Sixty-six vehicles have earned the Insurance Institute for
Highway Safety's (IIHS) Top Safety Pick award for 2011,
including 40 cars, 25 SUVs, and a minivan.
Top Safety Pick recognizes vehicles that do the best job of
protecting people in front, side, rollover, and rear crashes based on good
ratings in Institute tests. Winners also must have available electronic
stability control, a crash avoidance feature that significantly reduces crash
The ratings help consumers pick vehicles that offer a higher
level of protection than federal safety standards require.
Last year the Institute toughened criteria for Top Safety
Pick by adding a requirement that all qualifiers must earn a good rating for
performance in a roof strength test to assess protection in a rollover crash.
The move sharply narrowed the initial field of 2010 winners.
At the beginning of the 2010 model year, only 27 vehicles
qualified for the award, but the number grew to 58 as auto manufacturers
reworked existing designs and introduced new models. Now another 10 vehicles
join the winners' list for 2011. Two discontinued models drop off.
"In just a year, automakers have more than doubled the
number of vehicles that meet the criteria for Top Safety Pick," says
Adrian Lund, the Institute's president. "That gives consumers shopping for
a safer new car or SUV -- from economy to luxury models -- plenty of choices to
consider in most dealer showrooms. In fact, every major automaker has at least
one winning model this year."
Hyundai/Kia and Volkswagen/Audi each have nine winners for
2011. Next in line with eight awards apiece are General Motors, Ford/Lincoln,
and Toyota/Lexus/Scion. Subaru is the only manufacturer with a winner in all
the vehicle classes in which it competes. Subaru earned five awards for 2011.
"Safety is a priority among this crop of winners,"
Lund says. "From the start these manufacturers set out to design vehicles
that would earn Top Safety Pick, even though we've made it harder to win."
One of them is Ford. For 2011, the automaker is rolling out
a new design for its popular Explorer midsize SUV, which until now had never
earned Top Safety Pick. Ford also upgraded the roofs of 2 other midsize SUVs,
the Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT, along with the Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ, 2
midsize cars that missed the initial round of 2010 winners because they lacked
the required roof strength. The all-new Ford Fiesta rounds out Ford's winners
and is the only minicar to earn Top Safety Pick this year.
General Motors' new Chevrolet Cruze broadens the number of
award-winning options for consumers looking to buy a fuel-efficient small car.
GM built the Cruze, which has 10 standard airbags, including ones for the
knees, to outperform the government's minimum roof strength requirements and
touts the achievement as a selling point.
The redesigned Volkswagen Touareg is the only large SUV to
earn Top Safety Pick for 2011. The Institute doesn't normally evaluate SUVs
this large, but Volkswagen requested crash tests to demonstrate the Touareg's
None of the small pickups the Institute has evaluated
qualified for this year's award, and large pickups haven't yet been tested.
The Institute awarded the first Top Safety Pick to 2006
models and then raised the bar the next year by requiring good rear test
results and electronic stability control as either standard or optional
equipment. With last year's addition of new criteria for roof crush the
Institute's crash test ratings now cover all four of most common kinds of
More than 12,000 people died in frontal crashes of passenger
vehicles in 2009 in the United States, more than 6,000 died in side impacts and
more than 8,000 died in rollovers -- many of which also involved a front or
side impact. Rear-end crashes usually aren't fatal but result in a large
proportion of injuries. Neck sprain or strain is the most commonly reported
injury in two-thirds of insurance claims for injuries in all kinds of crashes.
Vehicles rated good for rollover crash protection have roofs
more than twice as strong as the current federal standard requires. The Institute
estimates that such roofs reduce the risk of serious and fatal injury in
single-vehicle rollovers by about 50 percent compared with roofs meeting the
Quick strides in occupant protection
When the first roof crush results were released in March
2009, only a third of the SUVs tested had good roofs. Since then about 113
vehicles have been tested, and the majority are rated good for roof strength.
Hyundai is a case in point. The Tucson and the small SUV's
twin, the Kia Sportage, earned a poor rating for roof strength in 2009, with
the weakest roof among all of the small SUVs evaluated that year. A redesign
helped the 2011 models secure a good rating and Top Safety Pick. Hyundai also
improved the roof on another SUV, the midsize Santa Fe, and redesigned the
Sonata, a midsize car that had earned a marginal roof rating the first time
The outlook for side-impact protection has brightened, too,
Lund notes. Many cars failed the side test the Institute began conducting in
2003, but now most vehicles ace the test thanks to stronger side structures and
standard side airbags that protect the head and torso.
