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Lincoln Zephyr sub-par in crash test

Toyota Camry performs well, but misses "Top Pick" award.

zephyr_crash.01.jpg

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The redesigned 2007 Toyota Camry earned the top score of "Good" in side and front crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway safety.

Crash test results for the Camry, Dodge Caliber, Kia Optima, Lincoln Zephyr, Toyota Rav4, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage were released Sunday night.

Like the Camry, the Rav4 earned "Good" ratings for front and side crash protection.

Neither car earned a "Top Safety Pick" award from the Institute, however, because of "Marginal" ratings for whiplash protection in rear impacts.

The Insurance Institute's four possible ratings for the front, side and rear whiplash protection tests are "Good," "Acceptable," "Marginal," and "Poor."

The Kia Optima, a midsized car, earned a "Good" rating for front crash protection but was not tested for side impact protection.

Kia is making changes to the Optima to improve side impact protection. It will be tested later this year, the Institute said.

The new Dodge Caliber, a small wagon, earned the top "Good" rating for front impact protection, but was only "Marginal," the second worst rating, for side impact protection, in spite of having head-protecting side airbags.

Still, the Caliber is a big improvement over the car it replaced, the Dodge Neon, the Institute said. The Neon rated "Poor" overall for crash protection.

As crash protection in cars has improved, it has become common for vehicles to earn a rating of "Good" in the Institute's front crash test.

In the latest round of tests, however, the Lincoln Zephyr, the luxury brand's entry level model, earned a rating of "Acceptable," the second-best of four possible ratings, for both front and side crash protection.

"This is not a bad rating," Insurance Institute president Adrian Lund said in the announcement, "but all of the other midsize luxury cars we've tested get 'Good' ratings for frontal crash protection, so the Zephyr isn't competitive in its class for safety."

The Hyundai Tucson SUV also earned "Acceptable" ratings for front and side protection, ratings that also apply to the closely related Kia Sportage.

None of the vehicles in the latest round of test results earned a "Top Safety Pick" designation because none earned a top rating in all three areas of crash protection including whiplash protection from rear impacts.

"Front and side crashes usually are more serious, but rear impacts are more common and the neck injuries that result can be debilitating," said Lund. "This is the most common injury reported in motor vehicle crashes."

The Camry, Caliber, Zephyr and Rav4 earned ratings of "Marginal" for whiplash protection. The Tucson and Sportage earned a rating of "Poor."

The Optima earned a rating of "Good" for whiplash protection but it has not yet been tested for side impact safety.

The Insurance Institute's front impact test involves an offset impact at 40 miles per hour. The vehicle strikes the barrier with just one side of its front end, so impact forces are concentrated in a relatively small area.

For side impact safety, vehicles are tested using a moving barrier that strikes the vehicle at a speed of 31 mph. The barrier is raised off the ground to mimic an impact from an SUV or pick-up truck.

Because of the height of the barrier, vehicles without head-protecting side airbags do not perform well in the Institute's side impact test. Even some vehicles with those types of airbags still do not do well.

To measure rear impact whiplash protection, the Institute measures the height and shape of the headrest to see if it would, theoretically, protect an average sized man. If the headrest is judged to be "Good" or "Acceptable" according to that test, it is then further tested in a 20 mph rear impact using a crash test dummy.

Vehicles with seats that are not judged "Good" or "Acceptable" based on measurement alone are given a rating of "Poor."

Most IIHS crash test results

Dodge Caliberexternal link: Front: Good, Side: Marginal, Whiplash: Marginal

Toyota Camryexternal link: Front: Good, Side: Good, Whiplash: Marginal

Kia Optimaexternal link: Front: Good, Side: No test, Whiplash: Good

Lincoln Zephyrexternal link: Front: Acceptable, Side: Acceptable, Whiplash: Marginal

Toyota Rav4external link: Front: Good, Side: Good, Whiplash: Marginal

Hyundai Tucsonexternal link: Front: Acceptable, Side: Acceptable, Whiplash: Poor

Kia Sportageexternal link: Front: Acceptable, Side: Acceptable, Whiplash: Poor

Results for cars not included in the most recent round of side impact tests can be found at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Website at iihs.orgexternal link. (This link will take you to a Website outside of CNN.com. The link will open in a new window.)

Results for National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's crash tests can be found at safercar.govexternal link. (This link will take you to a Website outside of CNN.com. The link will open in a new window.)

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