ARLINGTON, VA In 40 mph frontal offset crash tests
conducted recently by the Insurance Institute for Highway
Safety, five of six new or redesigned midsize cars earned
good ratings: Acura TL, Acura TSX, Nissan Maxima, Chevrolet
Malibu, and Mitsubishi Galant.
Both Acuras and the Maxima also earned "best pick"
designations in the frontal test. The only car tested that
didn't earn a good rating was the Suzuki Verona, which is
The Institute has tested previous designs of the Galant,
Maxima, and Malibu. In each case the performance of the new
Vehicle ratings reflect performance in 40 mph frontal offset
crash tests into a deformable barrier. Based on the results,
the Institute rates each vehicle from good to poor. If a vehicle
earns a good rating, it means that in a real-world crash of
similar severity a driver using a safety belt would be likely
to walk away with little or no injury.
"These results show how automakers have improved the
structural designs of vehicles to protect occupants better
in serious frontal crashes," says Institute chief operating
officer Adrian Lund.
"Designing a vehicle for safety is much like shipping
a fragile object. First the box needs to be strong enough
to keep from being crushed in transit. Then damage to the
object can be prevented by styrofoam or other energy-absorbing
materials. In the same way, a car's safety cage first needs
to be strong, and then the restraints can effectively protect
Crash test reveals airbag problem in Suzuki Verona: The Verona
was tested twice. The first test revealed a major problem
with the driver airbag, which was only partially inflated
during much of the crash. Then late in the crash the airbag
fully inflated, throwing the dummy's head violently backward
into the door pillar.
Very high injury measures were recorded on the dummy's head
during this impact. Suzuki engineers subsequently determined
there was a manufacturing defect the airbag inflation
module was improperly wired.
"What happened in the first test of the Verona led Suzuki
to identify a serious safety-related defect, which was fixed
for cars in production. All models produced earlier were recalled.
When we tested a second Verona with the defect fixed, the
airbag deployed correctly," Lund says.
The Verona's structure held up well in the Institute's frontal
offset test. However, "the driver seat pitched forward
slightly and tipped toward the door," Lund points out.
"Forces recorded on the dummy indicated the likelihood
of leg injuries. This is why the Verona didn't earn the Institute's
highest rating of good."
Mitsubishi Galant improves: Compared with its two predecessor
models, the new Galant is a good example of improved structural
"The 1995 Galant was one of the worst performers in
the frontal offset test," Lund says. "The occupant
compartment virtually collapsed, the dummy moved to the left
of the deploying airbag, and the windshield frame was driven
back toward the dummy's head. Plus the dummy's left knee crashed
through the dashboard and hit the steering column assembly."
When the Institute tested a redesigned 1999 Galant, its structure
had been improved, and it earned an acceptable rating. Still
there was moderate rearward movement of the instrument panel
and intrusion into the driver footwell area that could lead
to lower leg injury.