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Small SUV's are Getting Safer

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently completed front, side, and rear crash test evaluations of 8 small SUV models.

Institute ratings of good, acceptable, marginal or poor are based on results of front and side crash tests plus evaluations of seat/head restraints for protection against whiplash injury in rear crashes.

2009 Small SUV Results
The best performers, earning the Institute's Top Safety Pick award, are the 2009 Ford Escape, 2008 Mitsubishi Outlander, 2008 Nissan Rogue, and 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan. These 4 models earn good ratings in all 3 of the Institute's evaluations, and all are equipped with standard electronic stability control and side airbags. The Escape's ratings also apply to the hybrid version, which is sold as the Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute as well as the Escape.

Hybrid SUVs earning Top Safety Pick include the midsize Saturn Vue and Toyota Highlander, which the Institute evaluated earlier.

The Institute's frontal offset crash test, which began in 1995, drove major design changes in vehicles to do a better job of protecting people in the most common kind of serious crash. In the mid-1990s, few vehicles earned the top rating of good in the frontal test. Now nearly every vehicle is rated good for frontal protection. Since the Institute began its side tests in 2003, manufacturers have been following the same path, changing their vehicles to improve protection in serious side impacts.

An exception is the 2-door 2008 Jeep Wrangler, which was tested without its optional side airbags. The previous version of the Wrangler, in which side airbags weren't available, earned a rating of marginal for protection in side crashes, and the new model performed even worse, earning the lowest rating of poor. A new problem was that the driver door opened during the impact. This didn't significantly affect the movement of the dummy during the test, but an open door in a crash could lead to partial or complete ejection of occupants.


The Wrangler and Chevrolet Equinox, also a 2008 model, are the only 2 vehicles tested this time around without standard side airbags. The Jeep Patriot does have standard curtain airbags, but additional torso airbags designed to protect an occupant's chest and abdomen are optional.

When side airbags are optional, the Institute's policy is to test without the option because this is how most of the vehicles will be sold.



Revamped Escape is a winner: This small SUV was re-engineered for the 2009 model year. Among the changes are modifications to the frontal airbags and safety belts plus structural changes to improve occupant protection in frontal crashes. The new Escape improves from acceptable to good in the Institute's frontal offset crash test. A new seat design improves the rear crash protection rating from acceptable to good. Side airbags, optional before 2008 models, now are standard.

Occupant protection in rear crashes generally is improving as automakers strive to earn Top Safety Pick awards. More seat/head restraints are doing a better job of protecting people from neck injuries. The Outlander, Rogue, and Tiguan as well as the Escape earn good ratings for their seat/head restraint designs.

How vehicles are evaluated: The Institute's frontal crashworthiness evaluations are based on results of 40 mph frontal offset crash tests. Each vehicle's overall evaluation is based on measurements of intrusion into the occupant compartment, injury measures recorded on a Hybrid III dummy in the driver seat, and analysis of slow-motion film to assess how well the restraint system controlled dummy movement during the test.






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