Volvo Scores Top Marks for Safety -- Again

The IIHS ranks the Volvo S80 as the safest large luxury car, but other luxury marques don't fare as well

The budget-minded Kia Amanti isn't adorned with luxury features like a navigation system or a leather-wrapped interior, but in a serious collision it could protect passengers better than cars nearly twice its price.

That was one of the findings released Aug. 16 by the Arlington (Va.) nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). This round of crash tests, which measured protection during side-impact collisions, was originally intended to compare large luxury sedans. But because of the timing of the Amanti's launch, IIHS researchers hadn't yet given the budget car a side evaluation. So they decided to see what would happen when the Amanti squared off against five cars comparable in size, but all priced above $38,000: the Volvo S80, Acura RL, Mercedes E-Class, Cadillac STS, and BMW 5 Series.

During the test, each car was hit on the driver's side by a barrier moving 31 mph, an impact that's supposed to simulate a sport-utility vehicle striking between the driver and rear passenger. Researchers measured structural damage, as well as possible head injuries to the driver and rear passenger. They then assigned each car a rating of good, acceptable, marginal, or poor.

Encouraging Improvement

Three cars received the highest rating: the Volvo S80, Acura (HMC) RL, and Kia Amanti. No carmaker received the lowest rating, but the Mercedes E-Class and Cadillac (GM) STS were rated acceptable. In perhaps the biggest shocker of the test, the BMW 5 Series was deemed marginal. In an ironic twist, BMW, known for its engineering prowess, was the first carmaker to introduce head-protecting side-impact air bags, in the 5 Series in 1998.

The purpose of the crash tests, says IIHS President Adrian Lund, is to give companies like BMW the chance to better themselves. "When they make improvements, the automakers can request a retest," says Lund. "And we do update our ratings whenever there's a design change." In the 12 years the IIHS has conducted frontal crash tests, this carrot-on-a-stick approach has been effective: Nearly all cars have a good rating, as opposed to about 50% in 1995.

Lund and his team of researchers hope to do the same for side-impact safety, which has become a greater issue of concern since the roads have become populated with more SUVs and other taller vehicles.

Kia (KIMTF) will surely celebrate its victory over three luxury cars, but the real winner of the test was the Volvo S80, which has now received a good rating in front-, side-, and rear-impact evaluations, earning it the IIHS Top Safety Pick award. And compared with the BMW (BMWG) and Mercedes (DCX) in the class—both at around $50,000 —the S80 will save customers more money while having a better chance at saving their life.

Check out the slide show to see the IIHS 2007 side-impact crash test winners and losers.

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