The new Lincoln LS luxury sedan and the redesigned Toyota Avalon mid-size sedan earned ''best pick'' recommendations and rare sweeps of top ratings in the latest round of highway-speed crash testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Since the institute began conducting its 40-mph frontal crash tests in 1995, only six other vehicles among more than 120 tested have scored as well, spokeswoman Julie Rochman said Wednesday.
''Essentially, this means that the driver would walk away without a significant injury,'' she said.
The results are a boon for both brands. Automakers, continually under fire for safety-related flaws in their vehicles, jump at the chance to trumpet positive safety ratings in their advertising.
''Safety continues to be of great concern for consumers and is a powerful tool in the marketing of vehicles today,'' said George Owens, manager of product research at J.D. Power & Associates, the Agoura Hills, Calif., automotive marketing and product consulting firm.
''Those vehicles that can earn a quality rating should show some success in the marketplace.''
The 2000 Avalon scored an overall ''good'' rating and top scores in all seven measures derived from the institute's so-called frontal-offset crash test. The results should erase any embarrassment Toyota Motor Corp. and executives at its U.S. headquarters in Torrance, Calif., felt after the first Avalon model was rated ''marginal'' in 1995.
In addition to validating Irvine, Calif.-based Lincoln's claims that its 2000 LS is, indeed, a well-built, well-engineered luxury sedan, Wednesday's results held more good news for parent Ford Motor Co. Its redesigned large family cars, the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable, were rated ''best picks'' after scoring the institute's top rating, ''good,'' in six measures and ''acceptable'' in the seventh.
''That means we felt they are heads and shoulders above the other vehicles we've tested,'' Rochman said of the ''best picks.'' ''They are excellent performers in these kinds of crashes.''
Other 2000 model year vehicles tested were Nissan Motor Co.'s Maxima and Infiniti I30 mid-size sedans, which share a common platform and earned overall ''acceptable'' ratings; Nissan's Sentra small sedan, ''acceptable''; Mazda Motor Corp.'s MPV minivan, ''acceptable''; and two mid-size sport-utility vehicles that share a platform, Isuzu Motors Ltd.'s Rodeo and Honda Motor Co.'s Passport, rated ''poor.''
One critic, Car and Driver columnist Patrick Bedard, recently questioned the usefulness of the institute's high-speed crash tests, citing a study showing that only a fraction of 1 percent of all U.S. auto crashes occur at speeds of 40 mph or higher. ''I think you can assume one won't happen to you,'' Bedard wrote in the magazine's July issue.
But Rochman says Bedard's criticism, while accurate as to the low number of high-speed crashes, misses the point: ''These are exactly the crashes that can cause the worst injuries, and that's why we use them to test the vehicles. It doesn't matter how few there are if you are in one of them.''
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