The most recent round of government crash tests once again demonstrates the value of side airbags. Two new GM cars -- the Buick LaCrosse and the Saturn Ion -- received only average scores. The Mitsubishi Galant, Toyota Avalon and Volvo V70, all equipped with side air bags, received top scores.

The Suzuki Verona received the lowest rating in driver-side frontal crash tests among passenger cars for the 2005 model year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Verona was the only vehicle tested to receive three stars in the frontal test, which estimates a 21 percent to 35 percent chance of serious injury.

For frontal tests, five stars means there is a 10 percent or less chance of serious injury and four stars estimates an 11 to 20 percent chance of serious injury. NHTSA conducts the front-impact test at 35 mph.

American Suzuki Motor Corp. pointed out in a statement that the company places a priority on building and selling safe vehicles, and that all its products comply with or go beyond federal safety standards.

In side-impact tests, the four-door Chevrolet Cobalt received two out of five stars in driver's side-impact tests while two other GM vehicles -- the four-door versions of the Buick LaCrosse and the Saturn Ion -- got three out of five stars.

The Mitsubishi Galant, Toyota Avalon and Volvo V70, all equipped with side air bags, received top scores for all seating positions, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The new batch of tests, which consider a vehicle's ability to protect the driver and passenger in a crash, revealed high marks for an assortment of passenger cars.

Sixteen of the 19 vehicles tested by NHTSA received the top score -- five stars -- for driver-side frontal crash tests. In frontal tests for passengers, 14 of the 19 vehicles tested received the top mark.

The high grades follow a critical report issued last month by the Government Accountability Office, which said the crash test program is at a crossroads and needs to change to remain relevant. It said many vehicles typically receive high scores even though they may not perform well in a real-world crash.