ARLINGTON, Va. — The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently tested four 2007 model vehicles with side airbags: Toyota FJ Cruiser and Ford Freestyle (midsize SUVs); Ford Fusion (midsize moderately priced car) and Ford Crown Victoria (large family car). The FJ Cruiser and Freestyle earn good ratings for protection in side crashes. The Fusion is rated acceptable, and the Crown Victoria is marginal. Side airbags are optional in the FJ Cruiser and Crown Victoria. The Fusion has been upgraded to standard side airbags for the 2007 model year. The Freestyle will have standard side airbags in 2007s built after September.
"We commend Ford for making side airbags standard in the Fusion and Freestyle," says Institute president Adrian Lund. "A few years ago, it was rare to find these standard in moderately priced family vehicles, but they're quickly becoming the norm."
The tests were conducted outside of the Institute's normal schedule at the request of the manufacturers. Tests of the Crown Victoria and Fusion update earlier tests of these vehicles without side airbags.
"Manufacturers may request a test because they've made changes to improve a vehicle's performance or they have a new vehicle they think will earn a good rating," Lund explains. "We encourage these requests because it means manufacturers are striving to make their vehicles safer, and we can get the results out to consumers earlier. When we do conduct tests early, the manufacturers provide reimbursement for the cost of the vehicles."
Summary of test results
The FJ Cruiser with optional side airbags earned a good rating. Intrusion into the occupant compartment was minimal. Performance in all categories (dummy injury measures, head protection, and structure) was good across the board.
"A perfect score," Lund points out.
The Freestyle's structure didn't perform quite as well, but this vehicle is rated good overall. The dummies' heads were protected from hitting any hard structures by side curtain-style airbags that deploy from above the windows.
Both the Fusion and Crown Victoria (also sold by Mercury as the Milan and Grand Marquis) with side airbags improved compared with the poor ratings earned by 2006 models tested without side airbags. In the new test of the Fusion, head protection was good but measures recorded on the driver dummy indicated that a fracture of the pelvis would be possible in a crash of this severity. The Fusion with side airbags earned an overall rating of acceptable for side impact protection. In the Crown Victoria, head protection also improved, but this car is rated marginal because of high forces recorded on the driver dummy's pelvis and poor structural performance. (Note: These ratings do not apply to 2006 models equipped with optional side airbags. Ford changed the side airbags, door structure, and interior trim of 2007 Fusions and the side airbags and interior trim of 2007 Crown Victorias to improve occupant protection in side impacts.)
How vehicles are evaluated
Each vehicle's overall side evaluation is based on performance in a crash test in which the side of the vehicle is struck by a barrier moving at 31 mph. The barrier represents the front end of a pickup or SUV. Ratings reflect injury measures recorded on two instrumented SID-IIs dummies, both representing a small woman or preteen; assessment of head protection countermeasures; and the vehicle's structural performance during the impact. Injury measures obtained from the two dummies, one in the driver seat and the other in the rear seat behind the driver, are used to determine the likelihood that the driver and/or passenger in a real-world crash would have sustained serious injury to various body regions. The movements and contacts of the dummies' heads during the crash also are evaluated. Structural performance is based on measurements indicating the amount of B-pillar intrusion into the occupant compartment.