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Washington — The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says a group of four minivans are among the worst performers in a stringent front-end crash.

The Nissan Quest, the Chrysler Town & Country and its twin, the Dodge Grand Caravan, all earned poor ratings in the small-overlap front-end crash, while the 2015 Toyota Sienna earned an acceptable rating. Last year, the Honda Odyssey earned a good rating, making it the top performer among minivans. Toyota only got the improved marks after it made changes for the 2015 model year.

“Minivans are popular among parents, a group that tends to be safety conscious, but we’ve only seen two so far that offer decent protection in small-overlap crashes,” said David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer.

Introduced in 2012, the small-overlap front crash test replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle hits another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole. In the test, 25 percent of a vehicle’s front end on the driver’s side strikes a rigid barrier at 40 mph.

The test is more difficult than the head-on crashes conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It poses a challenge for the vehicle to manage crash energy.

IIHS said the crashes may be especially difficult for minivans to handle because minivans are typically built on car platforms but are wider than cars. As a result, more of the vehicle is located outside the main structure. Minivans also are heavier than cars.

“Chrysler Group minivans meet or exceed all government-mandated safety requirements,” Chrysler spokesman Eric Mayne said. “They are unchanged, structurally, from previous model-year vehicles that received the highest performance ratings bestowed by the IIHS in tests simulating the four main crash types — side, rollover, rear and moderate-overlap front.”

Nissan spokesman Steve Yaeger noted the Quest gets good ratings in other IIHS tests. “As for the performance of the 2014 Quest in the ‘small overlap frontal test,’ Nissan will continue to review these and other results from IIHS testing as we seek opportunities for improvements,” he said.

IIHS said Toyota modified the front structure of the 2015 model to improve crash protection. But IIHS said it didn’t hold up enough in the test to get top marks.

The only minivan sold in the U.S. not rated by the institute is the Kia Sedona. The manufacturer has told IIHS it plans to make a change to the vehicle in the coming weeks to improve small overlap protection, so it will be tested shortly.

DShepardson@detroitnews.com

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