Washington — Six of seven midsize sport utility vehicles suffered significant damage to their bumpers in low-speed crash tests, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said Tuesday.
The 5 mph tests conducted by the institute are designed to imitate the kind of impact that often occurs in commuter traffic and parking lots.
Six of the 2001 and 2002 SUVs tested in four crashes earned marginal or poor marks. The Acura MDX got the highest mark of any midsize SUV the institute has tested.
The institute ranked the vehicles by damage incurred. The Acura had a $448 average for the tests, while damage to the other SUVs ranged from $747 to $1,451.
The federal government requires cars to pass a 2.5 mph bumper test without damage, but there is no such requirement for SUVs.
"The manufacturers have decided this isn't important," said Brian O'Neill, president of the institute. "I think sometimes styling considerations override the need for good bumpers."
O'Neill also said automakers often are the sole supplier of replacement parts, so expensive repairs can be a benefit for them.
The 2001 Suzuki Grand Vitara XL-7 was the worst performer in the institute's tests, sustaining more than $2,000 damage in one test and a total of $5,802 in the four. When the rear of the vehicle was run into a pole at 5 mph, there was major damage to the tailgate and the rear window shattered.
The 2002 Buick Rendezvous also had more than $5,000 in damage. The 2001 Pontiac Aztek sustained $3,424 in damage, and the 2002 Isuzu Axiom suffered about $4,500 in damage.
The 2001 Toyota Highlander performed well in rear tests, but the front bumper got a poor rating. The 2002 Chevrolet TrailBlazer sustained an average of $810 damage in each of the two frontal crash tests. The rear tests did not assess bumper performance because the trailer hitch, sold as standard equipment, absorbed all the crash energy.
"But this result is more an artifact of the institute's tests than an indication of good bumper design," said Adrian Lund, the institute's chief executive. "It's clear that the TrailBlazer's rear bumper design isn't a good one."
The automakers insisted their vehicles are rigorously tested and meet strict requirements. Suzuki spokeswoman Celeste Speier said while the vehicle may have suffered expensive damage under the institute's tests, the vehicle is still an excellent value at about $23,499, depending on options.
"This shouldn't be confused with a pure safety issue, this is cost and when you are looking at cost you have to look at the big picture," she said. "The XL-7 that they tested is of excellent value, thousands less than our competition."