WASHINGTON — The government's 1986 automobile crash tests showed poor performances by more than a third of the 26 cars tested, including failing grades by two new low-cost imports and Ford's popular Taurus and Sable.
The annual tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of a sample of cars has shown a general trend of improved performances over recent years.
But 10 of the 1986 model cars tested had scores that indicate one or both front-seat occupants probably would have been killed in a crash.
The best performers were the Toyota Celica, Chevrolet Nova, Chevrolet Cavalier, Oldsmobile Delta 88 and Buick Century, all of which recorded a head injury rating for both front-seat occupants of less than 800.
Sets Fatality Threshold
The highway safety agency generally regards any head injury rating of more than 1,000 as probably being fatal to the occupant.
The cars that exceeded the 1,000 threshold for one or both front-seat occupants were the Isuzu I-Mark, Yugo GV, Plymouth Colt Vista, Saab 9000, American Motors Jeep Comanche, Volkswagen Scirocco, Ford Taurus, Mercury Sable, Hyundai Excel and Subaru GL.
The government tests, which measure impact on a car's occupants in a 35-m.p.h. head-on crash into a barrier, have been controversial for years and the auto industry argues they are misleading because of the potential for variation among tests.
Auto safety advocates, however, have said they represent a clear indicator to car buyers as to the relative protection that can be expected as a result of automobile design.
Final Group of Tests
The tests were conducted over the past eight months with results on the final group of tests released this week. Some results were made public previously.
Among the worst performers of the cars tested were the two newly introduced low-cost imports--the Hyundai Excel from South Korea and the Yugo from Yugoslavia. The Yugo had a head injury rating of 1,415 for the driver and 1,318 for the passenger, while the Hyundai Excel had a rating of 999 for the driver but 2,662 for the passenger.
Both companies played down the significance of the government test results. Hyundai said its own 35-m.p.h. crash tests, conducted after a new seat belt system was installed, showed the Excel performing much better.
Uses Less Severe Test
Bill Pryor, president of Yugo America Inc., emphasized that the Yugo "meets or exceeds" all federal safety standards, including requirements for crash protection, which are based on a less severe 30-m.p.h. crash test.
Among the surprises in the 1986 crash tests was the poor showing by Ford's popular Taurus and Mercury Sable models. The cars represent a new design and have recorded strong sales since being introduced in December.
Although the head injury rating on the passenger side was good for both the Taurus and Sable--695 and 680, respectively--the rating for the driver jumped to about 1,200 for both cars.