New Crash-Test Ratings: At First Look, Which Models Fare Best?

October 5, 2010
2011 Chevrolet Cruze crash test

2011 Chevrolet Cruze crash test

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The first of the tougher new crash-test ratings from the federal government have rolled in. And there are a few surprises.

As expected, the ratings aren't so overly optimistic. It's an about-face, as over the past several years, automakers had few problems meeting the requirements for top crash-test scores and most vehicles achieved four- and five-star results for frontal and side tests. The past model year or two, there were few three-star scores, and no two-star scores whatsoever.

"Because so many vehicles had reached the highest rating under the old rating criteria, and because the new standards are much more rigorous, not all previously rated 5-star vehicles will remain at 5 stars," the agency explained in a press release.

It's all changed now, with a complete realignment of the ratings system, new female-sized crash-test dummies, and the start of a new pole side test that will be phased in from now until 2014, when all new vehicles have to meet tougher side requirements. For 2011, just 20 percent of new models will be given the side pole test.

For 2011, NHTSA has announced that it will rate 55 vehicles—24 passenger cars, 20 SUVs, two vans, and nine pickups—under the new system. And today, the agency revealed 19 of those results (or 33, considering powertrain or bodystyle variations).

Actual video clips of frontal and side crash tests for each vehicle are now easily seen on the new SaferCar.gov site, which also includes quick demonstration videos that show the importance of electronic stability control, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning systems; there are also quick clips to define terms such as rollover.

All of the 2011-model-year vehicles that were tested in this first batch come with electronic stability control—it's optional in the Versa, however.

Also as part of the new ratings, vehicles are given an Overall Vehicle Score, which combines the frontal, side, and rollover tests and actually compares the average risk of injury with that of other vehicles. So for the first time, you have a meaningful way of comparing vehicles, when shopping, based on risk.

In the new tests, the 2011 BMW 5-Series and 2011 Hyundai Sonata were the only two vehicles to achieve an overall score of 5—and neither of them earned a perfect five in all tests.

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