Seventy-two vehicles have earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick award for 2009 -- more than double the number of 2008 recipients and more than 3 times the number of 2007 winners.
Top Safety Pick recognizes vehicles that do the best job of protecting people in front, side, and rear crashes based on good ratings in Institute tests. In addition, winners have to have electronic stability control (ESC), which research shows significantly reduces crash risk.
For the first time ever, winners represent every class of vehicle the Institute tests except microcars. Most car, minivan, and SUV models, midsize convertibles, and small and large pickups are eligible.
Ford and its subsidiary Volvo have 16 winners, including the Ford F-150 large pickup. Thirteen winners are from Honda and its Acura division. The Honda Fit with optional ESC is the first minicar to earn Top Safety Pick.
Honda, Acura, and Subaru, which picked up 4 awards, are standouts for 2009 because they have at least 1 Top Safety Pick in every vehicle class in which they compete.
"Consumers are the biggest winners," says Institute president Adrian Lund. "No matter what kind of vehicle buyers may be considering, now they can walk into just about any dealership and find one that affords the best overall protection in serious crashes."
Front and side impacts are the most common kinds of fatal crashes, killing about three-quarters of the 28,896 passenger vehicle occupants who died in 2007. Rear-end crashes usually aren't fatal, but they result in a large proportion of crash injuries. Neck sprain or strain is the most commonly reported injury in two thirds of insurance claims for injuries in all kinds of crashes.
Twenty-six models fall short of earning Top Safety Pick because of inadequate head restraint designs. The Smart Fortwo, the only microcar in the US market, missed because of its head restraints. The same goes for Toyota's hybrid Prius, which performed well in the Institute's front and side crash tests but came up short for rear crash protection.
Chrysler is the only major automaker lacking a single Top Safety Pick. It could have picked up 5 awards if the head restraints were better in the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring, the Sebring convertible, and the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country.
A 2008 Institute analysis of insurance claims found that, all other factors being the same, drivers of vehicles with seat/head restraint combinations rated good in Institute evaluations were 15 percent less likely to sustain neck injuries in rear-end crashes than drivers of vehicles with poor head restraints.
Eleven vehicles missed the mark because they didn't earn a good rating for occupant protection in side crashes. Many of these vehicles are smaller cars whose size puts them at a disadvantage in the challenging test compared with larger, heavier vehicles.
"Still, the sheer number of this year's winners indicates that automakers have made huge strides to improve crash protection to achieve Top Safety Pick designation," Lund says. "For years Toyota had more also-rans than winners. For 2009 this automaker has come on strong by updating seats and head restraints in the Avalon, Corolla, FJ Cruiser, and RAV4 to earn good ratings. Volkswagen has done the same with the Eos, Jetta, Passat, and Rabbit."
Winners include 8 large cars, 13 midsize cars, 6 small cars, 1 minicar, 3 midsize convertibles, and 3 minivans. Among SUVs, 19 are midsize, 10 are small, and 5 are large.
The 2008 Toyota Tundra was the first large pickup to earn Top Safety Pick. For 2009, the Tundra is joined by the Ford F-150 and the Honda Ridgeline. The Toyota Tacoma is the only small pickup winner.
Each year the Institute offers to test Top Safety Pick candidates early in the model year. The policy is for manufacturers to reimburse the Institute for the cost of vehicles if the tests aren't part of the group's regular schedule.
Top Safety Pick is presented by vehicle size because size and weight are closely related, and both influence how well occupants will be protected in serious crashes. Larger, heavier vehicles generally afford better protection in crashes than smaller, lighter ones.
"Just because small cars are Top Safety Picks doesn't make them as crashworthy as larger vehicles," Lund says. "Rather, it's all the more important to choose a small car that rates highly for safety because you give up the protection of size and weight."
The 72 winners are as follows:
• Acura RL
• Audi A6
• Cadillac CTS
• Ford Taurus
• Lincoln MKS
• Mercury Sable
• Toyota Avalon
• Volvo S80
• Acura TL, TSX
• Audi A3, A4
• BMW 3 series 4-door models
• Ford Fusion with optional electronic stability control
• Honda Accord 4-door models
• Mercedes C class
• Mercury Milan with optional electronic stability control
• Saab 9-3
• Subaru Legacy
• Volkswagen Jetta, Passat
• Saab 9-3
• Volkswagen Eos
• Volvo C70
• Honda Civic 4-door models (except Si) with optional electronic stability control
• Mitsubishi Lancer with optional electronic stability control
• Scion xB
• Subaru Impreza with optional electronic stability control
• Toyota Corolla with optional electronic stability control
• Volkswagen Rabbit
• Honda Fit with optional electronic stability control
• Honda Odyssey
• Hyundai Entourage
• Kia Sedona
• Audi Q7
• Buick Enclave
• Chevrolet Traverse
• GMC Acadia
• Saturn Outlook
• Acura MDX, RDX
• BMW X3, X5
• Ford Edge, Flex, Taurus X
• Honda Pilot
• Hyundai Santa Fe, Veracruz
• Infiniti EX35
• Lincoln MKX
• Mercedes M class
• Nissan Murano
• Saturn VUE
• Subaru Tribeca
• Toyota FJ Cruiser, Highlander
• Volvo XC90
• Ford Escape
• Honda CR-V, Element
• Mazda Tribute
• Mercury Mariner
• Mitsubishi Outlander
• Nissan Rogue
• Subaru Forester
• Toyota RAV4
• Volkswagen Tiguan
• Ford F-150
• Honda Ridgeline
• Toyota Tundra
These 26 vehicles earn good ratings in front and side crash tests. They have ESC, standard or optional. They would be 2009 Top Safety Pick winners if their seat/head restraints also earn good ratings:
• Chevrolet Malibu
• Chrysler Sebring, Sebring convertible, Town & Country
• Dodge Avenger, Grand Caravan
• Infiniti G35, M35
• Kia Amanti
• Lexus ES, GS,IS
• Mazda CX-7, CX-9
• Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, Endeavor
• Nissan Altima, Pathfinder, Quest, Xterra
• Saturn AURA
• Smart Fortwo
• Toyota 4Runner, Camry, Prius, Sienna
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