• Apr 10, 2008


The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety just wrapped up its latest battery of batterings and most of the tested contenders in the mid-size segment faired well. The Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring, along with the Infiniti G35, Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu, Saturn Aura, Mitsubishi Galant and Kia Optima all received a grade of "Good" for front and side impacts, with the exception of the Optima, which ranked "Acceptable" during the side impact evaluation. However, problems arose in the rear crash test, where the G35, Altima, Malibu, and Aura were all rated as "Marginal," while the Avenger/Sebring received an "Average" score and the Optima walked away with a gold star and a "Good" rating. The only vehicle that received a "Poor" rating on any of the tests was the Mitsubishi Galant, which didn't hold up as well during the rear-impact test.

All the details from the IIHS are available in the press release after the jump.

PRESS RELEASE

NEW CRASH TESTS OF MIDSIZE CARS: PROTECTION IN SIDE IMPACTS IMPROVES, BUT MOST CARS TESTED STILL AFFORD MARGINAL OR POOR PROTECTION IN REAR CRASHES

ARLINGTON,VA-Occupant protection in side impacts of midsize cars is improving as automakers introduce safer designs and add side airbags as standard equipment. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently completed front, side, and rear tests of seven 2008 model midsize cars, both moderately priced and luxury: Chevrolet Malibu, Dodge Avenger, Infiniti G35, Kia Optima, Mitsu-
bishi Galant, Nissan Altima, and Saturn Aura. All earn the highest rating of good for occupant protection in frontal crashes. All but the Kia Optima earn the top rating of good for side crash protection(Malibu's rating applies to cars built after February 2008).Rear crash protection results vary more widely. Among the seats/head restraints evaluated, only those in the Optima earn a good rating (see attached ratings).

"The side impact results represent a huge change from just four years ago," says Institute senior vice president David Zuby. "In 2004 we tested 10 mid-size moderately priced cars, and all 10 were rated poor in their standard configurations without side airbags." In the 2004 tests, only the previous generations of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Chevrolet Malibu earned good ratings when tested with side airbags, which then were optional equipment.

"Side airbags were mostly optional in our first round of side impact tests of midsize cars," Zuby says. "A major change is that side airbags are standard in every one of the seven midsize cars we tested this time around. Auto manufacturers have been moving quickly to make side airbags standard, even on lower priced models."

Avenger and Optima improve: When the Institute tested the Avenger's predecessor, the Dodge Stratus, without its optional side airbags it earned a poor rating for protecting people in side crashes. The safety cage didn't hold up well, resulting in a lot of intrusion into the occupant compartment. The driver dummy's head was struck by the intruding barrier, and injury measures recorded on the dummy indicate that broken ribs and a fractured pelvis would be likely to occur in a real-world crash of similar severity.

Chrysler redesigned this car as an early 2008 model, renaming it the Avenger, which also is sold as the Chrysler Sebring. Front and rear head curtain air-bags and front seat-mounted torso airbags now are standard.

The Avenger's performance in the side test is "dramatically improved compared with the Stratus," Zuby says. The new model kept intrusion into the occupant compartment to a minimum. The side curtain airbag protected the driver dummy's head from being struck by the barrier. Injury measures indicate the possibility of rib fractures, but other injury measures are low. The Avenger is rated good for side impact protection, and it would win a TOP SAFETY PICK award if its seat/head restraints earned a good rating instead of acceptable.

The 2004 Optima (vehicle tested was the Optima's twin, Hyundai Sonata) is rated poor for occupant protection in side impacts, even with its standard combination side airbags designed to protect front-seat occupants' heads and chests. Measures recorded on the driver dummy indicate that rib fractures and internal organ injuries would be likely to occur in a real-world crash of similar severity. Plus the rear passenger dummy's head was struck by the windowsill and the pillar behind the rear door.

The Optima was redesigned during the 2006 model year. The performance of the new model is much improved. Driver injury measures indicate the possibility of a fractured pelvis, but all other measures are low. Kia also changed the side airbag configuration to curtain style that protects the heads of people in both front and rear seats. The new test results apply to Optimas built after June 2006.

