The U.S.-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has, in recent years, become a major arbiter of vehicle safety performance with its independent crash tests and criteria that exceed existing government test standards.
Now the organization is expanding its evaluations into the area of crash prevention technology – specifically forward collision warning and automatic braking systems – with the stated intent of encouraging automakers to speed adoption of the technology.
After testing an initial group of 74 moderate-priced and luxury 2013-14mid-size cars and SUVs, the IIHS has awarded a Superior rating to just seven vehicles equipped with optional autobrake and forward collision warning systems.
They are the Cadillac ATS sedan and SRX SUV, Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan, Subaru Legacy sedan and Outback wagon, Volvo S60 sedan and XC60 SUV.
The Subaru Legacy sedan and Outback crossover, equipped with the brand's exclusive Eyesight system, were the only vehicles to receive the highest possible score of six points for achieving all the target criteria.
The IIHS's rating system is based on research by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) indicating that forward collision warning and automatic braking systems are helping drivers avoid front-to-rear crashes.
The Institute rates models with optional or standard front crash prevention systems as Superior, Advanced or Basic, depending on whether they offer autonomous braking, or autobrake, and, if so, how effective it is in tests at 20 and 40 km/h.
To be rated Superior, a vehicle must have autobrake and be able to avoid a crash or substantially reduce speeds in both tests.
For an Advanced rating, a vehicle must have autobrake and avoid a crash or reduce speeds by at least 8 km/h in at least one of the two tests.
To earn a Basic rating, a vehicle must have a forward collision warning system that meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration performance criteria (NHTSA).
That criteria requires that a system must issue a warning before a specified time in 5 of 7 test trials under three specified scenarios. That agency identifies vehicles with compliant systems as part of its online ratings.
Six models earned an Advanced rating: the2014 Acura MDX SUV, Audi A4 sedan and Q5 SUV, 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV, Lexus ES sedan and the 2014 Mazda 6 sedan.
The Volvo S60 and XC60 earned an Advanced rating as the only models in the new test program with standard autobrake. Called City Safety, the system brakes to avoid a front-to-rear crash in certain low-speed conditions without warning the driver before it takes action.
Twenty-five other vehicles earned a basic rating and 36 models either don't offer a front crash prevention system, or they have a system that doesn't meet NHTSA or IIHS criteria.
"Front crash prevention systems can add a thousand dollars or more to the cost of a new car. Our new ratings let consumers know which systems offer the most promise for the extra expense," says David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer.
To qualify for the IIHS's 2014 Top Safety Pick award, vehicles must earn a Basic, Advanced or Superior rating for front crash prevention, in addition to the criteria currently in place for hat award.