• Nov 15th 2007 at 11:31AM
  • 25
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released its 2008 Top Safety Pick Award winners, and the number of vehicles listed at the top of the heap has grown from 13 models in 2006 to 34 models this year – a sign that automakers are stepping up their game.

Among the winners this year were the Audi A3, Honda Accord, Subaru Impreza, Honda Odyssey, BMW X3 and X5, Hyundai Veracruz, Saturn Vue, Toyota Highlander and, with the inclusion of pickup trucks for the first time, the Toyota Tundra.

All the winners can be viewed in the press release after the jump.


2008 winners of Top Safety Pick award - number of winners increases; pickups eligible for first time

ARLINGTON, VA -Thirty-four vehicles earn the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick award for 2008. The award recognizes vehicles that do the best job of protecting people in front, side, and rear crashes based on ratings in the Institute's tests. Winners also have to be equipped with electronic stability control (ESC), which research shows can significantly reduce the risk of crashing.

Compared with last year, automakers have more than doubled the number of vehicles that meet criteria for Top Safety Pick. At the beginning of the 2007 model year, 13 models qualified, but as manufacturers have made changes and introduced new and safer vehicle designs, 10 additional vehicles qualified during the year. Now another 11 vehicles are being added to the list for 2008. Designating winners based on the tests makes it easier for consumers to identify vehicles that afford the best overall protection without sifting through multiple sets of comparative crash test results.

"For 2008, consumers have the widest selection of vehicles they've ever had that afford the best protection in the most common kinds of crashes," says Institute president Adrian Lund. Front and side impacts are the most common kinds of fatal crashes, killing nearly 25,000 of the 31,000 vehicle occupants who died in 2005. Rear-end crashes usually aren't fatal, but they result in a large proportion of the injuries that occur in crashes. About 60 percent of insurance injury claims in 2002 reported minor neck sprains and strains.

All current car and minivan models, small and midsize SUVs, and small and large pickup trucks are eligible to win Top Safety Pick. Eight vehicles from Ford and its subsidiary, Volvo, make the list of winners for 2008. Seven winners are from Honda and its subsidiary, Acura.

Winners have features that help avoid crashes: The Institute added a crash prevention criterion last year to earn Top Safety Pick. Winning vehicles have to be equipped with ESC, which can help drivers avoid crashes altogether. ESC is a control system comprised of sensors and a microcomputer that continuously monitors how well a vehicle responds to a driver's steering input and selectively applies the vehicle brakes and modulates engine power to keep the vehicle traveling along the path indicated by the steering wheel position. This technology helps prevent sideways skidding and loss of control that can lead to rollovers. ESC can help drivers maintain control during emergency maneuvers when their vehicles otherwise might spin out.

"Vehicles should be designed to provide good occupant protection when crashes occur, but now with ESC we have the possibility of preventing many crashes altogether," Lund says. "If all vehicles were equipped with ESC, as many as 10,000 fatal crashes could be avoided each year." Institute research indicates that ESC reduces the risk of fatal single-vehicle crashes by 56 percent and fatal multiple-vehicle crashes by 32 percent. Many single-vehicle crashes involve rolling over, and ESC reduces the risk of fatal single-vehicle rollovers by 80 percent (SUVs) and 77 percent (cars).

For first time pickups are eligible: Pickup trucks haven't been eligible to win Top Safety Pick until now because the Institute hadn't begun side testing them. The Toyota Tundra is first to qualify. Pickups aren't as likely as cars or SUVs to have side airbags or ESC, and Toyota has made these features standard in the Tundra.

"Pickups are among the top selling vehicles in the United States," Lund points out. "They're also more likely than in the past to be used as family vehicles, so equipping them with the latest safety features is important."

Protection in rear impacts improves: Crash tests have driven major improvements in the designs of all kinds and sizes of passenger vehicles. The Institute began frontal crash tests for consumer information in 1995. Side tests were added in 2003 and rear tests in 2004. Most vehicles now earn good ratings in the frontal test, but significant differences still are apparent in vehicle performance in side and rear tests.

Some manufacturers have been working to improve the ratings of their vehicles in the rear test. For example, the seat/head restraints in the Honda Accord, Element, and Odyssey as well as the BMW X3 and X5 are rated good compared with previous designs that were rated marginal or poor. Audi improved the design of seat/head restraints in the A3 from acceptable to good. Another 23 vehicles would have won 2008 awards if they had good seat/head restraint designs. Toyota could have claimed 10 more awards, including 3 for Lexus models. Nissan and Volkswagen could have picked up 4 awards apiece.

Another area where safety is improving is occupant protection in side impacts. More 2008 model vehicles include as standard equipment side airbags designed to protect people's heads. The Saturn was side tested twice. In the first test, the side curtain airbag didn't deploy properly, and the head of the dummy positioned in the back seat was struck by the sill of the window in the door. This impact didn't produce high head injury measures, but head protection was inadequate. In response, General Motors redesigned the side curtain airbag to ensure more rapid inflation and better coverage of the airbag next to the dummy's head. In the second test, the fix was successful, and the VUE's side rating improved from acceptable to good. Top Safety Pick applies to VUEs built after December 2007.

