DETROIT — The new, Louisville-built Ford Escape, the top-selling small SUV so far this year, got a "poor" overall rating in front-end crash tests conducted by an insurance industry group. Only two of the 13 models in the category performed well in the tests.
Ford said in a statement that the Escape, built at the Louisville Assembly Plant, is safe because it is equipped with advanced safety features and a structure designed to manage the impact of a crash. But the company said it takes new developments in crash performance seriously.
Subaru's 2014 Forester was the only vehicle to get the top "good" rating in the results released Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport was rated as "acceptable." But fast-selling models including the Escape, the Honda CR-V and the Jeep Wrangler received only "marginal" or "poor" ratings.
Small and midsize SUVs, which get decent gas mileage and have the cargo and passenger space of larger SUVs, are among the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. auto market. Sales grew 50 percent from 2005 to last year, when U.S. consumers bought more than 2.5 million of them, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank.
The IIHS ratings are influential because many auto shoppers find the ratings while researching vehicles on the Internet. The group says its crash tests and ratings are designed to get automakers to improve the crashworthiness of their vehicles.
The ratings are for the institute's "small overlap" crash test, which covers only 25 percent of a vehicle's front end. The test was added to the IIHS evaluations last year.
The group's tests are more stringent than the U.S. government's full-width front crash test. The institute says that in many vehicles, a crash affecting one-quarter of the front end misses the main structures designed to absorb the impact of a crash. Such crashes account for nearly a quarter of the collisions that cause serious or fatal injuries to people in the front seats, IIHS said.
Honda's CR-V, the No. 2 seller, got a "marginal" rating. Toyota's RAV-4, another big seller, hasn't done the testing yet because Toyota asked for a delay to improve the vehicle's structure, the IIHS said.
Other SUVs getting "poor" ratings were the Jeep Patriot, the Buick Encore, the Kia Sportage and the Hyundai Tucson, the institute said. The Forester and the Outlander Sport each received the IIHS' coveted "Top Safety Pick Plus" award.