Some vehicles can survive car crashes and protect the occupants much better than others. To find out which motor vehicles perform best and which the worst, nonprofit group Insurance Institute for Highway Safety performed crash tests. IIHS, which is “dedicated to reducing the frequency and consequences of crashes on U.S. roads,” rated the cars in four separate categories. 24/7 Wall St. examined the ratings and identified the seven current-generation models that received a “marginal” or “poor” rating in two of the four categories.
The four rating categories of the IIHS tests are: (1) a frontal offset crash test in which the vehicle travels at 40 miles per hour and hits a barrier head-on; (2) a side-impact crash test in which a 3,300 lb. “SUV-like” object strikes the driver side at 31 mph; (3) rollover ratings in which a metal plate hits the corner of a vehicle to determine how much force it can take before rolling over; and (4) a rear-impact protection rating, which focuses on the ability of seats and seat belts to protect against whiplash.
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The cars with the worst scores most commonly received poor grades in the rollover and rear impact tests. In both of these tests, six of the seven models received a score of “marginal,” the second-worst grade. The next most common issue was side impact, in which one model received a “marginal” score and two received a “poor” score, the worst grade given in these tests.
The poor ratings of these models does not appear to have affected their sales. In fact, sales of all models are up from last year. In all but one case, according to data provided by Edmunds.com, sales grew at least 19% last year. And while most of these models’ sales are still below 2007 levels, sales the Jeep Wrangler not only increased the most but also jumped 50% since then.
In addition to IIHS ratings, 24/7 Wall St. also looked at several other measures of overall safety and quality for these vehicles. Included in this analysis are Consumer Reports’ ratings, crash safety ratings performed by the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration, and JD Power’s overall Initial Quality report. Based on our analysis, it appears that these models persistently have quality issues as several received similarly poor reviews from government test ratings. In the JD Power’s study, five of the seven models scored a three or less out of five, and none scored higher than a four.
Several of the models listed in this study had a two-door and four-door version, which were tested separately and each received poor IIHS scores. 24/7 Wall St. referred to the model only once, but mentioned the scores of each version. In addition, one of the vehicles, the Chevrolet Colorado, is essentially identical to another vehicle, the GMC Canyon. General Motors, which makes both vehicles, uses the same frame for both. In this case, 24/7 Wall St. listed only the Canyon, which is the more popular vehicle.
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7. SX4 > Make: Suzuki > Bad ratings: rollover-marginal, rear-marginal > 2011 sales: 12,520 > Price: $13,849 > JD Power Initial Quality: 2/5
The least-expensive car on this list, the Suzuki SX4 performed poorly in rollover and rear-test ratings. Among the more than 30 small cars tested by the IIHS, the SX4 was the only small car to receive two scores of “marginal” or “poor” out of four ratings. Similarly, the SX4 also received a “fair” rating, the second-lowest possible, in government side-crash testing. The model’s U.S. sales also have languished, falling from 30,166 in 2008 to 12,520 last year.
6. Wrangler > Make: Jeep > Bad ratings: side-marginal (2-door), side-poor (4-door); rear-marginal (both) > 2011 sales: 122,460 (all Wranglers), 46,803 (2-door), 75,657 (4-door) > Price: $22,970 (2-door), $30,745 (4-door) > JD Power Initial Quality: 3/5
With “marginal” ratings in side and rear-impact protection, the two-door Wrangler joins other SUVs, such as the CX-7, CX-9 and Pathfinder, as a poor performer in IIHS tests. One of the few car models that actually underperforms the two-door Jeep Wrangler is the larger four-door version. This version of the Wrangler also received a “marginal” rear-impact rating, yet was also given a “poor” side-impact rating. During a recent IIHS side-impact test, a dummy was struck by the steel bars supporting the four-door Wrangler’s convertible roof. Both of the models’ overall poor performance stems in part from the fact they were unable to protect the driver’s or back-seat passengers’ heads and other bodily parts in simulated accidents. Despite earning the lowest score of any mid-size SUV from Consumer Reports, the Wrangler still sells especially well with more than 120,000 sold in the U.S. in 2011.