When it comes to buying a new convertible, a hefty price tag doesn't always buy safety. Test scores being released Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found several affordable convertibles that offer better crash protection than their more expensive competitors.
Conducting tests on 10 new midsize convertibles for the first time, the Institute gave its top scores to two expensive convertibles — the 2007 Saab 9-3 and 2007 Volvo C70. Both vehicles, which start at nearly $40,000, received the highest scores on front, side-impact and rear crash protection tests.
"The performances of the 9-3 and C70 are impressive," said Adrian Lund, the Institute's president. "These cars combine what convertible buyers should look for if they're shopping with safety in mind."
Convertibles, a luxurious second car for many owners, are a small part of the new car market, comprising about 2 percent of vehicle sales, according to J.D. Power and Associates.
While many owners can afford to use their roadster on weekends during the summer, the tests suggest that safety doesn't have to be a simple function of cost. Three convertibles — the 2007 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, 2007 Volkswagen Eos and 2008 Chrysler Sebring — received the highest marks in front and side-impact crash testing. All start under $30,000.
The 2007 BMW 3 Series and the 2007 Audi A4 Cabriolet, meanwhile, received the Institute's second-lowest score of marginal in side-impact tests. The BMW convertible starts at $43,200, while the A4 model starts at $39,100. Both received the highest ratings in frontal tests.
During its side test of the 3 Series, for example, the Institute recorded injury measures on the driver dummy that could indicate rib fractures and injuries to internal organs in a similar crash.
BMW AG spokesman Thomas Plucinsky said the automaker was disappointed with the side-impact results but said it engineers its vehicles to pass a wide range of crash tests around the globe.
"We're confident that in real world situations that BMW vehicles are among the safest in side-impact," he said.
Audi AG spokesman Patrick Hespen said the A4's vehicle platform debuted in late 2002, before the Institute's testing procedures were implemented. He said the vehicle "provides a high level of crash protection."
The 2007 Pontiac G6, which starts at $29,400, received scores of marginal in side-impact crash tests and the second-highest score of acceptable in frontal tests.
The Institute said the G6's front compartment held up well during the front-end tests but the driver's seat came loose on one of its tracks and moved forward, leading to the dummy's head striking the instrument panel.
General Motors Corp. spokesman Alan Adler said that while there was some movement of the front seat, "the seat remained in place and provided good protection to the crash test dummy in the driver's seat." On the side-impact test, he said the automaker is moving to equip all passenger cars with head protection by 2009.
Among other vehicles tested, the 2007 Toyota Camry Solara received the highest rating in the frontal test and the second-highest mark in side evaluation. The Ford Mustang, meanwhile, received the second-highest ranking in front-end testing and the highest marks in side-impact.
Lund said consumers should look for roll bars, which help reduce the risk if the convertible rolls over. Pop-up roll bars, which deploy automatically if the sensors detect a potential rollover, are standard equipment on the 9-3, C70, Eos, 3 Series and A4, but unavailable on the other vehicles tested.