant compartment intact, with little or no intrusion into the driver's space), and all 10 measures of intrusion and steering wheel movement are dramatically lower (better) for the new Lancer design compared with the Mirage:

MITSUBISHI MODELS:
Measures of occupant compartment intrusion (cm), 40 mpg frontal offset crash test
 A-pillar movement rearwardFootwell intrusionBrake pedal intrusionInstrument panel movementSteering column movement
leftcenterrightfootrestleftrightupwardrearward
2002 Lancer11818111210328-2
1997 Mirage1231322420221112108

Performance of S40 is good, but not as good as Impreza and Lancer

The Volvo S40 performed well in the Institute's offset test. There was minimal to moderate intrusion into the occupant compartment. Forces on the dummy's right tibia indicated the possibility of injury, and the dummy's movement could have been better controlled during the crash.

Kia Sedona minivan

There was moderate intrusion into the occupant compartment during the offset test. The dummy's head struck the steering wheel through the airbag, in part because of too much steering column movement. During rebound, the head went partway out the window before it struck the B-pillar. "This is poor control of the dummy," O'Neill points out, "and it compromised restraint system performance."

Dramatic improvement in Ram pickup design

The performance of the predecessor 2001 Ram was poor. There was significant intrusion into the occupant compartment and poor control of dummy movement during the offset test. The airbag deployed late, which contributed to high head and neck injury measures. In contrast, the new Ram design is a good performer. Nine of 10 measures of intrusion and steering wheel movement are dramatically lower (better):

DODGE RAM 1500:
Measures of occupant compartment intrusion (cm), 40 mph frontal offset crash test
 A-pillar movement rearwardFootwell intrusionBrake pedal intrusionInstrument panel movementSteering column movement
leftcenterrightfootrestleftrightupwardrearward
200261814121787626
20019
2721212720108206

2002 Dodge Ram2001 Dodge Ram

The driver's survival space was maintained well in the 2002 Ram (left)
compared with the predecessor Ram model (right).


Structural design is key to good performance

The Institute's frontal offset crash test into a deformable barrier is especially demanding of vehicle structure. The driver side hits the barrier, so a relatively small area of the vehicle's front-end structure must manage the crash energy. This means intrusion into the occupant compartment is more likely to occur than in a full-width test.

"Good structural design is the key to good performance in the offset test," O'Neill notes. "If a car's front-end structure absorbs and manages the crash energy so the occupant compartment remains largely intact, with little or no intrusion into the driver's space, then the dummy's movement is likely to be controlled, and injury measures are likely to be low. In contrast, poor structural design means greater likelihood of poor control of the dummy and high injury measures."

Institute and government crash tests complement each other

The Institute's crashworthiness evaluations are based on results of frontal offset crash tests at 40 mph. Each vehicle's overall evaluation is based on three aspects of performance — measurements of occupant compartment intrusion, injury measures from a Hybrid III dummy positioned in the driver seat, and analysis of slow-motion film to assess how well the restraint system controlled dummy movement during the test.

The federal government has been testing new passenger vehicles in 35 mph full-front crash tests since 1978. This New Car Assessment Program has been a major contributor to crashworthiness improvements — in particular, improved restraint systems in new passenger vehicles. The Institute's offset tests, conducted since 1995, involve 40 percent of a vehicle's front end hitting a deformable barrier at 40 mph. This test complements the federal test involving the full width of the front end hitting a rigid barrier. Both tests are contributing to improvements in crashworthiness — in particular improved crumple zones and safety cages.

The same 40 mph offset crash test is used to evaluate new cars by the European Union in cooperation with motor clubs and by an Australian consortium of state governments and motor clubs.

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