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Newly designed vehicles perform well in tests

Thursday, April 17, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Five newly designed cars and SUVs performed well in high-speed crash tests by the insurance industry, including a Cadillac sedan that was redesigned after it failed to win the highest rating.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which released the test results Wednesday, tested three SUVs and three luxury sedans by crashing each vehicle into a barrier at 40 miles per hour. The vehicles were angled so the driver's side got the brunt of the force.

Five vehicles that were newly designed for the 2003 model year received the highest rating. Those were the midsize Volvo XC90 SUV, the smaller Honda Element and Mitsubishi Outlander SUVs and the Cadillac CTS and Infiniti Q45 cars.

The sixth vehicle tested -- the 2002 Acura RL, which was designed several years ago -- received the second-highest rating of "acceptable." Insurance Institute President Brian O'Neill said the front of the Acura collapsed too far into the vehicle, damaging the legs of the crash-test dummy. The dummy's head also hit the side of the car with too much force, he said.

Acura spokesman Mike Spencer said the Acura RL was designed in 1996, and that technology has improved since then. A new RL is expected to hit the market next year, he said.

"Our newer models are getting good ratings, because we're very concerned about safety, and it's a high priority for us," he said. "With the next generation RL, I can assure you, safety will be at a higher level than it is now."

The Cadillac CTS also earned an "acceptable" rating in an earlier test, after the institute determined that the air bag deployed too late to offer the best head protection. Cadillac changed the air bag crash sensors in models made after October 2002, and earned the highest rating when it was tested this second time.

General Motors Corp. spokesman Jim Schell said the CTS had gotten the highest rating in the company's own tests, which are similar to the institute's. He said the changes Cadillac made were very slight.

Adrian Lund, the Insurance Institute's chief operating officer, said it's uncommon to test a vehicle twice because manufacturers don't always make design changes after getting test results.

O'Neill said automakers are clearly responding to crash-test results and building safer vehicles.

For example, the 1997 Infiniti Q45 got the third-highest rating, or "marginal," when it was tested several years ago. O'Neill said the air bag deployed too late and the legs of the crash-test dummy were injured.

Those problems were solved in the 2003 Infiniti Q45, O'Neill said.

Still, the Insurance Institute has suggested that some design changes are needed in SUVs and luxury cars.

For instance, the institute last month criticized the performance of the bumpers on the 2002 Acura RL and the 2003 Cadillac CTS, Mitsubishi Outlander, Volvo XC90 and Infiniti Q45, saying they caused costly damage when they were hit at 5 miles per hour.

Only the 2003 Honda Element received an "acceptable" rating in those bumper tests.


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