- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

Small sport-utility vehicles are becoming safer, according to recent crash tests done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

During these tests, three of four small sport utilities received "good" ratings. That is a major change since the last time some of these "cute-utes" were tested and received "marginal" or "poor" ratings.

The vehicles that were rated "good" were the redesigned 2002 Honda CR-V, the new 2002 Saturn VUE and the redesigned 2003 Subaru Forester. The fourth vehicle, the 2002 Land Rover Freelander, received an "acceptable" rating.

The Insurance Institute, which is funded by the insurance industry, uses a rating system of good, acceptable, marginal and poor. Models with a good rating that do particularly well c

an be designated as a "Best Pick." The 2002 Honda CR-V and 2002 Forester received that designation. When the Insurance Institute tested the 1998 Honda CR-V, the previous generation of this small sport utility, it was rated "marginal."

The Toyota RAV-4, which is also a small sport utility, was not tested with this group, but it showed similar improvement when the Insurance Institute crashed it last. When the frontal crash test was performed on the redesigned 2001 model, the RAV-4 was rated "acceptable." The 1996-2000 models of the RAV4 had "marginal" ratings.

In the Insurance Institute's offset test, about 40 percent of the front, on the driver's side hits the wall at 40 mph. The impact is measured on the head, neck, chest, legs and feet of a dummy belted into the driver's seat.

Some of the areas of ability evaluated in the offset crash test include:

•The passenger compartment to remain intact.

•The front to absorb the energy of a crash.

•The footwell to resist crumpling.

•The air bag to inflate properly, keeping the dummy's head from hitting the steering wheel.

•The seat belt and shoulder harness to keep the dummy from hitting the roof pillar or window.

All four of these small SUVs earned good ratings for their structural design, which the Insurance Institute credited for their good performance. The occupant compartments of these vehicles held up well and preserved the space around the crash dummies.

These are some of the comments made regarding the overall evaluation of the "Best Pick" Honda CR-V: "The driver space was maintained well and measures indicate that significant injury was unlikely. Advanced front air bag and safety belt systems, side air bags (optional), and new-design child restraint anchorages are pluses."

These are some of the comments about the "Best Pick" Subaru Forester: "The driver space was maintained well, but measures indicate the possibility of lower leg injury. Advanced front air bag and safety belt systems, side airbags with head protection, active head restraints, new-design child restraint anchorages, and daytime running lights are pluses."

In addition to tests done by the Insurance Institute, the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also conducts frontal crash tests. Although they differ in some respects from those conducted by the Insurance Institute, safety experts say they are complementary and that consumers should choose vehicles that do well on both tests. So how did the four small sport utilities tested by the Insurance Institute do in NHTSA's tests?

NHTSA tested the 2002 Honda CR-V both with and without side air bags. Both models received five-star ratings for protecting both driver and passenger, the highest in a rating system that ranges from five stars to one star.

This, too, was a slight improvement over the crash testing of the previous 2001 model with side air bags, which got four stars for the driver and five stars for the passenger.

NHTSA has not tested the 2003 Subaru Forester, but the earlier model got four stars for both driver and passenger. NHTSA tested the 2002 Saturn VUE, which got five stars for the driver and four stars for the passenger.

NHTSA has not tested the 2002 Land Rover Freelander, and there was no earlier model. Here are the ratings of the other small SUVs that the Insurance Institute has tested:

2001-2002 Hyundai Santa Fe: Good

1997-2002 Jeep Wrangler: Acceptable

2001-2002 Toyota RAV4: Acceptable

1999-2002 Suzuki Grand Vitara, Vitara and Chevrolet Tracker: Acceptable

1997-2001 Jeep Cherokee: Marginal

1998-2002 Kia Sportage: Marginal

2001-2002 Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute: Marginal

1998-1999 Isuzu Amigo: Poor

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