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2007 Top Safety Picks
Import models dominate safety awards under tougher rules

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has announced the names of 13 vehicles that have earned Top Safety Pick awards for 2007. The vehicles include 4 cars, 7 SUVs, and 2 minivans that give the best protection in the Insurance Institute's front, side, and rear crashes. All of the selected vehicles are equipped with electronic stability control if this feature wasn't standard equipment. No domestic-brand vehicles or small cars won a Top Safety Pick.

The winners include the Audi A6 in the large cars; Audi A4, Saab 9-3, and Subaru Legacy (equipped with optional ESC) midsized cars; Hyundai Entourage and Kia Sedona minivans, Mercedes M-Class and Volvo XC90 luxury SUVs; Acura RDX, Honda Pilot, and Subaru B9 Tribeca midsized SUVs, and Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester (equipped with optional ESC) small SUVs. Pickups weren't included because the Institute hasn't tested their side crashworthiness. (See Crash test 101, available on ConsumerReports.org for more information on how the IIHS evaluates and tests vehicles).

Electronic stability control is a new requirement for vehicles to be eligible for this award. IIHS president Adrian Lund says that by tightening the criteria for the award, the organization hopes to encourage manufacturers to make more safety improvements on their vehicles. Many vehicles don't offer ESC. Two of the models listed above, the Subaru Legacy and Forester, do not have ESC standard. But the 2006 Subaru Legacy Outback VDC that Consumer Reports tested with ESC did not perform well. We note in our report (available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers) that the 3.0 R VDC with stability control allows too much tail slide before kicking in at its cornering limits and in emergency maneuvers, but less so than other Outbacks.

The more-stringent requirements for the 2007 awards have effected eligibility and changed the winners list. For example, the Honda Civic won last year, but most 2007 variations don't have ESC and those that do lack good-rated seat/head restraints. Seventeen other vehicles could have won awards for 2007 if they had good-rated seat/head restraints, including models from Acura, Honda, Lexus, and Toyota. Other vehicles will be eligible to win next year if ESC is added.

The high value placed on stability control follows an IIHS study that shows vehicles equipped with ESC can significantly reduce crash risks (available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers)

Availability of ESC has been increasing with each passing model year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently announced a proposal to require electronic stability-control systems to be phased in as standard equipment on all passenger vehicles by the 2012 model year.

Since 2001, Consumer Reports has been urging manufacturers and the government to make ESC standard on all SUVs. ESC uses a computer to help keep the vehicle on its intended path during a turn, to avoid sliding or skidding. If the car starts to drift, the stability-control system momentarily brakes one or more wheels and, depending on the system, reduces engine power to keep the car on course. (See our Guide to safety features (available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers) for more information on ESC and other important safety gear).

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