It's an important improvement because new Institute research
shows that the risk of dying in a crash is sharply lower for people in vehicles
that earn good ratings in the Institute's side test.
Chrysler added torso airbags to the redesigned Jeep Grand
Cherokee to improve side crash protection and earn a good side rating. The
previous design relied on head curtain airbags to cushion occupants in side
crashes and only rated marginal for side protection.
Safety equipment is increasingly standard. Ninety-two
percent of 2011 model cars, 94 percent of SUVs, and 56 percent of pickups have
standard head and torso side airbags. Electronic stability control is standard
on 92 percent of cars, 100 percent of SUVs, and 72 percent of pickups.
"Automakers deserve credit for quickly rising to meet
the more-challenging criteria for Top Safety Pick," Lund says. "Several already have requested tests for new models due to ship early
next year, so we expect to add even more winners to the 2011 list."
The Institute groups Top Safety Pick winners according to
vehicle type and size. Lund advises consumers to keep in mind that size and
weight influence crashworthiness.
Larger, heavier vehicles generally afford better occupant
protection in serious crashes than smaller, lighter ones. Even with a Top
Safety Pick, a small car isn't as crashworthy as a bigger one.
The Institute's frontal crashworthiness evaluations are
based on results of 40 mph frontal offset crash tests. Each vehicle's overall
evaluation is based on measurements of intrusion into the occupant compartment,
injury measures recorded on a 50th percentile male Hybrid III dummy in the
driver seat, and analysis of slow-motion film to assess how well the restraint
system controlled dummy movement during the test.
Side evaluations are based on performance in a crash test in
which the side of a vehicle is struck by a barrier moving at 31 mph. The
barrier represents the front end of a pickup or SUV. Ratings reflect injury
measures recorded on two instrumented SID-IIs dummies representing a fifth
percentile woman, assessment of head protection countermeasures, and the
vehicle's structural performance during the impact.
In the roof strength test, a metal plate is pushed against
one side of a roof at a displacement rate of 0.2 inch per second. To earn a
good rating for rollover protection, the roof must withstand a force of
four-times the vehicle's weight before reaching five inches of crush. This is
called a strength-to-weight ratio.
Rear crash protection is rated according to a two-step
procedure. Starting points for the ratings are measurements of head restraint
geometry -- the height of a restraint and its horizontal distance behind the
back of the head of an average-size man.
Seat/head restraints with good or acceptable geometry are
tested dynamically using a dummy that measures forces on the neck. This test
simulates a collision in which a stationary vehicle is struck in the rear at 20
mph. Seats without good or acceptable geometry are rated poor overall because
they can't be positioned to protect many people.
All 66 winners
- Buick LaCrosse
- Buick Regal
- BMW 5 series (except 4-wheel drive and V8)
- Cadillac CTS sedan
- Ford Taurus
- Hyundai Genesis
- Infinite M37/M56 (except M56x 4-wheel drive)
- Lincoln MKS
- Mercedes E class coupe
- Mercedes E class sedan
- Toyota Avalon
- Volvo S80
- Audi A3
- Audi A4 sedan
- Chevrolet Malibu
- Chrysler 200 4-door
- Dodge Avenger
- Ford Fusion
- Hyundai Sonata
- Kia Optima
- Lincoln MKZ
- Mercedes C class
- Subaru Legacy
- Subaru Outback
- Volkswagen Jetta sedan
- Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen
- Volvo C30
- Chevrolet Cruze
- Honda Civic 4-door models (except Si) with optional
electronic stability control
- Kia Forte sedan
- Kia Soul
- Mitsubishi Lancer (except 4-wheel drive)
- Nissan Cube
- Scion tC
- Scion xB
- Subaru Impreza sedan and hatchback (except WRX)
- Volkswagen Golf 4-door
- Volkswagen GTI 4-door
- Ford Fiesta sedan and hatchback built after July 2010
- Audi Q5
- Cadillac SRX
- Chevrolet Equinox
- Dodge Journey
- Ford Explorer
- Ford Flex
- GMC Terrain
- Hyundai Santa Fe
- Jeep Grand Cherokee
- Kia Sorento built after March 2010
- Lexus RX
- Lincoln MKT
- Mercedes GLK
- Subaru Tribeca
- Toyota Highlander
- Toyota Venza
- Volvo XC60
- Volvo XC90
- Honda Element
- Hyundai Tucson
- Jeep Patriot with optional side torso airbags
- Kia Sportage
- Subaru Forester
- Volkswagen Tiguan
Sixty-Six Win Insurance Institute's 2011 Top Safety Pick award
Automakers quickly improve roofs to boost rollover protection