Rear crashworthiness ratings aren't as impressive: The seat/head restraints in the Optima are the only ones the Institute tested this time around that earn the top rating of good for occupant protection in rear crashes. Five of the seat/head restraint combinations earn marginal or poor ratings.

When a vehicle is struck in the rear and driven forward, its seats accelerate occupants' torsos forward. Unsupported, an occupant's head will lag behind the forward torso movement, and the differential motion causes the neck to bend and stretch. The higher the torso acceleration, the more sudden the motion, the higher the forces on the neck, and the more likely a neck injury is to occur.

The key to reducing whiplash injury risk is to keep the head and torso moving together. To accomplish this, the geometry of a head restraint has to be adequate - high enough to be near the back of the head. Then the seat structure and stiffness characteristics must be designed to work in concert with the head restraint to support an occupant's neck and head, accelerating them with the torso as the vehicle is pushed forward.

"In stop and go commuter traffic, you're more likely to get in a rear-end collision than any other kind of crash," Zuby says. "It's not a major feat of engineering to design seats and head restraints that afford good protection in these common crashes."

Rear-end collisions are frequent, and neck injuries are the most common injuries reported in auto crashes. They account for 2 million insurance claims each year, costing at least $8.5 billion. Such injuries aren't life-threatening, but they can be painful and debilitating.


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  • 19 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      I hate taking it in the rear. Sorry, couldnt resist.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Did Camry and Accord just skip the test?

      Oh, right, the Accord has bloated its way out of the midsize class...
        • 6 Years Ago
        It takes so little time to look something up on the interent......No, the Camry and Accord, didn't skip the test, they've already been tested, and they both already earned the top rating for side impact tests, with the Accord earning a "Top Safety Pick" due to standard stability control and top marks in all crash tests.

        For the legions of lazy, here's a direct link to test results for Midsize Moderately Priced cars:

        http://www.iihs.org/ratings/summary.aspx?class=30
        • 6 Years Ago
        The new Accord is a Top Safety Pick from the IIHS in the MIDSIZE sedan class. I'm guessing because it had already been tested it did not need to be included in this round of test.

        Other Midsizes that get teh Top Safety Pick nod are the Audi A3, A4, Saab 9-3 and Subaru Legacy (with optional stability control)
      • 6 Years Ago
      really? and that makes you a better driver how? and also how does that make your car any better than others? or, more pertinent to this article, safer?

      i know of many people who don't like rear parking assist or ultrasonic (or whatever your brand likes to call it) because it's intrusive to their driving and offers a false sense of security. just personal preference, just like your personal preference of having all cars come with it... but you wouldn't buy all of the cars with it (as one can surmise by your comment about specific cars), so why say it needs to be on all?
      • 6 Years Ago
      And the Malibu succumbs to the Kia. Send in the clowns....

      Oliver
        far jr
        • 6 Years Ago
        And the higher priced G35 succumbs to the Kia as well. Send in the clowns....
      • 6 Years Ago
      Stop and Go traffic and bumper to bumper traffic is where a huge amount of collissions occur. Not to mention simple parrallel parking.

      I want to see ALL new cars coming standard with ultrasonic rear parking - and ALL cars coming with a low speed collission warning system or automatic braking system that detects objects less than 2 feet away at under 15mph and stops the car before impact.

      I can't tell you how many times I've been dazed at the wheel and nearly hit people in front of me because traffic was bumper to bumper. An automatic system would help protect you from idiots on cellphones or people playing with the navigation systems.

      The only people who would be against my idea are naysayers who claim its too expensive or people working in auto body shops who need the extra revenue that careless drivers create.
        • 6 Years Ago
        uhm, you can buy kia's with rear park assist. just FYI. not on every model of course, but that's to keep their costs down (the accord and camry don't come standard with it either).

        and being "dazed" behind the wheel, as you say? sheesh. scary.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Nope, don't drive a Kia. I have 4 cars, a 2005 Chevy TrailBlazer with mild mods (to tow the GTi to the race track), a 2002 VW GTi 1.8T that makes over 500hp, a 1980 VW Scirocco with a 2.0L 8v swap, and a 2006 Nissan 350Z with mild mods.

