• Nov 25th 2008 at 10:32AM
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Vehicles are getting safer according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which published its list of 2009 Top Safety Picks today. A total of 72 vehicles earned Top Safety Pick honors this year, which means each one earned the highest score of Good in front, side and rear crash tests performed by the IIHS, as well as offers electronic stability control. Ford and Volvo had the most cars on the list with 16 total, while Honda/Acura nabbed 13. The VW/Audi Group had nine models, and General Motors and Toyota each had eight.

Proper head restraints were apparently a major stumbling block that kept a total of 26 vehicles off the list. The Chevy Malibu, Saturn Aura, Toyota Prius and Camry, smart fortwo, Infiniti G35 and M35 and many more would have made the list if they offered adequate head restraint designs. Chrysler LLC was the only automaker with no Top Safety Picks, and would have earned the honor for the Dodge Avenger/Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Grand Caravan/Chrysler Town and Country if they had offered better head restraint designs.

The IIHS says that this year's total of 72 picks is more than double last year's crop and triple the amount from 2007. That says new car safety is moving in the right direction and helped along the most by the widespread inclusion of ESC as standard equipment. Aside from Chrysler LLC, the good showing of both Ford and GM is also testament to the fact that U.S. automakers are not only keeping up with their competition when it comes to safety, but in many ways leading it.

Check out the complete list of all 72 Top Safety Picks after the jump.

UPDATE: Video added after the jump.

[Source: IIHS]

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IIHS Names Top Safety Performers for 2009

ARLINGTON, VA - Crash Test Winners - Seventy-two vehicles earn the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick award for 2009. This is more than double the number of 2008 recipients and more than 3 times the number of 2007 winners. Top Safety Pick recognizes vehicles that do the best job of protecting people in front, side, and rear crashes based on good ratings in Institute tests. Winners also have to have electronic stability control (ESC), which research shows significantly reduces crash risk.

For the first time ever, winners represent every class of vehicle the Institute tests except microcars. Most car, minivan, and SUV models, midsize convertibles, and small and large pickups are eligible. Ford and its subsidiary Volvo have 16 winners, including the Ford F-150 large pickup. Thirteen winners are from Honda and its Acura division. The Honda Fit with optional ESC is the first minicar to earn Top Safety Pick.

Honda, Acura, and Subaru, which picked up 4 awards, are standouts for 2009 because they have at least 1 Top Safety Pick in every vehicle class in which they compete.

"Consumers are the biggest winners," says Institute president Adrian Lund. "No matter what kind of vehicle buyers may be considering, now they can walk into just about any dealership and find one that affords the best overall protection in serious crashes."

Front and side impacts are the most common kinds of fatal crashes, killing about three-quarters of the 28,896 passenger vehicle occupants who died in 2007. Rear-end crashes usually aren't fatal, but they result in a large proportion of crash injuries. Neck sprain or strain is the most commonly reported injury in two thirds of insurance claims for injuries in all kinds of crashes.

Automakers improve protection: Top Safety Pick provides an incentive for manufacturers to offer safer vehicle designs that go far beyond basic federal standards.

"In order to win, automakers have beefed up the side structures of vehicles and added side airbags to do a better job of protecting people in serious side crashes," Lund says. "They're rapidly adding ESC to prevent crashes, and they're designing seats and head restraints that do a better job of protecting against whiplash."

The changes are evident in the safety equipment that is increasingly standard. For the 2009 model year, 84 percent of passenger cars, 99 percent of SUVs, and 23 percent of pickups have standard side airbags with head protection. The same is true for ESC. It's standard on 74 percent of passenger cars, 99 percent of SUVs, and 37 percent of pickups.

Crash avoidance is required: The Institute began the Top Safety Pick program in 2006, initially giving out 2 tiers of awards. Gold winners scored good ratings for front, side, and rear crash protection. Silver winners had good ratings in front and side tests and acceptable ratings in rear evaluations.

For 2007, the Institute raised the bar to win by requiring good rear impact results and ESC as either standard or optional equipment. ESC helps drivers maintain control of their vehicles in the worst situation - loss of control at high speed - by engaging automatically when it senses vehicle instability and helping to bring a vehicle back in the intended line of travel. ESC lowers the risk of a fatal single-vehicle crash by about half, and it lowers the risk of a fatal rollover crash by as much as 70 percent.

Rear, side performance still lags: Crash tests have driven major improvements in the designs of all kinds and sizes of passenger vehicles. The Institute began conducting frontal tests for consumer information in 1995. Side tests were added in 2003 and rear tests in 2004. Most vehicles earn good ratings based on the frontal crash test, but significant differences remain among vehicles' performance in side and rear tests.

Twenty-six models fall short of earning Top Safety Pick because of inadequate head restraint designs. The Smart Fortwo, the only microcar in the US market, missed because of its head restraints. The same goes for Toyota's hybrid Prius, which performed well in the Institute's front and side crash tests but came up short for rear crash protection.

