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

October 5, 2010
2011 Chevrolet Cruze crash test

2011 Chevrolet Cruze crash test

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.

2010 Nissan Versa

2010 Nissan Versa

The Car Connection will of course help you interpret these new tests as more results roll in, but at first look, some disappointments include:

2011 Subaru Legacy. Could be quite the blow for Subaru, which has been one of the reigning top performers in federal tests, in addition to those from the IIHS. The Legacy and Outback were top five-star performers in all crash-test categories before; now they're rated four stars overall, with a four in frontal and side categories

2011 Nissan Versa. Was rated four stars for frontal and side protection under the old ratings system. Now it's just a two-star rating overall, including a two-star rating in the new pole test.

2011 Toyota Sienna. This minivan received impressive four- and five-star results under the old ratings system. But the Sienna, which has been redesigned for 2011 (with improved protection, you would expect), was rated just three stars for frontal impact under the new system. In side testing it fared five stars, though.

2011 Toyota Camry. The Camry is due to be redesigned after this model year. That's good, as the 2011 Camry hasn't shown very well under the new ratings; this longtime family favorite achieves just three of five stars in frontal and side protection.

2010 Chevrolet Tahoe

2010 Chevrolet Tahoe

And there are a few—in addition to the BMW 5-Series and Hyundai Sonata—that impress us as faring well in these new tests:

2011 Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Tahoe, and GMC Yukon. These full-size GM SUVs have been around for a few years now without any major structural changes; but they maintain the same top ratings they received in the previous system—five stars for frontal and side protection. Just be aware of their three-star rollover rating.

2011 Ford Fiesta. The 2011 Ford Fiesta shows a strong four-star overall rating—including a top five-star performance in the new side pole test.

 

[SaferCar.gov, NHTSA]

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