updated 1/7/2004 4:46:38 PM ET 2004-01-07T21:46:38

Minivans from Ford, Mercury, Nissan and Toyota all earned the government’s top safety rating in the first crash tests of 2004 model year vehicles.

The 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix had the lowest safety ratings of any of the 19 vehicles tested, earning three out of five stars on three of the tests performed by the National Highway Safety Administration.

The Toyota Sienna, Nissan Quest, Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey all earned the agency’s highest rating on driver- and passenger-side frontal crash tests. The Sienna also earned five stars on side-impact crash tests. Side-impact results for the other three minivans were still being reviewed, NHTSA said.

NHTSA’s frontal crash test is performed at 35 mph, while the side-impact test is performed at 38.5 mph.

The ratings are based on the risk of harm. Five stars means the chance of serious injury is 10 percent or less. Four stars means the chance of serious injury is 11 to 20 percent, while three stars means the chance of serious injury is 21 to 35 percent.

The Jeep Liberty, Acura MDX, Mitsubishi Endeavor and Lexus RX330 sport utility vehicles all earned five stars in frontal driver-side tests as well as side-impact tests, but four stars on tests of the front passenger side.

Results also were mixed for the mid-size Nissan Maxima, which earned five stars on its front driver-side tests but four stars on all of the other tests. Four mid-size sedans — Chrysler’s 300M, Concorde and Concorde Limited and the Dodge Intrepid — earned four stars in frontal and driver’s side tests but three stars in rear passenger tests.

The mid-size Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable both earned four stars on the front driver-side test, five stars on the front passenger-side test and three stars on both side-impact tests.

The only large sedan tested, the Cadillac DeVille, earned four stars on all of its tests.

The Center for Auto Safety, a Washington advocacy group, criticized NHTSA for releasing the results in January, since 2004 model year vehicles went on sale in October. The center’s director, Clarence Ditlow, said automakers got the crash test results months ago.

“NHTSA has developed a cozy little arrangement with automakers where they get to be at the crash tests, where they get advance results which they can contest if bad or use in their advertisements if good,” Ditlow wrote in a letter to NHTSA chief Dr. Jeffrey Runge.

NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson responded that NHTSA has always shared results with manufacturers and is testing vehicles as quickly as possible.

“To suggest we are allowing all these unsafe vehicles on the road is absurd. There is no collusion with automakers,” Tyson said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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