• Kia Sedona and Subaru Impreza received top safety marks

    kia sedona
The Kia Sedona and Subaru Impreza received top safety marks from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, while a group of GM minivans was downgraded.

The institute’s president, Adrian Lund, called the Sedona the "best minivan we’ve tested."

Kia Motors believes safety is "critical" to convincing parents and others to buy a minivan and touts the rating as evidence of its safety focus. "This recognizes our effort and shows how serious we are in building safe vehicles," Kia spokesman Alex Fedorak said.

The Korean subsidiary reported its best quarter ever in the first three months of 2006, selling 64,833 vehicles, up 2.4 percent.

The Sedona, with six standard air bags and other safety features, saw its sales increase by 47 percent this year, selling 17,111 through March 31.

Subaru had asked the institute to delay testing the Impreza until it completed design changes to improve safety. "The goal of the program is to encourage these kinds of improvements to reduce injury risk in real-world crashes," Lund said. The Subaru results also apply to the Saab 9-2X, which is based on the same design.

The report dinged the Toyota Prius, awarding it a marginal safety rating in rear-crash tests.

Among the U.S. vehicles criticized were the Chevrolet Uplander minivan and its corporate cousins, the Pontiac Montana SV6, Saturn Relay and Buick Terraza.

The vehicles saw their ratings reduced to marginal in side-test crashes after one of the middle seats broke free from the floor.

General Motors Corp. spokesman Alan Adler said the company has no evidence that seats have detached in actual crashes. GM is making a change to the minivan so middle seats won’t detach during testing. "We have never seen this happen in the real world, and we don’t see any safety issue here," Adler said.

Lund disagreed. "Seats should stay attached because they’re part of the restraint system, and in real crashes vehicles may roll over or be hit again," he said.

The industry-funded group conducts about 100 crash tests a year in an effort to push automakers to improve safety.

All automakers have voluntarily agreed to equip all vehicles with standard side-impact air bags by 2009. Federal safety regulators will announce a side-impact safety standard later this year that’s estimated to save about 1,200 lives annually.

The group is in the middle of testing a group of larger vehicles — and invited a reporter to watch a test last week of a Toyota Avalon at its testing facility in Ruckersville, Va., about 100 miles south of Washington.

For side-impact tests, the institute uses dummies about the size of a 100-pound, 5-foot woman. The heads are covered in clown paint to determine where the head strikes after the crash.

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