More vehicles are earning top ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) when it comes to front crash prevention.
Less than a year into the new IIHS rating program, auto manufacturers are making moving to adopt the most beneficial systems with automatic braking capabilities, and are offering the features on a wider variety of models.
As a result, 21 of 24 cars and SUVs -- all 2014 models unless noted -- earn an advanced or higher rating in the latest round of IIHS evaluations.
“We are already seeing improvements from automakers since the initial launch of our ratings last September,” said David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer. “BMW and Lexus, for example, have added more braking capability to their systems, which has paid off in higher ratings.”
Large family cars and large luxury cars make up the bulk of the test group. Four midsize luxury/near luxury cars, three midsize luxury SUVs and a midsize SUV were tested also.
Cream of the crop
Four vehicles earn perfect scores when equipped with certain options: the BMW 5 series large luxury car, BMW X5 midsize luxury SUV, 2015 Hyundai Genesis large luxury car and Mercedes-Benz E-Class large luxury car.
In all, eight models earn the highest rating of superior, 13 earn advanced, and three earn a basic rating.
In addition to familiar luxury brands, consumers will find mainstream nameplates among the newest rated vehicles, including Buick, Chevrolet, Dodge and Toyota.
IIHS rates vehicles as basic, advanced or superior for front crash prevention depending on whether they offer autobrake and -- if so -- how effective it is in tests at 12 and 25 mph.
Forward collision warning systems that meet performance criteria set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and autobrake systems that provide only minimal speed reduction in IIHS tests earn a basic rating.
Vehicles that combine the warning with moderate speed reductions earn an advanced rating. It is possible to qualify for an advanced rating with an autobrake system that doesn’t first warn the driver before taking action.
Models that offer a warning and provide major speed reduction in IIHS tests earn a superior rating. Some models have multiple ratings because they are available with different versions of front crash prevention systems and their test performance varies. In the current group, this is the case with the BMW 3 series, 5 series and X5.
“We know that this technology is helping drivers avoid crashes,” Zuby says. “The advantage of autobrake is that even in cases where a crash can’t be avoided entirely, the system will reduce speed. Reducing the speed reduces the amount of damage that occurs to both the striking and struck cars and reduces injuries to people in those cars.”
Front crash prevention systems use various types of sensors, such as camera, radar or laser, to detect when the vehicle is getting too close to one in front of it. Most systems issue a warning and precharge the brakes to maximize their effect if the driver responds by braking. Many systems brake the vehicle autonomously if the driver doesn’t respond. In some cases, automatic braking is activated without a preliminary warning.
Most front crash prevention systems have to be purchased as part of an optional package, but consumers will find that availability is growing, especially for autobrake. More than 20% of 2014 models in the Highway Loss Data Institute's vehicle features database offer a front crash prevention system with autobrake capabilities -- twice as many as in 2012. Forward collision warning is offered as an option on nearly 40% of 2014 models.
“Sorting through the various trade names and features can be confusing, even if you’re looking at models from the same manufacturer. Before buying, consumers should consult the IIHS ratings to find out if the specific model they are considering comes with a top-rated front crash prevention system,” Zuby advises.