Nissan’s Navara pickup may have failed Europe’s tough NCAP crash test but its 2009 Murano SUV has been voted the safest choice by America’s Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in the midsize SUV category. Testing showed that midsized SUVs have become safer, but side and rear impact collisions still remain a sore point.

Of the ten vehicles tested, nearly all received the top rating of ‘good’ in the frontal crash protection test but the same can’t be said for the side and rear tests. The Jeep Liberty, Jeep Wrangler, and Kia Sorento, all 2008 models, were the worst performers in the side test. The Liberty, also sold as the Dodge Nitro, and Wrangler earned the second lowest rating of ‘marginal’ for protection in side crashes, while the Sorento actually earned the lowest rating of ‘poor’.

The results did show an improvement. In 2001 only half of the midsize models tested earned good ratings in the frontal offset test. This year, only the Hummer H3 didn’t earn the top ‘good’ rating. The H3 also received an ‘acceptable’ rating in the side evaluation and a ‘poor’ rating in the rear crash protection test. At the other end of the scale, Nissan’s Murano received top ratings in all three categories.

The tests also showed that despite their taller ride height, an inherent advantage in side impact crashes, many of the SUVs actually performed worse than cars.