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NBC News
updated 12/8/2003 2:33:12 PM ET 2003-12-08T19:33:12

You either love to drive them, or love to hate them. Here are the latest crash test results for these popular SUVs from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. How did your SUV do?

"One of the images that SUVs have is that because they’re tough and big and heavy therefore they’re safe,” says Brian O’Neill of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a non-profit group funded by insurance companies.

They do look big and tough. But hurl them into a 320,000-pound concrete barrier at 40 miles per hour, and what do you get? A reality check.

The Institute bought nine midsize SUVs off dealers’ lots and crashed them into this barrier. First up in the high speed test was the 2003 Kia Sorento. Priced at just under $24,000, it’s the least expensive in this group.

“The Kia Sorento was the worst of the nine vehicles we tested,” says O’Neill. “If someone went through an event just like the dummy in this crash, they’d probably have a concussion.”

There are some injuries, but not that serious. The Sorento gets the Institute’s second highest rating of acceptable.

Next up was Mitsubishi’s 2004 Endeavor, another economy SUV.

“There was a neck injury that we didn’t like, and a leg injury,” says O’Neill.

But they aren’t too severe, so the Endeavor earns the Institute’s top rating, good.

Then there is the 2003 Honda Pilot, moderately priced at almost $30,000.

“The dummy’s head is very far forward before that bag deploys,” says O’Neill. “And you see a violent movement back of the head. That is the consequence of a very late airbag firing.”

Honda was concerned and reprogrammed the airbags for a re-test.

“And you can see that now the airbag has come out in time,” says O’Neill. “The dummy’s head is no longer being driven backwards violently. It’s now good performance.”

With the fix, this SUV earns a good and got the Institute’s top honor: a best pick. Honda is recalling all of the Pilot’s that were sold before the modification.

The other medium-priced SUVs tested were the 2003 Nissan Murano, the redesigned 2003 Toyota 4Runner, and the 2004 Chrysler Pacifica. All three get good ratings as well as best picks.

In the luxury SUV category, the 2004 Cadillac SRX is the priciest, at $44,000.

“All the first impressions are pretty good for this vehicle,” says O’Neill, and so the SRX gets the Institute’s highest honor, a good and a best pick, as does the redesigned Lexus RX330 and the 2003 Infiniti FX35 — after a little rejiggering.

“We had the same problem with the FX35 that we had with the Honda Pilot,” says O’Neill. “The airbag fired late. We recorded high forces on the dummy’s head. They then made a change to the design of their airbag system. We then re-tested the vehicle and got very good performance.”

The result another “good” rating and a “best pick.” And as with the Honda Pilot, all FX35s sold before the airbag fix are being recalled.

In a letter to Dateline, Kia said the Sorento “...meets or exceeds all federal safety regulations...” as do all the SUVs that were tested. Mitsubishi told us that it was “...pleased that the Endeavor performed well.”

After eight years of crashing vehicles O’Neill says, car manufacturers are getting the message.

“There’s no question the manufacturers have been listening,” says O’Neill. “They’ve been working to improve performance. And in most cases they’ve succeeded.”

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