Volvo Tops in New More Stringent IIHS Frontal Crash Test
The 2012 Volvo S60 earned a top
rating of "good" in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's
(IIHS) new small overlap frontal crash test, making it the highest-rated
European luxury vehicle among those tested. The Volvo S60 was rated higher than
the Infiniti G, BMW 3 Series, Acura TSX, Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class and the
Lexus IS 250 / 350. The Acura TL was the only other vehicle to earn a
"good" rating. New crash test aims to drive improvements in
protecting people in frontal crashes:
Only 3 of
11 midsize luxury and near-luxury cars evaluated earn good or acceptable
ratings in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's new small overlap
frontal crash test, the latest addition to a suite of tests designed to help
consumers pick the safest vehicles.
Va. ? Only 3 of 11 midsize luxury and near-luxury cars evaluated earn good or
acceptable ratings in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's new small
overlap frontal crash test, the latest addition to a suite of tests designed to
help consumers pick the safest vehicles.
TL and Volvo S60 earn good ratings, while the Infiniti G earns acceptable. The
Acura TSX, BMW 3 series, Lincoln MKZ and Volkswagen CC earn marginal ratings.
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus IS 250/350, Audi A4 and Lexus ES 350 earn
poor. All of these cars are 2012 models. See these ratings in table format.
test, 25 percent of a car's front end on the driver side strikes a 5-foot-tall
rigid barrier at 40 mph. A 50th percentile male Hybrid III dummy is belted in
the driver seat. The test is designed to replicate what happens when the front
corner of a car collides with another vehicle or an object like a tree or
utility pole. Outside of some automakers' proving grounds, such a test isn't
currently conducted anywhere else in the United States or Europe.
every new car performs well in other frontal crash tests conducted by the
Institute and the federal government, but we still see more than 10,000 deaths
in frontal crashes each year," Institute President Adrian Lund says.
"Small overlap crashes are a major source of these fatalities. This new
test program is based on years of analyzing real-world frontal crashes and then
replicating them in our crash test facility to determine how people are being
seriously injured and how cars can be designed to protect them better. We think
this is the next step in improving frontal crash protection."
of drivers of 0-3-year-old passenger vehicles involved in fatal frontal crashes
has fallen 55 percent since 2001. Much of the improved outlook is due to the
success of consumer information testing like the New Car Assessment
Program begun by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(NHTSA) in 1978 and crashworthiness evaluations the Institute started in 1995.
In NHTSA's frontal test, passenger vehicles crash at 35 mph into a rigid
barrier covering the full width of the vehicle. In the Institute's 40 mph
offset frontal test, now called a moderate overlap frontal test, 40 percent of
the total width of a vehicle strikes a deformable barrier on the driver side.
In a 2009
Institute study of vehicles with good ratings for frontal crash protection,
small overlap crashes accounted for nearly a quarter of the frontal crashes
involving serious or fatal injury to front seat occupants. Another 24 percent
of the frontal crashes were moderate overlap crashes, although they likely
occurred at much higher speeds than the Institute's moderate overlap test. An
additional 14 percent occurred when passenger vehicles underrode large trucks,
SUVs or other high-riding passenger vehicles. The Institute is exploring
countermeasures for large truck underride crashes and in other research has
found that the problem of crash incompatibility between cars and SUVs is being
Acura TL earns a good rating in the small overlap frontal test. The driver
space was maintained reasonably well, and the dummy's movement was well
controlled. Measures taken from the dummy indicate a low risk of any
significant injuries in a crash of this severity. The test is designed to
replicate what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another
vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole.
The key to
protection in any crash is a strong safety cage that resists deformation to
maintain survival space for occupants. Then vehicle restraint systems can do
their jobs to cushion and protect people.
