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Important update

Consumer Reports removes Ford Focus as Top Pick for small sedans
Six other vehicles no longer recommended because of crash test results.

Consumer Reports has removed the Ford Focus as its Top Pick for small sedans because it performed poorly in insurance industry crash tests that were announced on Sunday.

Two other small cars that received favorable ratings in Consumer Reports' April Auto Issue, the Hyundai Elantra and Mazda3, also are no longer recommended by the magazine because of poor performance in the new side-impact crash tests, conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Consumer Reports has also removed four other vehicles from its recommended list because of their performance in IIHS side-impact crash tests. They are the Honda Element, Mitsubishi Outlander, and Suzuki Grand Vitara/XL-7 small SUVs and the Nissan Altima sedan. (The Altima was tested without its optional side- and head-protection air bags.)

In all, 14 of 16 small sedans received poor ratings in the latest IIHS crash tests. If you're buying a small sedan, Consumer Reports suggests that you consider the Toyota Corolla with the optional side-air-bag package. With the optional air bags, the Corolla achieved acceptable results in the new crash tests; without the air bags, the Corolla performed poorly. The Corolla earned a very good score in our road tests, and has had excellent reliability and excellent overall ratings in other crash tests.

Consumer Reports doesn't perform its own crash tests. It recommends models based on the following requirements:

  • They must score well in Consumer Reports' extensive road tests, conducted at our 327-acre auto test facility.
  • They must have shown average or better reliability based on the magazine's annual subscriber survey.
  • They must have performed adequately if included in a government or insurance-industry crash test, or in a government rollover test. Not all vehicles, however, are included in these tests.
IIHS began testing vehicles for side-impact crashes in 2003, although this was the first time that small cars were included. The test simulates a vehicle being struck in the side at 31 mph by a large vehicle the size and weight of an SUV or pickup. The test differs from the government's side-impact test, which simulates a vehicle being hit in the side by a vehicle the size and weight of a family sedan. The cars that Consumer Reports recommended performed adequately in the government's side-impact test.

Of the 16 small sedans in the test, only the Chevrolet Cobalt and the Toyota Corolla earned acceptable ratings. They were equipped with head-protecting side-curtain air bags and had well-designed body structures. Versions of the Cobalt and Corolla without side air bags earned a poor rating. Consumer Reports does not recommend the Cobalt because of insufficient reliability data. More information about the IIHS test results is available at the institute's Web site, www.hwysafety.org.

It is not unusual for vehicles to earn low grades in a new crash test. In 1985, only about 30 percent of the vehicles tested in the government's frontal crash test achieved high ratings. By 2001, some 90 percent scored highly. Similarly, no small sedan earned a good rating in the insurance institute's offset-frontal crash test when it was introduced in 1997, according to Adrian Lund, the IIHS chief operating officer. Now, almost every small car earns a good rating in the frontal test, he says.

Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, believes that side air bags and head protection should be standard equipment. The poor showing of so many small sedans in this latest crash test illustrates an urgent need for better protection against side impacts by larger vehicles.

We will continue to review our recommendations to incorporate ongoing crash-test findings.

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