Arlington, Virginia – New crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) on seven 2008 midsize cars show that protection in side impacts has improved, but most vehicles still only provide marginal or poor protection in rear crashes.

The IIHS said that occupant protection in side impacts of midsize cars is improving as automakers introduce safer designs and add side airbags as standard equipment. The tests were conducted on the Chevrolet Malibu, Dodge Avenger, Infiniti G35, Kia Optima (sold in Canada as the Magentis), Mitsubishi Galant, Nissan Altima and Saturn Aura.

All earned the highest rating of “good” for occupant protection in frontal crashes, and all but the Magentis earned “good” for side crash protection. Rear crash protection results varied more widely, and among the seats/head restraints evaluated, only the Kia earned a “good” rating.

“The side impact results represent a huge change from just four years ago,” said IIHS senior vice-president David Zuby. “In 2004, we tested ten midsize moderately-priced cars, and all ten were rated poor in their standard configurations without side airbags. Side airbags were mostly optional in our first round of side impact tests of midsize cars. A major change is that side airbags are standard in every one of the seven midsize cars we tested this time around. Auto manufacturers have been moving quickly to make side airbags standard, even on lower-priced models.”

In the 2004 tests, only the previous generations of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Chevrolet Malibu earned “good” ratings when tested with side airbags, which were optional equipment at the time.

When the IIHS tested the Avenger’s predecessor, the Dodge Stratus (a model not sold in Canada) without its optional side airbags, it earned a “poor” rating for side crashes. The redesigned model, renamed the Avenger and also sold as the Chrysler Sebring, now have standard front and rear curtain airbags and front seat-mounted torso airbags. Zuby said the Avenger’s performance is “dramatically improved compared with the Stratus” for side impact protection, and would rate a Top Safety Pick award if its seat/head restraints had earned “good” instead of “acceptable”.

The 2004 Magentis was tested as its twin, the Hyundai Sonata, and was rated “poor” for side impacts even with standard combination side airbags designed to protect the head and chest. The Magentis was redesigned during the 2006 model year and the performance is much improved; drive injury measures indicate the possibility of a fractured pelvis, but all other measures are low. Kia also changed the side airbag configuration to curtain style that protects the heads of people in both front and rear seats.

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