Midsize SUVs Becoming Increasingly Safe: New Models Score Well in Crash Tests

Consumers' Research Magazine, October 2001 | Go to article overview

Midsize SUVs Becoming Increasingly Safe: New Models Score Well in Crash Tests


Recent frontal offset crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety included eight midsize sport utility vehicles for 2001 or 2002. Four of the eight--Acura MDX, Toyota Highlander, Suzuki Grand Vitara XL-7, and Mitsubishi Montero Sport--earn good overall crashworthiness ratings. The MDX also earns the Institute's top designation, "best pick." Two other midsize SUVs, the Buick Rendezvous and Isuzu Axiom, are rated acceptable, and the last two, the Chevrolet Trail-Blazer (and its twins, Oldsmobile Bravada and GMC Envoy) and Pontiac Aztek are marginal.

The Institute didn't test the new 2002 Ford Explorer along with this group of vehicles because structural modifications intended to improve its offset crash test performance are scheduled for later this year. The modified Explorer design will be tested when it becomes available.

None of the eight SUVs the Institute recently tested earns a poor overall evaluation. "This is encouraging. In the past when we've tested a group of vehicles, we usually haven't gotten so many good performers, and we usually get at least one poor performer. But offset crash test performances have been getting better, as this group of vehicles demonstrates," Institute president Brian O'Neill points out.

Evaluations reflect performance mainly in 40-mph frontal offset crash tests into a deformable barrier. Based on the results of these tests, the Institute evaluates the crashworthiness of passenger vehicles, assigning each vehicle a rating from good overall to poor.

MDX Is Top Performer In Recent Group. In the 40-mph offset test, the 2001 Acura MDX's occupant compartment "held its shape extremely well, and the dummy went square into the airbag. This is an example of very good performance," O'Neill says. "The dummy injury measures were all low, indicating that a driver in a similar real-world crash would be able to walk away with nothing worse than minor injuries."

New TrailBlazer Is Rated Marginal But Is Much Improved Compared With Blazer. The performance of the 2002 TrailBlazer contrasts sharply with that of Chevrolet's older midsize SUV design, the Blazer (which hasn't been discontinued). The Institute tested a 1996 Blazer and rated it poor. There was major collapse of the occupant compartment during the offset test, and high injury measures were recorded on the dummy's head, which hit the bottom of the Blazer's window frame and B-pillar. "The performance of the TrailBlazer is a big improvement compared with the Blazer. It wouldn't take much for the Trailblazer to improve to a rating better than marginal," O'Neill says.

Compared with the Blazer, the TrailBlazer's front structure allowed much less intrusion into the occupant compartment. Lower intrusion measures indicate a vehicle's safety cage is doing what it's supposed to do (keep the occupant compartment intact, with little or no intrusion into the driver's space), and nine of 10 measures of intrusion and steering wheel movement are dramatically lower (better) for the new TrailBlazer design. (See chart on page 30.)

"The TrailBlazer's occupant compartment held up much better than the Blazer's," O'Neill notes. "There were problems with the new design in the offset test. For example, the brake pedal moved too far rearward, toward the driver. A breakaway brake pedal could make an important difference in this vehicle's performance."

Structurally Modified Montero Sport Improves. Another improver is the 2001 Mitsubishi Montero Sport. When the Institute tested a 1999 model (without the structural modifications to the 2001), it earned a poor overall crashworthiness evaluation. The occupant compartment didn't hold up in the offset test, and there was too much movement of the dummy during the crash. Plus the high forces on both legs indicated the likelihood of injury. The 2001 Montero Sport has been structurally modified, now earning a good overall evaluation. The occupant compartment held up well, and the only serious problem in the offset crash test was that moderately high forces were recorded on the dummy's right leg and foot. …

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