Luxury Cars Lag in Frontal Crash Safety: IIHS

Only 3 of 11 midsize luxury and near-luxury cars evaluated earned good or acceptable ratings in the insurance industry’s latest tests designed to help consumers pick the safest vehicles.

The Acura TL and Volvo S60 earned good ratings, while the Infiniti G earned acceptable in what the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) new small overlap frontal crash test.

The Acura TSX, BMW 3 series, Lincoln MKZ and Volkswagen CC earned marginal ratings. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus IS 250/350, Audi A4 and Lexus ES 350 earned poor. All of these cars are 2012 models.

Small overlap crashes accounted for nearly a quarter of the frontal crashes involving serious or fatal injury to front seat occupants, according to IIHS.

IIHS said it plans to test non-luxury models next. It also said it will incorporate results of this new test in its overall safety ratings in the future.

In the test, 25 percent of a car’s front end on the driver side strikes a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier at 40 mph. A 50th percentile male Hybrid III dummy is belted in the driver seat. The test is designed to replicate what happens when the front corner of a car collides with another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole.

“Nearly every new car performs well in other frontal crash tests conducted by the Institute and the federal government, but we still see more than 10,000 deaths in frontal crashes each year,” Institute President Adrian Lund said. “Small overlap crashes are a major source of these fatalities. This new test program is based on years of analyzing real-world frontal crashes and then replicating them in our crash test facility to determine how people are being seriously injured and how cars can be designed to protect them better. We think this is the next step in improving frontal crash protection.”

Small overlap crashes primarily affect a car’s outer edges, which aren’t well protected by crush-zone structures. Crash forces go directly into the front wheel, suspension system and firewall. It is not uncommon for the wheel to be forced rearward into the footwell, contributing to even more intrusion in the occupant compartment and resulting in serious leg and foot injuries.