Nissan Murano Earns Top Safety Pick in Crash Tests of SUVs

The best overall performer in front, side, and rear tests of nine 4-door midsize SUV models is the redesigned 2009 Nissan Murano, which earns the Top Safety Pick award. The tests were recently conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The Jeep Liberty, Jeep Wrangler 4-door, and Kia Sorento, all 2008 models, are the worst performers in the side test. The Liberty, also sold as the Dodge Nitro, and Wrangler earn the second lowest rating of marginal for protection in side crashes. The Sorento earns the lowest rating of poor.

The Mazda CX-7 and CX-9 as well as the Mitsubishi Endeavor earn good ratings for protection in front and side crashes. All three would have won Top Safety Pick if they had good ratings for protection against neck injury in rear-end crashes. The seat/head restraint combinations in both Mazdas are rated marginal for rear crash protection. The Endeavor's is poor.

Safety of SUVs is improving: In 2001 only half of the midsize models that were tested earned good ratings in the frontal offset test. In the latest evaluations, all but the Hummer H3 do, and it earns an acceptable rating. As manufacturers introduce improved designs, more SUVs are qualifying for Top Safety Pick by earning good ratings in all three tests and having electronic stability control (ESC).

For the 2007 model year, the Institute added ESC as a criterion. It's a control system comprised of sensors and a microcomputer that continuously monitors how well a vehicle responds to a driver's steering input and selectively applies brakes and modulates engine power to keep the vehicle traveling along the path indicated by the steering wheel position. Institute research indicates that ESC reduces the risk of fatal single-vehicle crashes by 56 percent and fatal multiple-vehicle crashes by 32 percent. Many single-vehicle crashes involve rolling over, and this feature reduces the risk of fatal single-vehicle rollovers by 80 percent (SUVs) and 77 percent (cars).

"Combined with test results released last year, consumers now have 9 midsize, moderately priced SUV models that earn our Top Safety Pick designation," said Institute senior vice president Joe Nolan.

"More good news is that manufacturers have been moving quickly to add safety features like stability control and side airbags to their SUV models," Nolan adds. "All of the SUVs in this group have ESC, and all but the Wrangler have standard side airbags. Increasingly, consumers are getting the latest safety equipment without having to hunt through a list of options."

For more information, contact the institute at www.iihs.org.

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