        And you not being capable of parking your S550 doesn't mean we should all run out and get things to avoid bumping other cars while parking. I've NEVER hit another car while parallel parking, and I work in center city Philadelphia and parallel park the Trailblazer frequently. Learn to park your car, and learn to not fall asleep driving during your commute, YOUR liability is then null. You can't control other people hitting you, but you can certainly avoid you hitting other people.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I don't want the extra weight, expense and size that your proposal would force on new cars just because you are a poor driver. If you are that "dazed" behind the wheel, it is simple: YOU SHOULD NOT BE DRIVING. Pull off the road and stop endangering MY LIFE. I suppose we're lucky that you are in bumper-to-bumper traffic where the worst that will happen is a bit of wrinkled sheetmetal; if you have problems maintaining attention at slow speeds I can only imagine the hazard you would pose at highway speeds.

        As a diver, I want sole control of the steering, brakes and throttle. Having a computer step in and second-guess my commands is just as bad as a passenger grabbing the wheel.
        • 6 Years Ago
        @Ian

        I disagree. It's very easy to have a low-speed parking accident that you cannot see and cannot avoid. My 9-3 hatch has a high rear deck and very poor visibility of what's immediately astern. If a post (or god forbid, a child or pet) gets behind me when I'm not looking and I start reversing, I have no way of knowing they're there.

        Parking radar/sonar would probably save lives. It'd save paint, too, but that's not so much my concern.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I disagree with you because people need to be responsible for themselves. Stop relying on the manufacturer to do it for you. Why is it so hard to pay attention when you're driving? And how is this gonna help you avoid collision unless YOU'RE the one playing with the Navi or on the Cell phone. Its gonna warn me a half second before someone hits me? That's useful. If you can't park the car you own, you shouldn't own it. You don't NEED ultrasonic parking. How long did people drive without these? 70 years? And they seem to have gotten along just fine. Stop thinking that people need LESS involvement with driving. They need MORE.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I love how everyone acts like EVERY accident is avoidable. You're the same people who in the 50's would have said "I'm not adding ten pounds of weight to my car! Who ever heard of SEAT BELTS anyway?!" Give me a break.
        • 6 Years Ago
        stricter license testing is the most complete, and simplest, solution
      • 6 Years Ago
      "I want to see ALL new cars coming standard with ultrasonic rear parking - and ALL cars coming with a low speed collission warning system or automatic braking system that detects objects less than 2 feet away at under 15mph and stops the car before impact."

      Didn't Toyota/Lexus try this and fail? Every time the car encounters a simple construction cone the car would panic stop... not to mention the famed automated parallel parking.

      That solves it for me, I'm just suiting up in my nomex suit and wearing my SA2005 helmet if I'm forced to commute with drivers like you...
      I'll be watching for an S500, driver "dazed"
      • 6 Years Ago
      I've never been in a frontal crash accident. I've never been in a side impact accident. I've been in five rear-enders.

      Come automakers, get with it and make the cars safer in rear end accidents!
        • 6 Years Ago
        The reason rear-impact consumer metrics like this tend to score low is that it isn't in the OEM's best interest to spend money on it... yet. More consumer exposure like this will help, but lets face it the IIHS is only pushing this because of $$, not because they really care about reducing injuries.

        Low speed rear impacts have a fatality rate of nil and result in very minor injuries so it's not an area where alot of money is willing to be spent by the OEMs. Not when so much mass/cost already needs to be added to modern cars to meet the newest front/side/rollover requirements and consumer metrics.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Building a car for front and side impacts is just a matter of putting in stronger frames and crumple zones. Expensive and heavy, but out of sight and out of mind.

        Large blocky head restraints for rear impacts aren't expensive at all, but they're uncomfortable and goofy looking. That turns buyers off more than a 5 star rear crash rating turns them on.
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