The results are in on The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Car Safety Picks for 2007 - and let's just say that the criteria to win this prestigious automobile award was tougher than ever before. That's because this year's winners had to offer electronic stability control as an option, in addition to passing the Institute's standard car safety criteria. This new addition was based on the Institute's research indicating that electronic stability control (ESC) significantly reduces crash risk by helping drivers maintain control of their vehicles during emergency maneuvers.
"The idea of tightening the criteria for the award is to encourage more vehicle safety improvements," Lund says. "Last year a car could win with an acceptable rating in the rear test instead of the highest rating of good, and electronic stability control wasn't considered. Now it's tougher to win, and some of the 2006 cars don't meet the criteria for this year's award because the vehicle manufacturers haven't improved the head restraints from acceptable to good or don't offer ESC."
In particular, the Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego, large family cars, are good crash test performers, but do not offer electronic stability control. The midsize Chevrolet Malibu is also not equipped with electronic stability control, and its seat/head restraints were not rated 'good' in this years test - a disappointing loss for these 2006 car winners.
Characteristically, the Institute rates vehicles good, acceptable, marginal or poor based on the car's performance in high-speed front and side crash tests. An evaluation of seat/head restraints for protection against neck injuries in rear impacts is also part of the safety test. A vehicle must earn a good rating on all three tests in order to become a top car safety pick.
2007 Top Safety Pick Award Winners
The Top Safety Pick Award recognizes vehicles that do the best job of protecting people in front, side and rear crashes based on ratings in the Institute's tests. This year's winners included four cars, seven SUVs, and two minivans; with Honda and Subaru taking three spots each.
Large car: Audi A6, manufactured in Dec. 2006 and later
Midsize cars: Audi A4, Saab 9-3, and the Subaru Legacy equipped with optional electronic stability control
Minivans: Hyundai Entourage and the Kia Sedona
Luxury SUVs: Mercedes M class and the Volvo XC90
Midsize SUVs: Acura RDX, Honda Pilot, and the Subaru B9 Tribeca
Small SUVs: Honda CR-V and the Subaru Forester equipped with optional electronic stability control
Currently, small, midsized and large car models, including minivans and small and midsized SUVs are eligible to win. Pickups, however, are not included in this round of awards because the Institute has not begun to evaluate their side crashworthiness.
"Our crash tests cover the most common kinds of real world collisions," says Institute president Adrian Lund. "Designating Top Safety Pick car winners based on the tests makes it easier for consumers to identify vehicles that afford the best overall protection without sifting through multiple sets of comparative safety test results."
Excluded from the winners circle were small cars, due to the fact that many are not equipped with electronic stability control. This was a surprise for many, as the four-door Honda Civic won last year. However, many small cars that did not have seat/head restraints included in their car still rated 'good' for rear crash protection.
Omitted from previous years because the Institute had not evaluated SUVs' side crashworthiness, SUV manufacturers have worked hard to improve the safety and durability of their new line of vehicles - and it shows!
"In the past, SUVs (especially the smaller ones) weren't good safety choices compared with cars," Lund explains. "Many SUVs didn't earn good ratings in our crash tests, and on the road they were more likely than cars to get in serious single-vehicle crashes, including rollovers, because of their higher centers of gravity. Newer SUVs perform better in crash tests and, when equipped with electronic stability control, are much less likely to roll over. All but one of the seven SUVs that win our 2007 Top Safety Pick have electronic stability control as standard equipment."
Recent Institute research found that electronic stability control reduces the risk of serious crashes involving both SUVs and cars. The largest effect is in single-vehicle crashes, which were reduced 40 percent with the addition of electronic stability control. Fatal single-vehicle crashes went down 56 percent, and fatal rollovers of cars and SUVs were reduced by about 80 percent.
2007 Vehicles That Came Up Short in Rear Protection
Vehicles that earned good ratings during the Institutes' front and side crash tests, but fell short in the rear crash tests were:
Acceptable rear protection: Audi A3, BMW 3-series 4dr and Lexus IS 250/350
Marginal rear protection: Acura TL, Honda Odyssey, Lexus ES 350, Lexus GS 350, Toyota Camry, Toyota FJ Cruiser, Toyota Prius, and Toyota RAV4
Poor rear protection: Honda Accord 4dr, Infiniti M35, Nissan Quest, Toyota Avalon and Toyota Sienna
Safety Rating Impact
Do poor ratings really motivate auto manufacturers to make improvements for the following year? You bet! According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Report, many car manufacturers improve their vehicles specifically to earn Top Safety Pick awards. In fact, as a result of these tests, automakers have been adding standard side airbags with head protection, even though it is not required by the government. A definite plus for all of us!
New Car in Your Future?
If you're in the market for a new car, make sure to check out the Institutes' Top Award Winners. And while you are at it, make sure to visit Insurance.com's auto insurance comparison application. Here, you will be able to evaluate multiple rates from best-in-class insurance providers - helping you find the best coverage for your new vehicle.
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