Packaging 101. If you ship a fragile item in a strong box, it's more likely to
arrive at its destination without breaking. In crashes, people are less
vulnerable to injury if the occupant compartment remains intact," Lund
modern cars have safety cages built to withstand head-on collisions and
moderate overlap frontal crashes with little deformation. At the same time,
crush zones help manage crash energy to reduce forces on the occupant
compartment. The main crush-zone structures are concentrated in the middle 50
percent of the front end. When a crash involves these structures, the occupant
compartment is protected from intrusion, and front airbags and safety belts can
effectively restrain and protect occupants.
overlap crashes are a different story. These crashes primarily affect a car's
outer edges, which aren't well protected by the crush-zone structures. Crash
forces go directly into the front wheel, suspension system and firewall. It is
not uncommon for the wheel to be forced rearward into the footwell,
contributing to even more intrusion in the occupant compartment and resulting
in serious leg and foot injuries. To provide effective protection in small
overlap crashes, the safety cage needs to resist crash forces that aren't
tempered by crush-zone structures. Widening these front-end structures also
are severe crashes, and our new test reflects that," Lund says. "Most
automakers design their vehicles to ace our moderate overlap frontal test and
NHTSA's full-width frontal test, but the problem of small overlap crashes
hasn't been addressed. We hope our new rating program will change that."
near-luxury cars were first to the test because these models typically get
advanced safety features sooner than other vehicles, Lund says.
test performance varied widely in the three rating categories: structure,
restraints and kinematics, and dummy injury measures. The majority of the cars
had lots of occupant compartment intrusion, which contributed to their low
overall rating. Occupant motion varied greatly as well, with the dummy missing
the airbag in some cases. In others, safety belts allowed the dummy's head and
torso to move too far forward toward the A-pillar. Forces measured on the dummy
indicated high risk of injury for the legs and feet in several vehicles.
the Volvo S60 was best. With only a few inches of intrusion, the occupant
compartment looked much the same as it did in a moderate overlap test.
Reinforcement of the S60's upper rails and a steel cross member below the
instrument panel helped to keep the safety cage intact. Volvo has performed
similar small overlap tests as part of its vehicle safety development process
since the late 1980s, taking the results into account when designing new
Survival space for the driver wasn't well maintained in the Lexus IS crash
test. The A-pillar bent and the footwell collapsed as the left front wheel and
tire were forced rearward. The dummy's feet were entrapped by intruding
Results for the Volvo S60 were very different. The S60's occupant compartment
held up well, with only minor intrusion.
IS had up to 10 times as much occupant compartment intrusion as the Volvo. In
the IS test, the car's A-pillar bent and the footwell collapsed as the left
front wheel and tire were forced rearward. The dummy's left foot was entrapped
by intruding structure, and its right foot was wedged beneath the brake pedal.
Entrapment also was an issue with the Mercedes C-Class. The dummy's right foot
ended up wedged beneath the brake pedal as the left front wheel was forced
rearward during the crash.
When the Volkswagen
CC was put to the test, the driver door was sheared off its hinges. The CC is
the first vehicle the Institute has ever evaluated to completely lose its door.
An open door results in an automatic downgrade to poor for restraints and
kinematics, as also was the case with the Audi A4, whose door opened but
remained attached to the car. Doors should stay closed in a crash to keep
people from being partially or completely ejected from vehicles.
Restraint systems' key role
belts and airbags are important in any crash configuration, and they are
especially taxed in small overlap frontal crashes. When cars strike the test
barrier they tend to move sideways away from it, and the interior structures
including the driver door, side window and A-pillar move in the same direction.
The test dummy, however, keeps moving forward into the path of the
sideways-moving interior structures. At the same time, the steering column and
driver airbag move inboard in many vehicles because of the way the front end and
occupant compartment deform. If the dummy misses the airbag or slides off it,
the head and chest are unprotected.
airbags are calibrated to deploy in these types of crashes. Side airbags,
including head-protecting curtains and chest-protecting torso airbags, don't
always deploy because they are designed mainly for true side impacts ? think
so-called T-bone crashes at intersections. When they do deploy, they don't
always do so early enough or extend far enough forward to adequately protect
people. The result is an airbag gray zone with gaps between what front airbags
cover and what side airbags do ? if they deploy at all.
airbag protection, people in real-world small overlap frontal crashes can
sustain head injuries from direct contact with the A-pillar, dashboard or
window sill or by hitting trees, poles or other objects. Chest injuries happen
when people contact the steering wheel, door or other intruding structures.
luxury car and near-luxury car the Institute evaluated earns good ratings for
head, neck and chest injury risk based on measurements from the dummy's
sensors. This is true even though there are many cases of serious upper body
injuries in real-world crashes with similar vehicle damage.
