December 1, 2003


Mid-size SUVs perform poorly in 5 mph crash tests

Arlington, Virginia – Eight of nine new mid-size sport utility vehicles earned poor or marginal ratings for bumper performance in 5 mph crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently.

The 2004 Mitsubishi Endeavor, 2003 Nissan Murano, and 2004 Lexus RX 330 were rated marginal. The 2003 Toyota 4Runner, 2004 Chrysler Pacifica, 2003 Infiniti FX35, 2004 Cadillac SRX, and 2003 Kia Sorento were rated poor. The Honda Pilot was the only mid-size SUV to earn an acceptable rating.

The Insurance Institute’s series of four bumper tests includes front- and rear-into-flat-barrier plus front-into-angle-barrier and rear-into-pole impacts. The tests assess how well bumpers can prevent damage in 5 mph impacts simulating the fender-bender collisions that are common in commuter traffic and parking lots. A good bumper system should absorb the energy of these minor impacts and protect expensive body panels, headlamp systems, and other components from damage, says the Institute.

“The manufacturers of these SUVs try to create a rough-and-tough image for them, but their bumpers are flimsy,” says Adrian Lund, the Institute’s chief operating officer. “Vehicles shouldn’t sustain major damage in a minor collision at a fast walking speed.”

Average damage per test ranged from about (U.S.)$400 for the Pilot to more than $1,600 for the Sorento and SRX. Of the 33 current midsize SUV designs the Institute has tested for bumper performance, 23 are rated poor, 6 are rated marginal, and 4 are acceptable. None is rated good.

Three of the poor performers had the largest damage costs in the rear-into-pole test. The rear bumpers on the Chrysler Pacifica, Cadillac SRX, and Kia Sorento weren’t robust enough to keep damage away from the vehicles’ body parts and sheet metal. Damage totals for these vehicles were five to six times more than the Pilot in the same test.

“Repair costs in the pole test were about $2,200 for the Sorento and more than $2,800 each for the Pacifica and the SRX because the bumpers didn’t protect the expensive-to-repair tailgates,” Lund says. “In each case, the tailgate was crushed and had to be replaced. Those are big repair bills for a minor bump.”

The Sorento and SRX were the worst performers overall. Damage to these two vehicles totaled more than $6,500 in all four tests. “In the front-angle test, the SRX’s bumper couldn’t prevent major crushing of the right fender. After the same test, the Sorento’s frame had to be straightened. In the front and rear flat-barrier tests, which are the least demanding because the crash energy is spread across the whole bumper, the Kia had repair bills of more $1,000 in each test,” Lund points out.

The Infiniti FX35 and Toyota 4Runner were also rated poor. After the front-corner test, there was more than $2,000 damage to the FX35 – much of it under the bumper cover. The bumper bar was cracked and bent, the radiator support was broken, and the headlamp assembly needed to be replaced. In the same test, some of the damage to the 4Runner was because the bumper wasn’t big enough to protect the whole front end.

“The right fender buckled and the headlamp was crushed in part because the bumper is too short and leaves the corners of the front end unprotected,” Lund said.

“The Pilot is equipped with bumpers that did a reasonable job of preventing damage to the vehicle,” said Lund. “The Honda bumper system isn’t great, but it’s the best of a sorry lot.”

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