All seven cars and minivans that were put through frontal crash tests got the highest rating by the insurance industry, including makes that did poorly when earlier models were tested.
The 2003 models of the midsize Mazda 6, Infiniti G35 and Saab 9-3 and the larger Lincoln Town Car and Mercedes E Class earned a “good” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Two 2004 minivans, the Toyota Sienna and the Nissan Quest, also earned “good” ratings.
In the test, a vehicle going 40 miles per hour is crashed at an angle into a barrier. A “good” rating means a driver wearing a seat belt probably could walk away from a similar crash with minor injuries.
The Sienna did slightly better than the Quest, Insurance Institute President Brian O’Neill said. In the Quest, the crash dummy’s head hit the steering wheel through the air bag. Still, the Quest performed much better than its 1999 predecessor, which earned a “poor,” the lowest rating.
Other vehicles also improved significantly from earlier models. When the Insurance Institute tested the 1999 Saab 9-3, it sustained far more damage, including a detached driver’s side door, and the vehicle earned a “marginal,” the second-worst rating. This time, crash damage barely affected the driver’s space.
Jim Schell, a spokesman for Saab’s parent company, General Motors Corp., said the improvement was good news. He said, however, that GM didn’t redesign the vehicle solely to do well on this test.
“We design our vehicles to perform well in real-world crash situations,” he said. “Certainly, we want our vehicles to do well in consumer tests ... but it is one test, and we need to be cautious about the results of one test.”
The Insurance Institute, a research group financed by insurance companies, says automakers are making great improvements in safety engineering.
“Good performance in the institute’s frontal offset crash test program is now the norm, ... but it wasn’t always that way,” O’Neill said.
Sometimes, changes are made even before the test results are released. Toyota Motor Co. recalled the Sienna’s fuel tank after the Insurance Institute’s first test showed major leakage because of a defect. Ford Motor Co. modified the Town Car’s air bags after the Insurance Institute’s first test showed the dummy’s head hitting the door frame too hard.
Both vehicles earned “good” ratings only after those changes were made.