Mercedes, Lexus and Audi Fail Latest IIHS Crash Tests

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The 2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4 and two Lexus sedans — the IS 250/350 and the outgoing ES 350 — failed the latest round of IIHS frontal tests.

As we reported Monday, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s new offset frontal-barrier test simulates a 40-mph collision with a rigid barrier that overlaps just 25% of the car. The test simulates a front-corner collision with a tree, a pole or another vehicle, a scenario that is responsible for almost 25% of front crashes that seriously injure or kill someone in front, IIHS says. The new test will augment the agency's existing frontal test, which crashes a car at 40 mph against a deformable barrier that overlaps 40% of the front.

"Outside of some automakers’ proving grounds, such a test isn’t currently conducted anywhere else in the United States or Europe," IIHS said in a statement, noting that despite an increasing number of cars that score well in frontal crash tests, some 10,000 highway deaths still come from frontal collisions each year.

The first batch of IIHS crash-test results included 11 luxury cars, all 2012s. Only three — the Acura TL, Volvo S60 and Infiniti G — scored Acceptable or Good. In addition to the C-Class, A4 and the two Lexus cars, the remaining four — the Acura TSX, BMW 3 Series, Lincoln MKZ and Volkswagen CC — scored Marginal or Poor. The C-Class, A4 and the Lexus cars earned the worst IIHS designation, Poor. IIHS cited poor structural integrity for all four, but the S60 was the only car whose structure earned a Good rating.

Although a car’s main crumple zones protect the passenger compartment, so-called "small-overlap crashes" impact the front wheels, suspension and engine firewall, resulting in significant cabin intrusion. In some cases, the front wheel can end up crunching the footwell. The S60's passenger compartment resisted intrusion the best; see its photo versus the Lexus IS below.

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Lexus wasn't the only automaker to fare poorly. IIHS says the crash test for Mercedes’ C-Class left the dummy's foot wedged beneath the brake pedal, while the driver's door opened on the A4 and the CC. The CC's door fell off entirely — the first instance of that ever happening, IIHS noted.

Widening the boundaries of the frontal crush structure and building safety cages that resist impact at their boundaries can help, IIHS said. Containing the occupant is important, too. Frontal airbag coverage proved difficult, though, as crash forces tended to move dummies toward the A-pillars. Side curtain airbag deployment could mitigate the situation, but just six of the 11 cars deployed them — and four of those didn't provide enough forward coverage. In the MKZ, for example, the crash-test dummy missed the steering-wheel airbag altogether. Compare it to the TL (below), whose dummy hit the bag.

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See the full results below. IIHS expects to test family sedans like the Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion next. Top Safety Picks will continue for 2013, but IIHS will introduce a "higher award level that will be announced later this year" for cars that secure a top rating in the small-overlap test as well as the institute's existing tests.

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Comments 

George

What a terrible test.
Trees and poles are round. Other cars move when struck.
So if you are going to hit a narrow object, most people instinctively completely miss it, or hit it with the middle of the vehicle.

Nicolas

George, 25% of the time, they don't: "The test simulates a front-corner collision with a tree, a pole or another vehicle, a scenario that is responsible for almost 25% of front crashes that seriously injure or kill someone in front, IIHS says."

Derrick G

While George does have a point, the IIHS stated that they carefully researched crashes where there was a fatality in a vehicle that was rated Good and based their tests on those investigations into those crashes. This data is readily available in NHTSA's FARS database; it's the purpose of maintaining FARS. And the barrier in this test is rounded on the edge.

Jay

I feel there is a loophole in this test. Running a test vehicle on the edge of a steel wall is totally unrealisitic. In a real world collision, the other object the vehicle runs in to will absorb part of the impact except for a tree. IIHS should test these vehciles against each other and run these vehicle in to actual light poles and trees.

Jeff

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say both George and jay drive vdubs. Good thing is they ain't gonna need the jaws of life to remove your corpse, the doors fell clean off. Acura ftw!

