Arlington, Virginia – The 2009 Ford Escape, 2008 Mitsubishi Outlander, 2008 Nissan Rogue and 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan have all earned “Top Safety Pick” ratings from the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) following crash-test evaluations of eight small SUV models. The Escape’s rating also applies to the Escape Hybrid, the Mercury Mariner (a model not sold in Canada), and the Mazda Tribute. The Safety Pick recognizes vehicles that earn the top ratings in front and side crash tests, evaluations of seat/head restraints for protection against whiplash, and have electronic stability control.

The newest winners join the Saturn Vue and Toyota Highlander, which were tested earlier and earned the Top Safety Pick rating as well.

“In the latest tests, the Tiguan’s performance is a standout,” said IIHS president Adrian Lund. “It sailed through the front and side crash tests without a single downgrade for structure or measures of injury likelihood recorded on the dummy. This is one of four models in this group that afford superior crash protection in their class. This is a huge change from just five years ago, when most small SUVs were rated either ‘marginal’ or ‘poor’ in our side test, and standard side airbags and electronic stability control were rare.”

The two-door 2008 Jeep Wrangler was tested without its optional side airbags. The previous version of the Wrangler, in which side airbags weren’t available, earned a rating of “marginal” for protection in side crashes. The new model performed even worse, earning the lowest rating of “poor”, with a new problem of the driver’s door opening during the impact. This did not significantly affect the movement of the dummy during the test, but an open door in a crash could lead to partial or complete ejection of the occupants. “Most vehicles are being improved,” Lund said. “We’ve rarely seen a vehicle go in the wrong direction and get a worse rating after it has been redesigned.”

When side airbags are optional, the IIHS’ policy is to test without the option, because this is how most of the vehicles will be sold. A manufacturer may request another test with the optional airbags if the automaker reimburses the IIHS for the cost of the vehicle. Chrysler did not request another test of the Wrangler with optional airbags, but did request a second test of the Jeep Patriot with optional torso airbags. While the Patriot with only standard curtain airbags earned a “marginal” rating, the Patriot with optional torso airbags improved to “good”.

The Chevrolet Equinox, also a 2008 model, was tested without side airbags. The 2009 model will have standard curtain airbags and will be tested later this year. General Motors did not request a second test. “Since they didn’t ask us to test the 2008 Equinox with its optional side airbags, we have to assume it means GM didn’t expect it to perform much better, even with the option,” Lund said.

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