When we buy luxury cars, we’re buying image, prestige, performance and comfort. According to recent crash test studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, we may not be buying safety, however. The Detroit Free Press reports that a number of mid-size luxury cars – among them the vaunted Mercedes-Benz C-Class – did not impress researchers during frontal crash tests.
Luxury cars ramming into fixed objects
Crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety were intended to illustrate just what happens to luxury cars when they strike a fixed object head-on. Twenty-five percent of the car’s front end strikes a five-foot rigid barrier at 40 miles per hour.
Overall, most of the luxury cars tested did not fare well; experts expect that non-luxury models will fare as badly. And considering that the auto industry is watching, experts believe that new designs that are geared toward safety will begin to appear as a result of the disturbing test results.
How bad was it? Of 11 luxury cars tested from the 2012 model year, only the Acura TL, Volvo S60 and Infiniti G were good or even acceptable in the crash test. Four vehicles – the Acura TSX, BMW 3 Series, Lincoln MKZ and Volkswagen CC — were deemed by the institute to be marginal at best in a frontal collision. The Mercedes C-Class, Lexus IS 250, Audi A4 and Lexus ES 350 bottomed out a “poor.” For point of reference, “marginal” or “poor” translates to potential serious injury or death for passengers.
Air bag slow pokes
A startling revelation from the crash test data is that side air bags, which are intended for direct impact crashes and T-bones, do not work as well for off-center frontal crashes. It is because the devices simply do not deploy quickly enough or extend far enough to protect driver and passengers. BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen also experienced problems with seat belts spooling out too much after the initial impact, increasing the chances that a person’s head could strike a hard surface. The VW CC’s door was “completely sheared off” during the crash test, notes Forbes.
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Mercedes takes offense, while Toyota accepts findings
Not one to go down without a fight, Mercedes-Benz claimed that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s frontal crash test was “unusually severe,” and that it represented an “uncommon scenario.”
“As a leader in automotive safety, we have full confidence in the protection that the C-Class affords its occupants — and less confidence in any test that doesn’t reflect that,” said Mercedes in a written statement.
Toyota Motor Co., owner of the Lexus brand, was more accepting of the crash test results. It did point out that it has more top safety picks than any other automaker.
“With this new test, the Institute has raised the bar again and we will respond to this challenge as we design new vehicles,” Toyota said.