Each year, the Institute offers to test Top Safety Pick candidates early in the model year. The policy is for manufacturers to reimburse the Institute for the cost of vehicles if the tests aren't part of the group's regular schedule. Top Safety Pick is presented by vehicle size because size and weight are closely related, and both influence how well occupants will be protected in serious crashes. Larger, heavier vehicles generally afford better protection in crashes than smaller, lighter ones.

How the vehicles are evaluated: The Institute's frontal crashworthiness evaluations are based on results of frontal offset crash tests at 40 mph. Each vehicle's overall evaluation is based on measurements of intrusion into the occupant compartment, injury measures from 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.

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 that represents the front end of a pickup or SUV. Ratings reflect injury measures recorded on two instrumented SID-IIs dummies, 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 back seat behind the driver, are used to determine the likelihood that a driver and/or passenger in a real-world crash would have sustained serious injury. 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.

Rear crash protection is rated according to a two-step procedure. Starting points for the ratings are measurements of head restraint geometry - the height of a restraint and its horizontal distance behind the back of the head of an average-size man. Seats with good or acceptable restraint geometry are tested dynamically using a dummy that measures forces on the neck. This test simulates a collision in which a stationary vehicle is struck in the rear at 20 mph. Seats without good or acceptable geometry are rated poor overall because they can't be positioned to protect many people


Midsize cars
Audi A3
Honda Accord

Small car
Subaru Impreza equipped with optional electronic stability control

Honda Odyssey

Midsize SUVs
Hyundai Veracruz built after August 2007
Saturn VUE built after December 2007
Toyota Highlander

Small SUV
Honda Element

Large pickup
Toyota Tundra


Large cars
Audi A6
Ford Taurus with optional electronic stability control
Mercury Sable with optional electronic stability control
Volvo S80

Midsize cars
Audi A3, A4
Honda Accord
Saab 9-3
Subaru Legacy with optional electronic stability control

Midsize convertibles
Saab 9-3
Volvo C70

Small car
Subaru Impreza with optional electronic stability control

Honda Odyssey
Hyundai Entourage
Kia Sedona

Midsize SUVs
Acura MDX, RDX
BMW X3, X5
Ford Edge, Taurus X
Honda Pilot
Hyundai Santa Fe
Hyundai Veracruz built after August 2007
Lincoln MKX
Mercedes M class
Saturn VUE built after December 2007
Subaru Tribeca
Toyota Highlander
Volvo XC90

Small SUVs
Honda CR-V, Element
Subaru Forester with optional electronic stability control

Large pickup
Toyota Tundra

Twenty-three vehicles earn good ratings in front and side crash tests. They have ESC, standard or optional. They would be 2008 Top Safety Pick winners if their seat/head restraints also earned good ratings:

* Acura RL, TL
* BMW 3 series
* Chrysler Sebring convertible
* Infiniti M35/M45
* Kia Amanti
* Lexus IS 250/350, ES 350, GS 350/460
* Nissan Pathfinder, Xterra both with optional side airbags
* Nissan Quest
* Toyota Avalon, Camry, FJ Cruiser, 4Runner,
* Prius, RAV4, and Sienna
* Volkswagen Eos, Jetta, Passat, Rabbit

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      It's all BS, the real proof, the accident you walk away from in a real world crash. And sometimes it's the luck of the draw.

      Ever wonder how so many walked awy from crashes before we became obsessed with "safety"?

      Then the manufacturers grab it and ad it to their advertising hyperbole.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Ross- I never thought of the Element being almost wheelchair ready. Nice.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Hah! The gas cap opened...
      • 7 Years Ago
      @ Guenther

      can you read?

      Saturn VUE built after December 2007----although it isn't stellar, Saturn made the list.

      Anywho when you get into a "real world" accident it's always a crapshoot.
        • 7 Years Ago
        @Erik: I'm having a great day - taking pot shots at ill-informed GM apologists always warms the cockles of my heart :)

        The primary point of my post (that you missed) is that the Vue isn't an American vehicle *at all*. That has as much to do with the fact that it's a badge-engineered Opel as the fact that it's assembled by folks who can't read the warning labels on the sun visors. Any credit for its crash performance should be given to the folks in Germany who designed the vehicle and made it conform to the (much tougher) European crash test standards, not to GM of America which is completely incapable of building a safe vehicle.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I read at at a 7th grade level- I see the saturn now. Nothing wrong with that- just surprising that's the only one, with the slew of new models out right now.
        • 7 Years Ago
        hey smartass (djsyndrom), the saturn vue is just as much a saturn as it is an opel. that's right, it was designed and engineered by neither company. it's a daewoo winstrom.

        taking pot shots at domestic haters warms the cockles of my heart :)
      • 7 Years Ago
      All together now: But it's not a fully boxed frame.
        • 7 Years Ago
        IIHS does significantly harder front impact test then the NHTSA. This is because the IIHS do asymmetrical front impact "offset" where 40% of the front are impacted, unlike the flat brick wall style tests the NHTSA does. This is due to the fact that most people don't get into accidents with completely flat surfaces.

