Toyota Motor Corp.'s redesigned 2007 Camry has aced an insurance group's tough set of front and side crash tests but was bested by a South Korean-made competitor, the 2006 Kia Optima, in a rear crash test, according to data released late Sunday.
In its latest round of tests, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the new Camry its top ratings of "good" in front and side crashes. But the institute said the sedan was only "marginal" in protecting occupants in a 20-mph rear collision.
The Optima, also a moderately priced mid-size sedan, received scores of "good" in the front and rear crashes. The Optima will not be tested for side-impact protection until Kia Motors Corp. completes a redesign expected this year, the Virginia-based institute said.
Toyota's 2006 RAV4 small sport utility vehicle also was rated "good" in front and side crashes and "marginal" in a rear crash test.
The front crash simulates two vehicles meeting head-on but off-center at 40 mph. The side-impact test simulates a so-called T-bone collision in which a pickup truck or SUV-size vehicle hits a car or truck in the driver's-side front door at 31 mph.
The institute measures crash impact on heavily instrumented crash dummies to chart the number and severity of potential injuries. Vehicles are rated as "good," "acceptable, "marginal" or "poor."
Auto insurers, which fund the institute's work, use the findings to help determine rates. In addition, motorists can use the ratings to inform their buying decisions, and manufacturers use positive scores to help promote their cars and trucks.
Other vehicles in the latest round of crash tests were the mid-size 2006 Zephyr luxury sedan from Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln division; the 2007 Caliber small car from DaimlerChrysler's Dodge brand; and the 2006 Tucson small SUV from Hyundai Motor Co., also sold as the 2006 Sportage from sister company Kia.
The tests showed "improvements manufacturers continue to make in protecting people in front and side crashes," said Adrian Lund, the institute's president. But automakers continue to lag in improving their vehicles for rear crash protection, he said.
The Zephyr was rated "acceptable" in front and side crashes and "marginal" in the rear crash test.
But that's not particularly good for a luxury car, Lund said, noting that all other mid-size luxury models that had been tested scored "good" in the same test.
"The Zephyr isn't competitive in its class for safety," he said.
The new Caliber replaces Dodge's Neon, which had posted one of the worst small-car scores in front and side tests.
The Caliber's "good" front crash test score was offset by "marginal" scores for side and rear crashes, even though it has standard side-curtain air bags.
Lund said that Dodge planned to add additional side air bags for torso protection later in the 2007 model year and that the Caliber's score should improve then.
Hyundai's Tucson achieved "acceptable" ratings in front and side crashes but was rated "poor" in rear crash protection. Overall performance improved, however, because the previous generation received a "marginal" rating for front crash protection.
Lund singled out the Camry for praise as one of only six cars ever to achieve a perfect score in protecting occupants in the institute's side crash test.
The others, all 2006 models, were Toyota's Lexus IS luxury sport sedan, the Volkswagen Passat and Jetta sedan and their upscale cousins, the Audi A6 and A3 sedans.