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Status Report, Vol. 37, No. 3 | March 16, 2002 Subscribe

Bumpers on most small cars don't bump as well as Beetle bumpers

Some automakers have shown how to make cars with bumpers that bump like they're supposed to and prevent damage in low-speed collisions. But these are exceptions.

The Institute's latest round of low-speed crash tests proves the rule. The Subaru Impreza, Mitsubishi Lancer, and Volvo S40 sustained total damage ranging from $2,515 to $3,169 in four tests at 5 mph (front- and rear-into-flat-barrier plus front-into-angle-barrier and rear-into-pole).

"Bumpers that bump apparently weren't a consideration when these three small cars were designed for 2002," says Adrian Lund, Institute chief operating officer. All three cars have plastic bumper covers over steel bumper bars plus foam intended to absorb crash energy, "but these components don't do the job nearly as well as the energy-absorbers on the U.S. version of the Volkswagen New Beetle. Foam can be an effective energy absorber, but it isn't in these systems."

The best performer among the three new models, the Impreza, sustained more than 10 times as much total damage as the Beetle. The Lancer sustained $347 damage in the front-into-flat-barrier impact — the best result among the three cars in this test but poor compared with the Beetle, which sustained only $19 damage in the same test and no damage in two of the other three impacts.

The Lancer replaces the four-door Mitsubishi Mirage (a two-door Mirage is still being sold), but the new model doesn't improve on the predecessor's performance. Both the 2002 Lancer and 1997 Mirage sustained more than $3,000 damage in the 5 mph tests. Damage to the Lancer was the same or greater in three of the four impacts.

Sometimes auto manufacturers do pay attention to the bumpers when they redesign their passenger vehicles. For example, damage to the redesigned 1999 Hyundai Elantra in the Institute's 5 mph rear-into-pole test was only $8 compared with $1,784 damage in the same test of a 1997 Elantra (see "Better bumpers on most vehicles the Institute tested," April 24, 1999). From the start, Volkswagen got the bumper systems right on the New Beetle.

"Designing good bumpers is no great engineering challenge. The automakers know how to do it, but unless this is a priority we're going to continue seeing many manufacturers using inferior designs," Lund concludes.

5 mph crash test results
Repair costs reflect January 2002 prices

  Front into flat barrier Rear into flat barrier Front into angle barrier Rear into pole Total damage 4 tests Average damage each test
Small cars            
2002 Subaru Impreza $413 $456 $1,040 $606 $2,515 $629
2002 Mitsubishi Lancer $347 $522 $1,224 $1,011 $3,104 $776
2002 Volvo S40 $406 $435 $1,116 $1,212 $3,169 $792
1998 Volkswagen New Beetle $19 $0 $190 $0 $209 $52
Passenger van
2002 Kia Sedona $4,305 $1,246 $1,225 $2,971 $9,747 $2,437

Different countries, different bumpers

Bumpers on the European version of the Volkswagen New Beetle don't perform as well as the bumpers on the U.S. version.

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