Crash testing brand-new vehicles may rub the Puritan ethic the wrong way, but it's the only sure way to find out just what a car is capable of in terms of protecting its occupants. Today a new round of testing by the IIHS reveals how the first batch of small SUVs holds up under new roof-strength standards.

Previous tests adhered to the NHTSA's roof-strength standard of 2.5 times the vehicle's weight. Now the IIHS has boosted its standard for selection as a Top Safety Pick to a full four times the vehicle's weight with a maximum crush of 5 inches.

The new results show only 4 of the 12 small SUVs tested in this round yielded top ratings: the Subaru Forester, Honda Element, Jeep Patriot and Volkswagen Tiguan. Second-tier SUVs included the Chevrolet Equinox, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4, Mitsubishi Outlander and Suzuki Grand Vitara. Stepping down a notch further, the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape rated 'marginal' on the IIHS' four-level scale, while the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson rated 'poor' - perhaps explaining where the Korean carmakers is saving some of its money.

The 'Good', 'Acceptable', 'Marginal' and 'Poor' ratings correspond to the roof supporting at least 4, greater than 3.25, greater than 2.5, and less than 2.5 times the vehicle's weight respectively.

It's worth mentioning, however, that the IIHS' new standard isn't official. In fact, the NHTSA has been famously slow in adopting new roof crush standards. Part of the reason is the projected expense to the industry - right now is not the time to throw another burden on the struggling carmakers - but part of the reason is also that even substantial improvements in roof strength will have little actual effect on the number of rollover-related deaths each year.

A consumer advocate safety group called Public Citizen is even calling for a complete revamp of the way the tests are done - rather than a static test like that done by the NHTSA and IIHS, they would have a 'dynamic' test - one more closely simulating an actual rollover.

The IIHS on the other hand thinks that its decision to jump up from the 2.5 times vehicle weight ratio required by the NHTSA to the new 4 times vehicle weigh factor would reduce casualties by 50%. That's a strong claim, and the new test is one that the IIHS expects to significantly reduce the number of Top Safety Picks it issues each year. Currently 73 cars bear that honor.


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