Nissan Murano, Ford Flex get top safety ratings

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A group that prods automakers to build safer vehicles said Tuesday that two new 2015 mid-size SUVs won top honors in stringent front crash-test ratings, while others — including three made by Fiat Chrysler NV — fared more poorly.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said that among seven new models tested, the Nissan Murano earned a good rating and the Ford Flex got an acceptable rating in a tougher crash test in place since 2012. Both qualified for Top Safety Pick awards, while the Murano with an optional frontal crash system won the "Top Safety Pick +" award.

IIHS Chief Research Officer David Zuby said the small-overlap crash test — which mirrors what happens when the front corner of a vehicle strikes another vehicle or an object such as a utility pole — presented a major challenge for manufacturers when it was introduced three years ago, and many have adapted quickly.

"Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep have had some successes with redesigned models, but they haven't done much in the way of interim improvements," he said. "As a result, they still have many models that rate poor or marginal."

The Jeep Wrangler four-door model received a good small-overlap rating. But the Wrangler offers only marginal protection in side and rear crashes, so it's not a recommended model. The vehicle also lacks a fixed roof, so it can't provide good protection in rollover crashes, the insurance industry funded group said.

Aside from the Wrangler, three other Fiat Chrysler SUVs were tested for small overlap protection and didn't fare well. The Dodge Journey earned a poor rating, and the Dodge Durango and Jeep Cherokee earned marginal ratings. The Hyundai Santa Fe also earned a marginal rating.

The Journey was the worst performer; IIHS said the passenger compartment failed to hold up in the crash testing, with intrusion measuring as much as nine inches at the instrument panel; the parking brake pedal tore through the dummy's left lower leg. Injuries to the left hip, left knee and right lower leg would be possible. The rating applies to the current generation of the Journey, which dates to 2009.

Fiat Chrysler said that no single test represents "overall, real-world vehicle safety. Every FCA US LLC vehicle subjected to IIHS evaluations of four key crash scenarios — moderate-overlap, side-impact, roof-strength and head restraints/seating — received the highest possible ratings in each," the company said.

Hyundai spokesman Jim Trainor said the company was disappointed the Santa Fe didn't perform better but said the Santa Fe "is an extremely safe vehicle featuring many of Hyundai's advanced standard safety technologies... we will continue to work to improve occupant protection as part of our on-going efforts to increase customer safety."

Automakers routinely upgrade vehicles to meet IIHS tests and many consumers consult the ratings before buying vehicles. Automakers are quick to tout "Top Safety Picks" in advertising

In earlier testing, IIHS awarded the Toyota Highlander the Top Safety Pick + while the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Kia Sorento and Nissan Pathfinder were all Top Safety picks.

Crash ratings

Small-overlap crash ratings for mid-size 2015 SUVs:

■Nissan Murano: Good, Top Safety Pick+

■Ford Flex: Acceptable, Top Safety Pick

■Jeep Wrangler 4-door: Good

■Hyundai Santa Fe: Marginal

■Jeep Cherokee: Marginal

■Dodge Durango: Marginal

■Dodge Journey: Poor

Source: IIHS