Chrysler is the only major automaker lacking a single Top Safety Pick. It could have picked up 5 awards if the head restraints were better in the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring, the Sebring convertible, and the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country.

A 2008 Institute analysis of insurance claims found that, all other factors being the same, drivers of vehicles with seat/head restraint combinations rated good in Institute evaluations were 15 percent less likely to sustain neck injuries in rear-end crashes than drivers of vehicles with poor head restraints.

Eleven vehicles missed the mark because they didn't earn a good rating for occupant protection in side crashes. Many of these vehicles are smaller cars whose size puts them at a disadvantage in the challenging test compared with larger, heavier vehicles.

"Still, the sheer number of this year's winners indicates that automakers have made huge strides to improve crash protection to achieve Top Safety Pick designation," Lund says. "For years Toyota had more also-rans than winners. For 2009 this automaker has come on strong by updating seats and head restraints in the Avalon, Corolla, FJ Cruiser, and RAV4 to earn good ratings. Volkswagen has done the same with the Eos, Jetta, Passat, and Rabbit."

Winners include 8 large cars, 13 midsize cars, 6 small cars, 1 minicar, 3 midsize convertibles, and 3 minivans. Among SUVs, 19 are midsize, 10 are small, and 5 are large. The 2008 Toyota Tundra was the first large pickup to earn Top Safety Pick. For 2009, the Tundra is joined by the Ford F-150 and the Honda Ridgeline. The Toyota Tacoma is the only small pickup winner.

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.

"Just because small cars are Top Safety Picks doesn't make them as crashworthy as larger vehicles," Lund says. "Rather, it's all the more important to choose a small car that rates highly for safety because you give up the protection of size and weight."

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.

Side evaluations are based on performance in a crash test in which the side of a vehicle is struck by a barrier moving at 31 mph. The barrier 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.

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. Seat/head restraints with good or acceptable 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.

All 72 Winners of 2009 IIHS Top Safety Performers

IIHS 2009 Large Car Top Safety Performers
Acura RL
Audi A6
Cadillac CTS
Ford Taurus
Lincoln MKS
Mercury Sable
Toyota Avalon
Volvo S80

IIHS 2009 Midsize Car Top Safety Performers
Acura TL
Acura TSX
Audi A3
Audi A4
BMW 3 series 4-door models
Ford Fusion with optional electronic stability control
Honda Accord 4-door models
Mercedes C class
Mercury Milan with optional electronic stability control
Saab 9-3
Subaru Legacy
Volkswagen Jetta
Volkswagen Passat

IIHS 2009 Midsize Convertibles Top Safety Performers
Saab 9-3
Volkswagen Eos
Volvo C70

IIHS 2009 Small Cars Top Safety Performers
Honda Civic 4-door models (except Si) with optional electronic stability control
Mitsubishi Lancer with optional electronic stability control
Scion xB
Subaru Impreza with optional electronic stability control
Toyota Corolla with optional electronic stability control
Volkswagen Rabbit

IIHS 2009 Mini Car Top Safety Performers
Honda Fit with optional electronic stability control

IIHS 2009 Minivan Top Safety Performers
Honda Honda Odyssey
Hyundai Entourage
Kia Sedona

IIHS 2009 Large SUV Top Safety Performers
Audi Q7
Buick Enclave
Chevrolet Traverse
GMC Acadia
Saturn Outlook

IIHS 2009 Midsize SUV Top Safety Performers
Acura MDX
Acura RDX
Ford Edge
Ford Flex
Ford Taurus X
Honda Pilot
Hyundai Santa Fe
Hyundai Veracruz
Infiniti EX35
Lincoln MKX
Mercedes M Class
Nissan Murano
Saturn VUE
Subaru Tribeca
Toyota FJ Cruiser
Toyota Highlander
Volvo XC90

IIHS 2009 Small SUV Top Safety Performers
Ford Escape
Honda CR-V, Element
Mazda Tribute
Mercury Mariner
Mitsubishi Outlander
Nissan Rogue
Subaru Forester
Toyota RAV4
Volkswagen Tiguan

IIHS 2009 Large Pickups Top Safety Performers
Ford F-150
Honda Ridgeline
Toyota Tundra

IIHS 2009 Small Pickups Top Safety Performers
Toyota Tacoma

ALSO-RANS For 2009 IIHS Top Safety Performers
The following 26 vehicles earn good ratings in front and side crash tests. They have ESC, standard or optional. They would be 2009 Top Safety Pick winners if their seat/head restraints also earn good ratings:

Chevrolet Malibu
Chrysler Sebring
Chrysler Sebring Convertible
Chrysler Town & Country
Dodge Avenger
Dodge Grand Caravan
Infiniti G35
Infiniti M35
Kia Amanti
Lexus ES
Lexus GS
Lexus IS
Mazda CX-7
Mazda CX-9
Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder
Mitsubishi Endeavor
Nissan Altima
Nissan Pathfinder
Nissan Quest
Nissan Xterra
Saturn AURA
smart Fortwo
Toyota 4Runner
Toyota Camry
Toyota Prius
Toyota Sienna

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      I think Subaru is the only brand where every carline is a top safety pick.
        • 6 Years Ago
        "Hey Judy, Subaru has four carlines. Impreza, Forester, Legacy and Tribeca."

