WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two dozen 2007 passenger vehicles received top scores in government crash ratings Tuesday under a system that is expected to be revised to offer more meaningful information for car buyers.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said 18 sport utility vehicles received five stars in front-end and side-impact testing: the Acura MDX and RDX; Audi Q7; Dodge Nitro; Ford Freestyle; GMC Acadia; Honda CR-V and Element; Hyundai Santa Fe; Infiniti FX35/45; Jeep Grand Cherokee; Kia Sorento and Sportage; Mazda CX-7; Saturn Outlook; Subaru Outback and Toyota Highlander.

Seven passenger cars also got top billing: Dodge Caliber; Ford Five Hundred; Kia Optima; Mercury Montego; Subaru Legacy; Saturn Aura and Toyota Camry.

The test results are frequently cited in advertising, but the government's watchdog group and others have said the "star system" needs to be improved because most vehicles receive four or five stars under NHTSA's system. The grade inflation makes it more difficult for consumers to compare the safety value of similar vehicles.

Most of the 2007 vehicles received four or five stars in frontal and side testing.

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Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said last month that NHTSA planned to upgrade the New Car Assessment Program to enhance test ratings while measuring new crash avoidance technologies found more commonly in vehicles.

The proposal would alter the front-end test to rate vehicles for their ability to prevent upper leg injuries and improve the side test to examine how side air bags can protect the driver's head. Also being discussed is a summary vehicle rating combining the test scores.

Ninety-five percent of 2006 model year vehicles received four or five stars in frontal tests conducted by the government, while 87 percent received four or five stars in side crashes involving the driver.

Some of the same vehicles have received mediocre ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which conducts a more aggressive side-impact test in which vehicles are struck with a barrier to reflect the force of a pickup or SUV.

NHTSA said it had completed frontal, side-impact and rollover ratings for 63 of 70 vehicles from the 2007 model year, accounting for nearly 80 percent of the new vehicles in the fleet.

In rollover ratings, three vehicles received the top score of five: the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky convertibles and the Mazda6 four-door with side air bags. None of the 24 passenger vehicles that received top scores in frontal and side-impact testing received the highest mark in the rollover test.

The Buick LaCrosse with side air bags received one star, the lowest rating, in side crash testing involving the front seat. General Motors Corp. spokesman Alan Adler said the automaker added more foam padding to the interior door trim in January and the vehicle was retested by NHTSA. New side-impact ratings for the LaCrosse are expected later this year.


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