Luxury cars score poorly in new U.S. crash test

Only two out of 11 models earn good ratings, with Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Lexus vehicles getting the thumbs down in an insurance institute programme

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 August, 2012, 3:52am


Several luxury cars, including the top-selling Mercedes-Benz C-Class, scored poorly in a new frontal crash test designed to mimic what happens when a car hits another vehicle, power pole or tree.

Of 11 midsize luxury or near-luxury cars built for the 2012 model year, only two - Honda's Acura TL and the Volvo S60 - earned "good" ratings in the test, the US-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said. Volvo is owned by China's Geely.

The Mercedes C-Class, Volkswagen's Audi A4 and Toyota's Lexus IS 250 and Lexus ES 350 earned an overall "poor" rating in the test.

The first three models are sold in Hong Kong and are popular among local drivers, says Eric Wong of Richburg Motors.

The Mercedes and the Audi cost more than HK$300,000. "Benz sells very well in Asia … drivers think of it as a safe vehicle," Wong said. "Hong Kong consumers are very brand conscious. The report may not affect their decision in choosing a car."

The Acura TL is not sold in the city while the Volvo S60 is not popular.

Most cars are now built with safety cages that can handle head-on collisions and other crashes without crushing the driver and others inside the vehicle.

But small so-called overlap frontal crashes - involving only the small front corner of a vehicle - affect the outer edges of the car, which are less protected. In those cases, the front wheel, suspension system and firewall bear the brunt of the crash, which can lead to serious leg and foot injuries.

The institute's test showed that there was a high risk of foot or leg injuries in five top-tier vehicles. In both the C-Class and the Lexus IS 250, the crash dummy's right foot was lodged under the brake pedal.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at present does not test for such crashes, according to the institute.

"Most automakers design their vehicles to ace our moderate overlap frontal test and NHTSA's full-width frontal test, but the problem of small overlap crashes hasn't been addressed," said institute president Adrian Lund.

Small overlap crashes made up nearly a quarter of frontal crashes that caused serious injury or death, according to a 2009 study by the institute, a non-profit group supported by car insurers.

One model, Nissan Motor's Infiniti G, earned an "acceptable". Four models were given a "marginal" score - the Acura TSX, the BMW 3-Series, Ford Motor's Lincoln MKZ and the Volkswagen CC.

In the test, part of a car's front end hit a 1.5-metre rigid barrier at 64km/h. The vehicles were rated in three areas - structural integrity, the effectiveness of restraints and potential injuries.

David Champion, who directs Consumer Reports' vehicle testing programme, said if luxury vehicles were failing at a high rate, it was likely that most cars would not do well.

Mercedes said it did not agree with its ranking and pointed out that the C-Class is listed as one of the institute's top safety picks. Mercedes said the crash test mimics an unusually severe and uncommon scenario.

Additional reporting by Associated Press, McClatchy-Tribune