        Except that two of those four lines aren't cars, making Judy technically correct.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Mike you forgot Honda. Every model except the S2000 which I didn't see a class for in that list.

        Good showing from Ford.

        I thought the full size pickup list was excellent. That should be a good judge of who's left after the dust settles.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Maybe because they only have two.

        Ford's efforts are really showing. More top safety picks than anyone and rave reviews from CR. Too bad nobody is buying right now.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Why not test / include the MKZ which has ESC standard?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Because it's pretty much the same car as the Fusion/Milan. Major difference is the 3.5L engine, which will be available in the 2010 Fusion. That and it's probably cheaper to buy a Fusion/Milan.
        • 6 Years Ago
        If you go through the list of cars checked you will be amazed at how many vehicles were not tested.

        Saturn Astra
        Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix
        Chevy HHR
        Mazda 5
        Ford Mustang Coupe
        Scion tC
        Volvo C30
        Etc., Etc.
      • 6 Years Ago
      As far as Subaru, the Institute tested 4 of the 6 models. This makes sense because the Outback is similar enough to the Legacy and the WRX is similar enough to the Impreza. If you meant 2 platforms you have a point, but the 4 models are very different. The old model/platform debate. Clearly the Forester has a lot of differences from the Impreza, and the Tribeca is very different from the Legacy.

      To Mike's point - Subies have been at the top of the list for a long time. There are many reasons for this - design yes, but also materials. Lots of high-strength steel.

      Check out the Institute's the Frontal Offset test. As expected, the Taurus/Sable did well - as did the Subarus. What I didn't expect was that the Fords did well here too!

      GO FORD!!
        • 6 Years Ago
        1) The base Outback is the Legacy Wagon, which is why there are no Legacy Wagons for 2009, and 2) according to Subaru, the WRX is officially the "Impreza WRX."

        BTW, the IIHS listing for the Impreza doesn't recognize the fact that stability control is standard for 2009. An unusual oversight for a group as anal as the IIHS.
      • 6 Years Ago

      I guess the best safety component in a car is the guy at the wheel.
      • 6 Years Ago
      One thing I found interesting, probably only to me because I want to buy a used one, but the Ford Fusion got top scores and is based on the outdoing Mazda6 platform. But the new 2009 Mazda6 (an ultra-competitive car for its value), wasn't even on the board. Is that because they didn't test it or did it just suck? Would be interesting if it didn't make the cut - this car is brand new on the market and should lead the way in safety compared to the outgoing platform. Fusion's are a great used car deal, depreciation still hates Ford and you can pick up a 2-year-old SEL V6 for 50-65% of orig. cost.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Goes to show you how safe cars from almost every brand are these days.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I wish Ford could turn some of this good press into sales. I'm no safety freak, but I know there are a lot out there that are and like this kind of news.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Just like to point out that all these ratings don't portray the whole picture. These are IIHS' picks for what THEY TESTED. The average consumer may not see a car on the list and assume that it wasn't safe, but in fact just wasn't tested by IIHS, i.e., BMW 7 series, MB S Class
        • 6 Years Ago
        There is a cost issue there too. They buy the vehicles themselves from dealers.
      • 6 Years Ago

      Earlier Volvo had a great reputation for safety. Now so many have caught up.
      • 6 Years Ago
      The safest headrest design is one that is integral with the seat with no adjustments, like in a Porsche Boxter for example. With this fixed headrest design, it is impossible to move the headrest up and down far enough that it would not come into contact with the head in a collision. The most unsafe are small headrests with a long range of adjustability. These can be lowered so far that they only hit the neck. I am not sure why some cars with adjustable headrests are better than others.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I still can't find evidence to support the article's claim that domestics are 'leading the way' when they did not top about 3/4 of the categories and didn't chart in 4 of the lists.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Yeah, maybe because the IIHS can't bring itself to test ANY of the GMT900s even though they have been on the market for several years. Maybe I'm a dunce but I could not find any of them on the IIHS site.

        "They can't lead the pack or be on our list if we don't test them..."

        Doesn't it seem odd that these trucks sell a ton but there are no test results for the newer Silverado, Sierra, Tahoe, Suburban, Yukon, or Escalade? Selective descrimination? You be the judge.

        Do you think there would be any fuss if a new Accord model was on the market for three years but couldn't make the list because it was never tested?

        Come on! They test the VW Tiguan and Routan, but not a single GMT900 model? WOW!
      • 6 Years Ago
      Where's the Tahoe-slaying MINI?
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