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SUVs don't fare well in new 5 mph tests

The Acura MDX received the least amount of damage in bumper tests
The Acura MDX received the least amount of damage in bumper tests  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In new low-speed bumper crash tests, only one of the seven mid-size sports utility vehicles tested lived up to the claims of rough and rugged.

The 2001 Acura MDX was the only one to get high marks from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the 5 mph crash tests.

"The Acura MDX has the best bumper systems," said IIHS Chief Operating Officer Adrian Lund. "In fact, it has the best bumpers of any midsize SUV the institute has ever tested."

The IIHS is an independent, nonprofit, research and communications organization funded by auto insurers for the purpose of reducing vehicle crash casualties and property losses.

CNN's Alexa Lee shows the crash tests (July 31)

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David Zuby of the Insurance Institute of America (IAA) agreed that the Acura tested well, especially in the pole test. "It only sustained $700 damage," Zuby said. "Mainly what you see here is that the bumper cover is torn and needs to be replaced."

Like the IIHS, the IAA is also an independent, nonprofit organization. It offers educational programs and professional certification to people in the insurance business.

In four bumper tests, the Acura MDX received the least amount of damage, with an average part replacement cost of a little under $450. In two of the tests the bumper and reinforcement bar needed to be replaced and there was a little cosmetic damage.

"One of the things that people forget when they buy an SUV, or they think when they buy an SUV, is that it's a rough and tough vehicle," Zuby said. "When in actuality, it's really just like a car. In many cases, bumpers aren't built strong enough to survive even little dings and scrapes that you might experience in a parking lot."

The IIHS also tested the 2001 Toyota Highlander, the 2002 Chevrolet TrailBlazer, the 2001 Pontiac Aztec, the 2002 Isuzu Axiom, the 2002 Buick Rendezvous and the 2001 Suzuki Grand Vitara.

The worst-performing vehicle was the Suzuki Grand Vitara. In the rear-into-pole test it sustained more than $2,000 damage. In the two rear impact tests the rear window shattered. Total damage came to $5,802.

"A terrible showing, the worst of a generally bad lot," Lund said.

Again, Zuby agreed. "The problem with the Suzuki Grand Vitera and other vehicles that have a rear mounted spare tire, is that the spare tire ... is the first thing to contact a pole or a wall or another vehicle in a crash," Zuby said.

"Consequently, the tailgate, which isn't really the strongest part of the car, has to carry the brunt of that load, caves in the tailgate, blows out the windshield, the whole thing needs to be replaced," said Zuby.

Suzuki President Rick Suzuki, in a written statement, said the company does its own testing in performance, durability and repairability and takes into account the results before putting a vehicle on the market.

"Suzuki is always willing to take into consideration any new information that could lead to meaningful, real world improvements that provide our customers with greater value," Suzuki said. "We will study the IIHS test results with these objectives in mind."

Not much ahead of the Vitara was the Buick Rendezvous. It sustained more than $5,000 in total damage. The Rendezvous is built on the same platform as the Pontiac Aztec. While the two bumpers are similar in composition, their design is different. The Aztec's tailgate does not include the rear window and therefore in the rear-into-pole test the damage to it was less than to the Rendezvous at $2,218.

The Axiom sustained damage ranging from about $800 to about $1,400. While it performed relatively well, Lund said, in 5 mph tests there is "no excuse" for that kind of repair costs.

One of the best-performing vehicles in the rear tests was the Toyota Highlander. In the rear-into-flat-barrier crash the vehicle sustained only about $400 damage and in the rear-into-pole test, just over $500. But in the two frontal tests the Highlander received over $2,000 damage. Its overall rating was marginal.

The IIHS was able to assess the Chevy TrailBlazer only for frontal crash tests. On average it received about $810 worth of damage.

On the rear tests, a trailer hitch that comes as standard equipment on all TrailBlazers hit the rear impact barriers and there was no damage to the back of the vehicle. But the institute says this doesn't mean it's a good design.

"It's clear that the TrailBlazer's rear bumper design isn't a good one," said Lund. "For example, the bumper bar doesn't extend the full width of the vehicle. Consequently, there's no protection against damage at the rear corners."

The IIHS often conducts 5 mph bumper tests to simulate the kinds of crashes that would occur in commuter traffic or parking lots.

• Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
• NHTSA - National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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