The Kia Sedona was the safest minivan, while the Subaru Impreza and the Saab 9-2X came on top in the small cars category. The Insurance Institute conducts its tests by hitting the test vehicle with a barrier that is similar to the front of a SUV or a pickup truck.
It is estimated that such an impact carries a greater risk of causing head injury and thus death. The Institute found that vehicles without side airbags performed poorly in the crash tests. Foe example even the Prius was rated as "poor" without the optional side airbags.
"The result for the Prius with its optional side curtain airbags was dramatically different," confirmed a statement issued by Institute president Adrian Lund. "This time the airbag kept the dummy's head from being struck by the barrier, and injury measures all were low. These results show the importance of head-protecting side airbags in reducing the risks for car occupants, especially when their vehicles are struck in the side by a pickup or SUV."
The Institute added that the Prius was rated "marginal" as far as the whiplash protection aspect was concerned. This came about since the vehicle's seats do not do much for protecting an occupant's neck.
The Subaru Impreza, and the Honda Civic earned a "Gold Top Safety Pick" rating for their overall performance. The cars were rated "Good" in front, side and rear impact tests. The Suzuki Forenza and Reno, Saturn Ion and Kia Spectra were some of the poor performing cars, the Institute's report said.
This poor rating was conferred despite these cars being fitted with the side airbags. "The Sedona is the best minivan we've tested," Lund said. "The Sedona stands out as the first to get a clean sweep of good ratings across the board."
Some of the Institute's ratings are as follows:
Honda Civic (Gold Top Safety Pick)
Subaru Impreza/Saab 9-2X (Gold Top Safety Pick, excludes WRX and Aero versions.)
Toyota Prius ("Marginal" for whiplash protection)
Kia Sedona (Gold Top Safety Pick)
Honda Odyssey ("Marginal" for whiplash protection)
Toyota Sienna ("Poor" for whiplash protection)