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American muscle cars are known for style, handling and performance. But what about safety?

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Ford Mustang tops the list, a nose in front of the Chevrolet Camaro and a few lengths ahead of the Dodge Challenger.

Unlike more sedate sedans, none of the 2016 muscle icons earned scores needed to clinch a Top Safety Pick award from the U.S. nonprofit auto insurer organization.

The Mustang earned the highest rankings in four of the five tests on the muscle cars — one “good” rating away from earning the honor. The Camaro did well on the difficult small overlap test but had a lower rating for roof strength. The Challenger had lower ratings for roof strength, seat and headrest strength and the small overlap test.

“Given that sports cars have high crash rates, it’s especially important that they offer the best occupant protection possible in a crash,” said IIHS President Adrian Lund in a release announcing the results on Tuesday.

IIHS doesn’t typically crash-test sports cars as they make up a small share of the consumer market. However, engineers decided to evaluate the models with optional V-8 engines because they are big sellers in their class, and consumers often ask how they would perform in crash tests.

The Camaro, Challenger and Mustang earn good ratings for occupant protection in a moderate overlap front crash, as well as a side impact but stall out in other categories.

In the newest and toughest IIHS crash-worthiness evaluation, the small overlap front test, the Camaro earns a good rating, the Mustang earns acceptable, and the Challenger is rated marginal.

“The Camaro’s safety cage is built to resist intrusion in a small overlap crash, and that’s good news for Camaro drivers,” Lund said.

The small overlap test — added in 2012 — replicates what happens when a vehicle runs off the road and hits a tree or pole or clips another vehicle that has crossed the center line. In the test, 25 percent of the total width of the vehicle strikes the 5-foot-tall rigid barrier on the driver side at 40 miles per hour.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, in a statement, said no single test determines overall vehicle safety, and the Challenger meets or exceeds all government safety regulations.

“FCA US urges all motorists to follow all applicable traffic laws and maintain control of their vehicles accordingly,” the company said.

The Challenger is the oldest car of the three models. It has been on the same platform since the car was resurrected for the 2008 model year. The Mustang was fully redesigned for the 2015 model year, followed by a new-generation Camaro for the 2016 model year.

mwayland@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2504

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