Size and safety are the motivations for most SUV buyers but an American study has cast doubt on their safety records. It found that many models perform poorly in side-impact collisions, including top selling vehicles such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chevrolet TrailBlazer. The study was conducted by the U.S. insurance industry and claims SUVs fared poorly because of a combination of weak side structures and a lack of chest protection from airbags.

"The performance of some of these models in the side test was surprising," said David Zuby, of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "SUVS should have an advantage in side crashes because the driver and passengers ride higher up than in cars." According to Zuby, many cars ended up causing less damage to the crash-test dummies than then the SUVs.

The tests consisted of striking the vehicle with a barrier moving at 31 mph to reflect the force of another SUV hitting from the side. The SUVs performed much better in frontal tests, however many once again performed poorly in rear impact testing.

“If you’re in the market for a midsize SUV, there’s no reason to buy one with mediocre crash test ratings,” Zuby said. “Vehicles like the Ford Edge and Taurus X, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Subaru Tribeca would be safer choices. They afford good protection in front and side crashes. Plus they have good seat/head restraint designs to protect you in rear-end crashes."