possible reason for the differing results is that real people move more during
a crash and are prone to be out of position at the start, compared with
relatively stiff and precisely positioned crash test dummies. Not all drivers
are the same size as the dummy or seated exactly the same way. A close call for
the dummy could mean an actual injury for a person. In several crash tests, the
dummy's head barely missed the intruding structure of the vehicle, where a real
person may have made contact and sustained an injury. Another reason is that the
frontal crash dummy the Institute uses in the small overlap test is not good at
measuring risks from lateral forces. Side crash dummies do a better job of this
but can't sense ? or record ? much of the frontal action in these tests.
curtain and torso airbags deployed in the Acura TL and Volvo S60, although the
S60's torso airbag fired too late in the crash to protect the dummy's chest
from potential contact with side structures. One or both of the curtain and
torso airbags didn't deploy in seven of the cars evaluated. Of the six curtains
that deployed, four didn't provide sufficient forward coverage. The Institute
lowered restraint and kinematics scores if side airbags didn't deploy or
coverage was lacking.
curtain airbags and torso airbags are designed to deploy in side impacts, but
they can be beneficial in small overlap frontal crashes as well," Lund
says. "If they do deploy, curtain airbags also need to extend far enough
forward to protect the head from contact with side structures and outside
example, in the Lincoln MKZ test, the dummy's head and chest completely missed
the front airbag as the steering column moved to the right. The side curtain
airbag deployed but didn't extend far enough forward to protect the dummy's
head. In comparison, the Acura TL's front and side curtain airbags worked well
together to keep the head from coming close to any stiff structures or objects
that could cause injury.
The dummy's head and chest missed the MKZ's front airbag as the steering column
moved to the right. The side curtain airbag didn't have sufficient forward
coverage for the head.
RIGHT: In contrast, the TL's front and side
curtain airbags did a good job of protecting the dummy's head.
at some manufacturers have indicated that they are adjusting airbag algorithms
to deploy side airbags in small overlap frontal crashes. Mercedes, for example,
plans changes for the current C-Class.
restraint and kinematics issue Institute engineers flagged was excessive
forward movement of the driver dummy caused by too much shoulder belt webbing
spooling out of the retractor. This was the case with the BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen.
Like most new vehicles, these cars have safety belts equipped with load
limiters that allow occupants' upper bodies to move forward in frontal crashes
when belt loads exceed a specific threshold. Load limiters allow some belt
spoolout after the initial impact to reduce belt-force-related thoracic
injuries such as rib fractures by allowing people to ride down deflating front
airbags. However, too much spoolout can compromise belt effectiveness by
allowing belted occupants to move enough to strike hard surfaces inside the
vehicle. This concern is greater in small overlaps where occupants may load
only a small part of the front airbag or miss it completely.
Tougher award criteria
Institute's Top Safety Pick award recognizes passenger vehicles that do the
best job of protecting people in front, side, rollover and rear crashes based
on ratings in Institute evaluations. The front rating is based on the moderate
Institute plans to make the top award criteria more stringent by adding the
small overlap frontal test to its battery of evaluations. The existing criteria
will continue for the 2013 award cycle, but vehicles that excel in the new test
will be recognized.
won't have evaluated many vehicles in the small overlap test in time for the
2013 award," Lund explains. "Models meeting the current award
criteria still offer outstanding protection in most crashes, and they will
continue to earn Top Safety Pick in 2013. However, those vehicles that also do
well in the new test will get to claim a higher award level that will be
announced later this year."
Institute has tightened award criteria twice since the first winners were
announced for 2006 models. Good rear test results and availability of
electronic stability control became a requirement starting with 2007 models,
and a good roof strength rating became a deciding factor for 2010 models.
Stability control is no longer a separate requirement since all 2012 and later
vehicles must have the feature as standard under federal rules.
have been quick to rise to the occasion whenever the Institute has added a new
evaluation to its vehicle test program, and the small overlap test should be no
recognize that this crash mode poses a significant risk to their customers and
have indicated they plan structural and restraint changes to improve protection
in small overlap frontal crashes," Lund says.
Institute will assess midsize moderately priced cars, including such
top-selling models as the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.