        Also the IIHS conducts the test at 40 mph vs the 35 mph the NHTSA does.

        The fact the Tundra does well on the IIHS test and does 4-stars on the NHTSA test means that the vehicle does better on offset frontal collision. Which is really better for the real world.

        More here:

        • 7 Years Ago
        Right- because the rear frame ends almost have anything to do with a frontal crash, right?
        Funny, how the one brand new truck that scored **** for both front passengers, ends up on the IIHS top pick. Perhaps the repair costs are lower? Or maybe they included the lower femur loads
      • 7 Years Ago
      To be on IIHS's list, the vehicle has to have good crash test rating (front/side/seat) and have esc and side airbags.

      This is why the CTS and others aren't on the list, it is not that they aren't worthy, it's because they haven't been tested yet.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Looks like they included accident avoidance measures as well. The text states that the Tundra includes stability control as standard, along with side airbags, both of which push it to a top pick rating.

      Of course, one would assume that the Silverado, which has outperformed the Tundra on other actual crash tests, would fare just as well or better than the Tundra when equipped with the optional stability control and/or side airbags.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I'm surprised the McExcrement was on the list. A friend has one - I fear for my life in that cheap shoebox. More fearful than trying to drive on a freeway in a McFit. Well, maybe not that bad...
        • 7 Years Ago
        The what? Are you referring to the MKX?
        • 7 Years Ago
        Funny, since the Fit and Element score quite well for their respective classes. I guess it must really bug you that Honda, a company that's significantly smaller than:
        ...can somehow sell an safe, reliable and award-winning lineup of cars when some of the aforementioned companies barely have one decent model that can hit one of those goals.

        For the record, I drive a "McFit" and a 2002 Saab 9-3. About the Saab's only advantage is cargo space, and even then it's a close thing.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I think advance safety feautures on today's vehicles are absolutely important. The list of vehichles with good reports are interesting...2008 Top Safety Pick the (IIHS) by Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

      I have been in a few collisions over the years myself-some very bad side and rear impacts...(trained safety/defensive driver)...it's not fun (headaches, back pains etc...).

      Have you noticed that some/many of today's driver's do not have insurance for their vehicles...

      Very interesting article on vehicle crash/safety tests.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Just because a vehicle didn't earn a Top Safety Pick Award, doesn't mean it couldn't. From their website: "First requirement for a vehicle to become a Top Safety Pick is to earn good ratings in all three Institute tests." Which means it has to have gone through all three tests. Which most newer vehicles have not. Example: 2008 CTS and 2008 Malibu. These cars have only been tested in the front-offset crash (both received "Good" ratings). But they haven't been tested otherwise, therefore aren't eligible for the Top Safety Pick Award. This doesn't mean they necessarily would or wouldn't make the list. But it's a bit unfair to judge them based on exclusion from a list for which they are not even allowed to qualify.
      • 7 Years Ago
      hahaha...Chrysler Crap Boxes cant make the list...

      'None produced by Chrysler Corp. made the list. The company said in a statement, "Chrysler vehicles have performed well on a variety of internal and third party tests [and] our vehicles have consistently achieved top ratings in the government's crash test program." '


        • 7 Years Ago
        5 STAR crash rating from NHTSA is good enough for me.

        Also what Chrysler products did they even test? Hell, I want a list of ALL the vehicles they tested.

        • 7 Years Ago
        GM doesn't have any American product on the list either. Ford managed to have 2 vehicles show up as 5 separate models, so cudos, I suppose. I'm a little surprised that the STS and new CTS didn't make the cut.
      • 7 Years Ago
      How can the Tundra which got a 4star government rating get an IIHS Top Safety Pick? Aren't the IIHS test tougher?

      Truck should not be on the list even if it passed the IIHS tests with flying colors, the fact it hasn't done well in one of the tests (Gov or IIHS) means some part of it isn't the safest it could be.
        • 7 Years Ago
        IIHS and NHTSA crash tests are good compliments to each other, but they do test different crash aspects:

        The NHTSA tests are, essentially, tests of the passive safety systems as the full-frontal and side-impact crashes distribute forces across the whole structure--something that usually does not happen in real life. They are good measures of how well airbags and such work.

        The IIHS tests are a better tell as to the structure and the restraint systems--they concentrate force into a smaller area, more closely mimicking a real crash and stressing the structure of the vehicle to a greater degree. IIHS tests are also slightly more comparable across weight classes, but not very.

        Usually, a vehicle will pass the NHTSA test but do more poorly on the IIHS one (the Chevy Venture and Ford F150 are particularly nasty examples of how badly a vehicle does in IIHS vs NHTSA). That the Tundra did the opposite is interesting, but not unheard of, and generally it's the IIHS test that matters more.

        Remember: it's the *INSURANCE* Institute of Highway Safety. They want to keep you safe first and your vehicle safe second because medical payments cost a lot more than vehicle repairs/writeoffs.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Nice that the Saab 9-3 has been on there since 2003. It'd be nice if GM could've implemented the lessons it learned in the 9-3 to the other, newer Epsilons (Aura, G6)
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