Parrots

Honestly, I think these increasing safety standards aren't necessarily doing consumers a favor. They provoke unwanted styling changes, decreased driver and passenger visibility, add tons of money to the car's price tag, and pile on extra weight to the car, thus diminishing emergency avoidance and overall fuel economy. I'm all for safety, but I'm just pointing out some consequences.

blh

more structure, more weight and more costs will be added to help pass this test, while at the same time automakers have to pass stringent fuel economy standards. These goals oppose each other. Give the automakers a break!

ejchi

Saying that the new rules will make cars less fuel efficient and heaver is odd to me. Are cars heaver and less efficient than the 1950's?

iihs

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is an independent, nonprofit scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing the losses — deaths, injuries and property damage — from crashes on the nation's roads. Research focuses on three main areas: human factors, or preventing crashes by changing driver behavior; vehicle factors, or reducing deaths and injuries by improving vehicle design; and environmental factors, or changing roadway design, signs, and signals to reduce crashes.

The Highway Loss Data Institute shares and supports this mission through scientific studies of insurance data representing the human and economic losses resulting from the ownership and operation of different types of vehicles and by publishing insurance loss results by make and model.

Both organizations are wholly supported by auto insurers.

Chris

While real world impacts do involve poles, trees, and other cars, I like this test because the fixed barrier accounts for the worst-case scenario while providing an invariable baseline for accurate measurements. Just goes to show that automakers have to make tough choices when balancing weight, price, performance, and safety. Lexus and VW's priorities are clearly different from that of Volvo & Acura. This doesn't mean that they are bad cars, but still, buyer be ware.

Mattias

@ejchi: Modern cars are definitely heavier (on average) than cars from the 1950s. But they're also considerably more efficient. Improved safety does add significant weight, but most people (myself included) would agree that it's worth it.

Gavin

These safety concerns are guidance that are put out for consumers to make choices on, they are not government minimum ratings. Auto manufacturers will, based on consumer preferences, decide to change their design and engineering to improve these scores or they won't, there is nothing political about the process.

Anonymous Coward

I think this is a useful metric. A 25% overlap could occur if you made an unsuccessful evasive maneuver.

I'm shocked to see the Mercedes, Audi, and BMW fare so poorly. Those brands have a strong history of being safety conscious, building cars with very strong crash structures, and performing all kinds of crash tests for unusual situations. It will be interesting to see how well more moderately priced cars fare in this new test.

J

They want the suspension systems to take the impact and protect the occupants? They are seriously asking the components to do something that is totally not their job.
What's next? The side windows should be able to handle a flying metal pole? It happens and killed people during a tornado strike.

George

Notice that they bundle tree/pole/another vehicle together, and that it is less than 25%.
Trees/poles/other vehicles are not infinitely massive, so this test is not correct.

Secondarily, in a drive off the road scenario, where you'd understeer into a tree/pole, you'd be steering away from object, altering test results [regarding intrusion] by having the wheel 20 degrees [give or take 5] off straight.

Anonymous Coward

J, they're saying that the "small overlap" crashes impact the suspension components and wheels in current vehicles, not that they *should* impact the suspension components and wheels. I'm not a vehicle designer, but I think that this problem is something that could be fixed with beefier edges on the front crash bar, which would allow it to absorb the brunt of the impact and channel it through the frame, rather than channelling the force through the suspension components, which is something they weren't (and probably shouldn't) be designed to do.

allan duarte

Just spring up a new test. Years ago it was whole frontal, then angle crashes and now this. I'll bet the Asian car co. get it right next. Think back when Toyota failed miserably and then got it right. It's all a learning process. In the old days a crash like this would shear the body off the chassis, roof top and all.

allan duarte

A crash at this angle using the wheel and suspension don't even work well with a semi tractor such as Mack or Freight Liners Volvo's, or Internationals. They need to redesign cars to look like amusement park Dodgem bumper cars. Back to ugly.

