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Status Report, Vol. 36, No. 3 | SPECIAL ISSUE: CRASHWORTHINESS IMPROVEMENTS | March 20, 2001 Subscribe

Some bumpers improve, but they're exceptions

Unlike frontal crashworthiness, car bumpers generally haven't improved. An exception is the Hyundai Elantra. The 1997 model sustained more than $3,100 damage in the Institute's four low-speed bumper tests (see Status Report special issue: safety advancements, April 24, 1999). Then Hyundai improved the rear bumper bar on the 1999 Elantra and cut the damage almost in half, to $1,714.

The front bumper got attention when Hyundai redesigned the Elantra for 2001. The result was another halving of damage in the four tests, from $1,714 to $839. Improvements include energy-absorbing foam added to the front bumper and a steel bar to replace the plastic bar.

"Every automaker should be making these kinds of improvements," Institute president Brian O'Neill says.

Another good example is the Mazda Protege, equipped with redesigned rear bumpers after the 1999 model turned in a poor performance in the Institute's tests — much worse than the 1997's showing in the same tests. The problem was that Mazda switched from a steel to a flimsy plastic bumper bar on the 1999 model. The result was a huge increase in damage in the rear-into-pole test compared with the 1997's performance. When Mazda installed an aluminum bar and added energy-absorbing foam, pole test damage went down to $522.

But Mazda didn't do the same to other models. It put a flimsy plastic bar on the front of the MPV, redesigned for the 2000 model year, and the bar cracked in half during the flat-barrier test. A sharp end pierced the condenser, damaging it and the radiator enough that both parts had to be replaced. Total damage in this test came to $1,588.

After learning of this poor performance (but before the Institute released the results to the public), Mazda redesigned the front bumper bar and recalled MPVs already sold to reinforce the bars. O'Neill says this response is "encouraging, but next time we hope Mazda will simply install well-designed bumpers to begin with."

O'Neill adds that "it's especially disappointing when a manufacturer introduces a new model with bumpers that don't even equal the predecessor model's." The bumpers on recent Ford Escort models were far from good. A 1997 Escort sustained $1,893 in the Institute's 5 mph bumper tests. Now Ford is marketing a replacement, the Focus, with bumpers that are even worse. Damage totaled $2,614 for the 2000 model Focus.

5 mph crash test results

Front into flat barrier Rear into flat barrier Front into angle barrier Rear into pole Total damage 4 tests
2001 Hyundai Elantra $247 $0 $407 $185 $839
1999 model $534 $41 $1,131 $8 $1,714
1997 model $272 $401 $749 $1,709 $3,131
2000 Mazda Protege $359 $522 $2,074
1999 model $174 $645 $1,019 $2,872 $4,710
1997 model $614 $148 $493 $715 $1,970
2000 Mazda MPV $1,588 $919 $1,440 $1,206 $5,153
2000 Ford Focus $31 $1,137 $507 $939 $2,614
1997 Ford Escort $267 $172 $805 $649 $1,893
1981 Ford Escort $0 $0 $0 $0 $0
Note: Repair costs reflect December 2000 prices.

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