While there are 112 makes and models on the list for this year, it is, in the words of the Institutes president, “tough to win.” Automobile manufacturers are now focused on safety, and this shows, with every major manufacturer having at least one “winner.”
The Toyota/Lexus/Scion line of vehicles collectively received 15 awards – the most for any manufacturer. General Motors received 14, Volkswagen/Audi 13 and 12 each for Ford/Lincoln and Honda/Accura.
Subaru stands out with an award for every one its five models.
The automakers appear to be watching the rating system for the award, and making engineering changes accordingly. According to IIHS, their standard for roof strength is, according to the rating criteria, twice that of the current American government standard. Roof strength is a key criteria in a rollover crash.
Honda reportedly missed awards last year on 10 models because of roof strength, but successfully addressed the issue for 2012 models, with winners in the categories for mini and midsize cars, small and midsize SUV, minivan and large pickup.
The popular Toyota Camry won a TOP SAFETY PICK award for the first time this year. For 2011 IIHS was of the opinion that the vehicle could improve with respect to seat/head restraints, a concern now apparently addressed.
Another popular vehicle, the Honda Accord, was on the list in 2009 but missed last year. It is now back on the list. This movement appears to be the result of the IIHS increasing its standards for rollover protection, with the manufacturer then catching up.
If you get a TOP SAFETY PICK vehicle, what does this really mean?
First, the vehicle has been subjected to a 40 mile per hour “frontal offset crash,” or, in other words, it is driven into a barrier. Intrusion into the occupant compartment is measured. The survival (or not) of a sophisticated, new generation crash test dummy, is assessed.
Secondly, a 31 mph side crash is inflicted upon the vehicle. Again, intrusion and the well-being of the dummy are measured.
Thirdly, a roll-over test is performed by forcing a metal plate against the side of the roof, 0.2 inches per second. The roof must stand up to a force four times the vehicle’s weight “before reaching five inches of crush.”
Finally, the classic “rear end collision” is looked at. The stationary test vehicle is struck from behind by a 20 mph force.
As the government mandates new standards, the IIHS drops criteria, like the now universal electronic stability control (EHS).
When all is said and done, the IIHS points out the one fundamental remains: “Larger, heavier vehicles generally afford better occupant protection in serious crashes than smaller, lighter ones.”
For the complete list of TOP SAFETY PICK vehicles, see www.iihs.org/news/rss/pr121511.html.