Poor rating for Kia SUV's roof strength

March 24, 2009 2:48:41 PM PDT
The Kia Sportage SUV has received poor ratings in new roof strength tests designed by the insurance industry. The Volkswagen Tiguan, Subaru Forester, Honda Element and Jeep Patriot received top scores among a dozen small sport utility vehicles tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Suzuki Grand Vitara, Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue and Mitsubishi Outlander received the second-highest score of acceptable. Roofs on the Honda CR-V and the Ford Escape merited the second-lowest rating of marginal. The test results apply to 2009 model year vehicles. The institute tested 2008 versions of the Sportage and Element because 2009 models were not available at the time. The institute said there were few changes between model years and no changes to the roof. The test results for the Sportage also apply to the Hyundai Tucson, which shares the same vehicle underpinnings. Results for the Escape also apply to the Mazda Tribute and Mercury Mariner, which also have the same platform.

The institute, based in Arlington, Va., released its first results of new tests on vehicle roof strength. The institute conducts crash tests on new vehicles and provides consumers with safety ratings in side, front- and rear-end crashes.

RELATED LINK: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

More than 10,000 people a year are killed in rollover crashes in the United States and the government has been considering tougher roof requirements for several years. The standards have not been significantly changed since 1973.

Current vehicles need to withstand direct pressure of 1.5 times the weight of the vehicle. The rules only apply to vehicles of 6,000 pounds or less, excluding many SUVs and pickup trucks. In the test, a metal plate is applied to one side of the roof to simulate it striking the ground.

The Bush administration considered a standard of 2.5 times the vehicle weight but did not finalize it. The Obama administration could release new requirements by late April.

Under the institute's criteria, a vehicle roof must withstand a force of 4 times the vehicle's weight to receive the top score. For the second-highest rating, a roof must withstand a force of 3.25 times the vehicle weight.

The second-lowest score applies to vehicles with a strength-to-weight ratio of 2.5 and anything lower receives the worst rating.

Automakers said it was difficult with a single test to measure a roof's ability to protect motorists in a rollover crash.

Kia spokesman Alex Fedorak said the institute's rating "by itself, does not provide a complete assessment of a vehicle's ability to protect occupants in these complex events." He said anti-rollover technology called electronic stability control has been standard equipment on all Sportage SUVs since 2005.

Ford spokesman Wes Sherwood said claims data from the insurance industry indicates that the Escape "performs well in all types of accidents, including rollovers." The Escape has anti-rollover technology along with sensors that help detect and prevent rollovers.

Honda spokesman Chris Naughton noted the CR-V had performed well in government and IIHS crash tests. He said it was "important that any safety test be considered in the context of overall safety performance."

KIA released this statment to Action News in response to the IIHS test:

Thank you for the chance to respond to the IIHS roof strength rating for the Kia Sportage.

Occupant protection in rollovers is complex, involving a diverse range of variables. Because of this, the single roof strength metric, by itself, does not provide a complete assessment of a vehicle's ability to protect occupants in these complex events. Indeed, increased roof strength may significantly raise the vehicle's center of gravity, which can contribute to rollovers and decrease a vehicle's NHTSA rollover rating.

As noted by IIHS, "The best way to prevent the deaths is to keep vehicles from rolling over in the first place. Electronic stability control is significantly reducing rollovers, especially fatal single-vehicle ones."

To help minimize an occupant's loss of vehicle control that may result in rollovers, all new Sportage models feature Electronic Stability Control (ESC) as standard equipment.

In addition to ESC, Sportage offers a host of standard safety features, including six airbags with dual advanced front airbags, seat-mounted side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags for front and rear seating; Traction Control System (TCS); Antilock Brake System (ABS) and Brake Assist System (BAS); Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) and side impact door beams.

At Kia we place a priority on manufacturing and selling safe vehicles, and Kia complies with all federal government vehicle safety standards. In fact, the 2009 Sportage received a five-star crash safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for both frontal and side impacts for both front seat passengers and front and rear passengers in the case of a side impact.

Kia has a strong safety record and its vehicles meet or exceed all Federal safety standards.

Hyundai released this statment to Action News in response to the IIHS test:

Tuscon meets or exceeds all federal safety standards so we're confident Tuscon performs safely for owners, drivers, and passengers.

Every Tuscon ever sold in the US has electronic stability control, an important safety feature that keeps the vehicle on the road.

A lot of the cars that received better ratings from the IIHS don't have ESC.

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