ARLINGTON, Va. — Three new vehicles performed well in a recent series of frontal offset crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Two cars, the Volvo S40 and BMW 5 series, earned overall ratings of good. A new large pickup design, the Nissan Titan, also earned a good rating. All three of these vehicles earned the designation of "best pick" for frontal crash protection. The Ford Escape (twin: Mazda Tribute), a small SUV modified by Ford to improve offset crash performance, went from a marginal rating to acceptable.
"Most new vehicles now are earning good ratings in the Institute's frontal offset test," says Institute chief operating officer Adrian Lund. "Of the vehicles we've tested so far this year, eight are rated good and two are acceptable. This means most new vehicle designs are offering much better protection than older designs for occupants in serious frontal crashes."
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. If a vehicle earns a good rating, it means that in a real-world crash of similar severity a belted driver most likely would be able to walk away with only minor injuries.
Escape improves from marginal to acceptable
Manufacturers continue to make improvements in vehicles that didn't perform as well in previous Institute tests. "Ford made some structural modifications to the Escape to better protect occupants in frontal crashes," Lund says. "But there's still room for improvement. When the Institute first tested the Escape in 2001, its performance was disappointing. The driver space wasn't maintained very well. High accelerations were recorded on the dummy's head when it struck the steering wheel through the airbag and when it hit the doorframe. Plus a leg injury was likely because of considerable intrusion into the footwell area."
In contrast, the modified Escape's structure held up better, the dummy's movement was well controlled, and the airbag prevented hard contact with the steering wheel. But the Escape's performance still doesn't get a good rating. There was moderate intrusion into the footwell and, as a consequence, injuries to the lower leg and foot were likely to occur. There also was a possibility of serious neck injury.
"The Escape still lags behind many other small SUVs that earn good ratings in the Institute's frontal crash test," Lund adds.
Volvo S40 is a 'best pick'
The S40's structure maintained its shape very well during the frontal offset test, and there was little intrusion into the occupant compartment.
"This is an example of how vehicles should perform," Lund points out. "The dummy's movement was well controlled during the crash. The dummy's head went into the airbag and rebounded into the seat without coming close to any stiff structures that could cause injury. This was very good performance."
Titan pickup is a 'best pick'
This is a new entrant in the large pickup truck category. It's the second pickup to earn a "best pick" designation in the frontal test. The other large pickup with this designation is the new Ford F-150.
"Just three years ago when the Institute first tested large pickups, only one, the Toyota Tundra, was rated good. Now four of the six large pickups on the market are rated good," Lund says.
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 intrusion into the occupant compartment, 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, by an Australian consortium of state governments and motor clubs, and by a government-affiliated organization in Japan.