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Consumer Reports alters car safety index

Ford Focus and other again rate as recommended cars.

May 11, 2005; Posted: 4:39 p.m. EDT (2039 GMT)

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Second-tier (higher) recommendations
Acura TL
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Hyundai Santa Fe
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First-tier (lower) Recommendations
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - After naming the Ford Focus as one of its recommended vehicles in March, then quickly dropping that recommendation following a "Poor" rating in a side-impact crash test, Consumer Reports magazine is now changing its system for rating cars.

Under the new system, which has two levels, the Focus is once again a recommended car. But it is among those that get a lower-level of recommendation.

Cars that meet more stringent standards will be identified in the magazine and at ConsumerReports.org with a check mark within a circle, denoting a "tier two" recommendation (the higher of the two levels).

Lesser "tier one" recommendations will be identified by a simple check mark.

Vehicles getting "tier two" recommendations will be those meeting Consumer Reports' original standards, which were in effect when the Focus was dropped from the magazine's annual list of best cars.

Under those standards, if the vehicle has been tested by the federal government or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it would have to perform well in every test to which it was subjected.

A vehicle cannot get the tougher "second tier" recommendation if it has not been crash-tested by the IIHS, a private research group financed by insurance companies. It also must perform well on Consumer Reports' vehicle tests and has good reliability scores in the magazine's owner surveys.

The "first tier" rating requires that the vehicles perform well overall in crash tests, but a single poor crash test rating will not be sufficient to have the recommendation lifted altogether.

The change was prompted by the introduction of a tougher side-impact crash test by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Of the 14 small cars that were subjected to the test in March, 12 received a rating of "Poor." The test simulates the impact of an SUV into the side of the vehicle.

The IIHS also performs a frontal-impact test on vehicles. Both the frontal and side-impact tests are different from those performed by the Federal Government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. IIHS does not test as many different vehicles as NHTSA.

"Because we feel the IIHS crash tests provide valuable safety information for consumers, we created a second tier of recommended vehicles for which good results in both of the IIHS crash tests are mandatory," said Rik Paul, Consumer Reports' auto editor, in a prepared statement.

Under the new system, the Focus, as well as Hyundai Elantra, Mitsubishi Outlander, Honda Element, Nissan Altima and Suzuki XL-7 have been given the magazine's 'first-tier' rating, after losing their recommended status following IIHS' tests.

Only 10 cars have met the more rigorous 'second-tier' rating including the Saab 9-5, Subaru Forester, Toyota Camry, Acura TL, Honda Accord, Hyundai Santa Fe, and the Toyota Rav4.

For more on crash tests and how to decode the scores, click here.

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