ARLINGTON, Va. — In recent frontal offset crash tests of nine new or redesigned 2002 model midsize cars, every car earned the top crashworthiness rating of good. The tested cars include two inexpensive models (Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima), two moderately priced cars (Acura TL and Hyundai XG300/XG350), and five luxury models (Lexus ES 300 and IS 300, Saab 9-5, Volvo S60, and Jaguar X-Type). The two Lexus models plus the Acura TL, Toyota Camry, and Saab 9-5 also earned the "best pick" designation.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's ratings (see attachment) reflect performance in a 40 mph frontal offset crash test into a deformable barrier. Based on the results of this test, the Institute evaluates the crashworthiness of passenger vehicles, assigning each vehicle a rating of good, acceptable, marginal, or poor.
"This set of results demonstrates the effectiveness of consumer safety information in improving crashworthiness," says Institute president Brian O'Neill. "We started this program with 1995 model year midsize cars. We tested 14 cars, and at that time only 3 were rated good. Now it's becoming unusual for us to test a new vehicle design in any size class and not get a good performance."
O'Neill adds that "the nine cars we tested this time around vary widely in price, but our tests demonstrate that even inexpensive models like the Camry can turn in good performances." The Institute has tested 29 current midsize car designs in 3 price ranges, and 17 of the 29 are rated good overall. Only 3 are poor.
Structural design is key to good performance
Eight of the nine 2002 models the Institute tested (all except the Hyundai XG300/XG350) earned good ratings for structural performance in the offset test. The occupant compartments of these cars held up well, preserving the space around the driver dummy. The Hyundai's structural rating is acceptable.
A vehicle's structural design is key to its crashworthiness performance because the Institute's frontal offset crash test into a deformable barrier is especially demanding of this aspect of vehicle design. 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 much more likely to occur than in a full-width test.
"If a vehicle'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 during the crash is likely to be well 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," O'Neill notes.
Institute and government crash tests complement each other
The Institute's crashworthiness evaluations are based on results of 40 mph frontal offset crash tests. 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 restraints controlled dummy movement during the impact.
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, by an Australian consortium of state governments and motor clubs, and by a government-affiliated organization in Japan.