WASHINGTON — The insurance industry’s first tests of how well minivans hold up in side impact crashes gave poor marks Sunday to the 2006 Ford Freestar and Mazda MPV models without side air bags.
Those air bags are an option costing several hundred dollars on the Freestar and the MPV. Rival automakers already include the air bags in their minivans, a class of vehicle popular with families.
The Freestar and MPV models without side air bags earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s lowest ranking, or poor, in the crash results.
The highest marks went to the 2006 models of the Toyota Sienna, Nissan Quest and Honda Odyssey. The institute said the vehicles excelled at protecting people in crashes that typically occur at intersections when a vehicle runs a red light or stop sign.
“Manufacturers should follow the lead of Honda, Nissan and Toyota in making head-protecting side air bags standard in their minivans. Important safety equipment like this shouldn’t be optional,” said Adrian Lund, the institute’s chief operating officer.
A Freestar with optional head curtain air bags for all three rows of seats and front seat-mounted torso air bags received the institute’s second-highest rating, acceptable.
The Freestar’s corporate twin, the Mercury Monterey, has the side air bags standard. It also got the second-highest ranking.
Mazda chose not to request a test of the MPV with optional combination side air bags, which are designed to protect the torso and heads of front-seat motorists.
The Sienna, Quest and Odyssey come with curtain-style air bags designed to protect motorists’ heads. The side structure of the vehicles are also built to resist major intrusion into the compartment.
Ford spokesman Dan Jarvis said the Freestar is designed to provide “a high level of protection in a wide range of crashes.” He noted that the acceptable’ rating highlights the added safety benefits of the available side impact air bags.
On the Freestar, the side air bags are included in a $695 safety package which provides head protection for all three rows, Ford said.
Mazda said a package of seat-mounted side air bags and traction control cost an additional $400 on the MPV LX. The package is standard on the MPV’s top-end ES model.
Mazda was disappointed with the test results but said it “stands behind the safety and quality of the MPV minivan,” said Robert Davis, a senior vice president for research, development and quality.
Video: How will your minivan protect you? The institute’s tests found that in the MPV, a barrier struck the head of a driver dummy and there was intrusion into the passenger compartment.
Institute officials said a similar real-world crash probably would have damaged the driver’s internal organs and fractured his ribs.
In the test of the Freestar without side air bags, the barrier nearly hit the driver dummy’s head and the vehicle’s poor structure led to high forces on the driver dummy’s chest, the institute reported.
In the institute’s side impact test, vehicles are struck with a barrier moving at 31 mph to reflect the force of a pickup or sport utility vehicle.
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