Steve Molnar

I have a U.S. Patent for a complete Bumper system. I submitted it to all of the major U.S. Car Manufacturing Companies. It would protect the front and rear up to 40 miles/ Hr, without any damage. NO ONE IS INTERESTED!!!!
U.S. Patent # 5,651,569
Inflatable Bumper System
Molnar / Date of July. 29 1997 My Patent is valid for 20 Years.
The cheap plastic and foam "bumper look alikes are ruling the market!!!"
My bumper is INDESTRUCTIBLE!!!! Nobody cares, this why the cheap bumper look alikes are ruling the market and people are keep dying for it as a result!!!

Since these crash tests are designed to see how the vehicles protect the passengers and we've already seen that most of these vehicles handle the equivalent of a direct head-on collision quite well, to expect that same chassis to hold up to a 1/4 to 1/8 clip is stretching the point. The overall effect of these tests are far more likely to force manufacturers over to body-on-frame platforms than to improve any real capabilities of the unibody chassis.

Rather than trying to withstand and redirect the impact around the passengers, this scenario should instead look at how to redirect the vehicle itself away from the impact point; sheering off to let the vehicle come to a safer, less violent stop. Such vehicular redirection eliminates the wild skewing of the tail of the vehicle, keeping the G-forces more linear on the occupants as well as lower for less impact trauma on the body and brain. Just as K-line barriers on the highways redirect the vehicle to slide down the length of the barrier, a rounded curve to the front could physically steer the vehicle past the impact point for a more controlled and again safer stop.

@Steve Molnar: Congratulations on the patent. Now, do you have a working model that can prove your claims? I'm sure with today's viral YouTube videos you could shame the manufacturers into licensing your patent by simple, visual proof.

Brad

I found it strange that all the cars that did well i had there wheels break off while the cars the did poor had there wheels smashed into the floor pan. I wonder what would happen if these cars had forged wheels instead of weaker cast wheels.

Brad

Sorry iPad auto correct!

I found it strange that all the cars that did well had their wheels break off while the cars that did poor had their wheels smashed into the floor pan/ passenger compartment. I wonder what would happen if these cars had forged wheels instead of weaker cast wheels?

jeff

Why haven't they tested the paper bag cars like Civics, chyslers Kia's Chevys and all those types of junky cars? They only test luxury cars? haha wtf??

Tammy Johnson

Acura is no better. They don't stand by their product but look to their customers to bear the burden of their shortcomings.

Tostik

Good for Volvo, as one would expect. And good for Acura. And the latest---the Volvo XC60 just got a 'good' rating on this test. Volvo does real world safety testing in their Safety Center, and don't play to a few simplistic crash tests to just get ratings, like most car companies do.

Tom Johnson

I think this is a good test, and would also apply to hitting deer, moose and black bear in a car in the rural parts of North America.

Crickets

Sitting here with a broken arm and a totaled A4, I can honestly say . . . the pics gave me shudders. I loved my Audi, but, it looks like the problems were known.

Had I known, I would have taken precautions.

It was wrong for Audi to have taken this risk with my life and those of others.

Drive safely . . .to the best of your ability with or without what you are told will protect you. The promise of anti-lock breaks or airbags may not be there when you need them most.

Crickets

Words of reassurance. . . If your Audi is at a dead stop and you are in the driver's seat when you are t-boned by an SUV going 40 MPH, after your anti-lock brakes failed in a snow storm, maybe you won't die. I escaped with a broken arm.

Thank God, I had no passengers.

SUV sustained no injuries or damages beyond pre-existing damage. . . apparently, some vehicles are designed to play ice hockey.

Crickets

How can anti-lock brakes be tested in snow unless you can drive them in snow? How can you test air bags? Hopefully, you'll never need either. So we buy them on faith?

Seems to me that if they don't deploy when you are in a wreck, the seller should give you a full refund for your car...and all insurance payments in addition.

Typing this is quite therapeutic for my hand. Thanks for listening.

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