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Five midsize cars rated good; one rated acceptable

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 rated acceptable.

The Institute has tested previous designs of the Galant, Maxima, and Malibu. In each case the performance of the new model improved.

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 the occupants."

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 design.

"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.