Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Nissan Juke Among I.I.H.S. Top Safety Picks

On Thursday, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released crash-test results for 13 small cars. Six earned top scores, bringing the total number of small cars named top safety picks by the institute to 22.

The I.I.H.S., which is funded by the insurance industry, also released a list of the 10 small cars that claim top crash-test scores as well as the highest fuel economy ratings in their class.

The six top safety picks consist of 2011 and 2012 models. They are the 2012 Ford Focus and the Honda Civic four-door, as well as the 2011 Hyundai Elantra, the Lexus CT 200h, the Nissan Juke and Toyota Prius.

Other vehicles that were tested but not named top safety picks were the 2011 Dodge Caliber, the Honda CR-Z and Insight, the Nissan Sentra and Versa, the Scion xD and Suzuki SX4.

To earn the top designation, a vehicle must receive a rating of good in all four of the institute’s crash tests: front, side, rear and rollover. Electronic stability control must be available at least as an option. The institute rates on a scale of good, acceptable, marginal and poor.

The Civic, CT 200h, Elantra, Focus and Prius are all produced with at least one model or trim level that achieves an E.P.A. fuel economy rating of at least 40 m.p.g. on the highway.

“The bottom line is that small-car safety is improving, and that many of the most fuel-efficient cars that are available today are now available with very high levels of crash protection, which wasn’t the case a few years ago,” said David Zuby, the institute’s chief research officer, in a telephone interview.

Indeed, most small cars now are equipped with air bags and electronic stability control as standard equipment, and are designed to help protect people better in front, side, rollover and rear-impact crashes.

But the laws of physics still apply, Mr. Zuby noted. People who are more interested in safety than fuel efficiency, for example, would be better served buying a larger car.

When the institute began naming top safety picks with 2006 model-year vehicles, the criteria were less stringent than today. Still, only three small cars — the Honda Civic, Saab 9-2X and Subaru Impreza — received the distinction.

The Hyundai Elantra is an example of the changes that have taken place in this segment. Now a top safety pick, it once earned some of the lowest crash test scores of any passenger vehicles.

The institute also noted that newer small cars achieved substantially better gas mileage than their old models managed.

What prevented 7 of the 13 tested small cars from earning top marks? Five received an acceptable rating in one or more of the tests. They were the Honda CR-Z and Insight, the Nissan Versa and Sentra, and the Scion xD. Meanwhile, the Suzuki SX4 received marginal ratings for rollover and rear protection. The Dodge Caliber also was deemed marginal for side protection, but acceptable in the rollover test.

None of the small cars received a rating of poor in any tests.

For complete lists, visit the I.I.H.S. Web site.


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