Toyota Camry fails to earn the highest safety rating

December 20, 2012 


    In a news release, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety had this to say about the Toyota Camry and its performance on the small frontal offset test, designed to replicate what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object:

    "In the Camry, the force of the impact shoved the front wheel back into the footwell, bending the windshield pillar and pushing the parking brake pedal and the left outer edge of the instrument panel rearward into the driver's survival space. ...

    "The Camry's driver airbag and side curtain airbag deployed, but the steering wheel moved so far to the right that the dummy's head made only minimal contact with the front airbag. The side curtain airbag didn't extend far enough forward to help prevent the dummy's head from hitting the instrument panel."

The Toyota Camry, the best-selling car in the United States, performed poorly this year in a new crash test of 18 moderately priced cars — one of a series of five tests — and failed to get the best safety rating from an insurance industry group.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Camry, which is built at Toyota's plant in Georgetown, a rating of "poor" on a test that measures how well people are protected when the front corner of a car hits another car or an object. In that test called a "small overlap" test, 25 percent of the car's front end on the driver's side hits a rigid barrier at 40 mph.

The Camry was one of two cars to get the lowest rating of poor. The other was the Prius V gas-electric hybrid wagon. The insurance institute rates on a scale of good, acceptable, marginal and poor. Of the midsize cars, 13 earned a rating of good or acceptable, and three earned a marginal.

The Camry did well on the institute's other four tests and earned a "top safety pick" designation, as did the Prius V. But it failed to get a "top safety pick-plus" rating because of the bad performance on the small overlap test.

Ten moderately priced midsize cars got the institute's highest rating. They are the Honda Accord, the Chrysler 200, the Dodge Avenger, the Ford Fusion, the Kia Optima, the Nissan Altima, the Subaru Legacy and Outback, the Suzuki Kashai and the Volks wagen Passat.

"Toyota's engineers have a lot of work to do to match the performance of their competitors," IIHS president Adrian Lund said Thursday.

Toyota said in a statement that IIHS has raised the bar with the new test, exceeding U.S. government requirements. But the company also said it will respond to the challenge. "We are evaluating the new test protocols and can say that there will not be one single solution to achieve greater crash performance in this area," the statement said.

Toyota had a sneak peek in August of how the Camry was likely to do when its luxury sibling, the Lexus ES 350, received a rating of poor in the same test. Luxury vehicles were the first category of vehicles that the insurance institute tested.

Through November, Toyota sold more than 373,000 Camrys in the United States. It is the top-selling car in the United States almost every year.

Both the Prius V and the Camry performed well in moderate front-end crash tests and in side-impact, roof-strength and rear-impact tests, the institute said.

Moderately priced midsize cars outperformed luxury midsize cars in the new test, the institute said. The only luxury midsize cars to earn a "top safety pick-plus" award were the Acura TL and the Volvo S60.

Consumers should take note of safety tests conducted by the organization, said Jake Fisher, automotive test director for Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports will withhold a recommendation if a vehicle performs poorly in some of the older, key tests performed by the organization.

"Over time, their tests have become more stringent than the government tests, and they tend to push further," Fisher said. "That keeps the manufacturers building safer cars."

The Associated Press, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

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