A new crash test that's deliberately designed to be more difficult than current regulatory testing has unearthed some surprises.
With the aim of influencing the world car industry and national transport safety institutions, the influential US insurance trade group Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS, has launched a new "partial-front" crash test designed to better simulate a common real-world crash situation than many government barrier tests do.
The first batch of cars to go through the tests instigated by the IIHS were what the US market calls Compact Luxury Sedans and, of 11 models put through the test, only two managed a score of "good".
One other car scored "acceptable" but the remaining eight each rated "marginal" or "poor", with one model even losing its front door completely in the test.
President of the IIHS Adrian Lund says: "Nearly every new car performs well in other frontal crash tests conducted by the institute and various government tests, but we still see more than 10,000 deaths in frontal crashes [in the US] each year.
"The new IIHS test differs markedly from those currently used - and from the standards manufacturers are required to meet under federal law. Nonetheless, it is designed to simulate the sort of frontal collisions that are responsible for a large share of those deaths", says Lund.
As part of the test a vehicle is driven into a 1.5 metre rigid barrier at 65 kmh with only 25 per cent of the driver's side of the vehicle actually making contact with the barrier. The test simulates what happens when two vehicles clip one another on a local road where one driver might inadvertently cross the centre line, or where a vehicle hits a tree or utility pole. This is not an uncommon situation in New Zealand, where drivers do tend to hog the centre line on the highway.
The Acura TL by Honda and the Volvo S60 were the only cars that passed the test with a "good" rating, with the Infiniti G gaining an "acceptable". Those vehicles that scored a "marginal" rating included Honda's Acura TSX, the BMW 3-Series, Lincoln's MKZ and the Volkswagen CC, while the Audi A4, Lexus ES 350, Lexus IS 250/350 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class were all rated "poor".
The Volvo employs several engineering solutions to reinforce the passenger compartment and its safety cage, including upper rails noted the IIHS. At the other extreme, the VW CC performed so poorly that the driver's door was completely sheared off its hinges, the first time that has occurred in IIHS testing.
Safety experts credit tests run by both US federal regulators and the IIHS with prompting carmakers to improve the "crashability" of their vehicles - something that has played out in a sharp decline in highway fatalities in recent years. In vehicles no more than three years old, the number of fatalities from frontal crashes has declined by 55 per cent since 2001.
A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statement praised the new tests, saying the agency "looks forward to seeing how vehicle manufacturers respond to this new rating criteria and the benefits it will yield".
Most countries' regulatory NCAP tests take place at speeds as low as 50 kmh.
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