Mercedes, Lexus, Audi Sedans Earn Poor Crash-Test Ratings

Most mid-sized luxury cars scored “marginal” or “poor” in an insurance industry group’s new frontal-crash test that differs from the U.S. government’s tests and simulates a particularly deadly type of accident.

Of the 11 models the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tested, only the Volvo Car Corp. S60 and Honda Motor Co.’s Acura TL earned “good” ratings in a test simulating a so-called small-overlap crash, in which the front corner of a car hits a tree, utility pole or another vehicle. The Nissan Motor Co. Infiniti G scored “acceptable.” Volvo is owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co.

The Acura TSX, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG 3 Series, Ford Motor Co. Lincoln MKZ and Volkswagen AG CC scored “marginal.” Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus IS 250/350 and ES 350 and Volkswagen’s Audi A4 scored “poor.”

“Nearly 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 said in the statement. “Small-overlap crashes are a major source of these fatalities.”

The test is the first of its kind done by an outside auto-safety evaluator in the U.S. or Europe, the insurance group said today in an e-mailed statement.

The Volkswagen CC’s driver door sheared off its hinges in the test, the first time the institute had a car completely lose its door during a crash test.

Severe Crashes

The insurance group found in a 2009 study that in vehicles rated “good” for front-crash protection, small-overlap crashes accounted for nearly a quarter of the frontal accidents that caused serious injury or death to front-seat occupants.

In 2011, 32,310 people died on U.S. roads, according to a preliminary estimate the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released in May.

The test involves 25 percent of a car’s front end on the driver’s side hitting a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier at 40 miles (64 kilometers) per hour. The test is different from NHTSA’s front-impact crash test, which simulates a 35-mph crash into a rigid barrier that’s hit by the full front of the vehicle.

“These are severe crashes, and our new test reflects that,” Lund said. “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.”

The institute said it started the new test with luxury vehicles because they’re most likely to come equipped with the latest safety technologies. It plans to test moderately-priced mid-sized cars next, including the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

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