Four small sport-utility vehicles received top scores in crash tests conducted by the insurance industry, a sign of improvement compared with SUVs built earlier in the decade.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave top crash-test scores in front-end, side and rear tests to the 2009 Ford Escape, 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan, 2008 Mitsubishi Outlander and 2008 Nissan Rogue.
Adrian Lund, the institute's president, said the Escape, Tiguan, Outlander and Rogue were equipped with standard electronic stability control — which guards against rollovers — and side air bags.
The safety equipment helped the vehicles show improvements across the board, including in the side tests.
•Click here for photos from the tests.
"This is a huge change from just five years ago, when most small SUVs were rated either marginal or poor in our side test, and standard side air bags and electronic stability control were rare," Mr. Lund said.
The marks for the Escape also apply to the Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute, and hybrid versions of the Escape and Mariner. The vehicles share the same underpinnings.
The 2008 Jeep Wrangler, meanwhile, which was tested without optional side air bags, received the institute's lowest score, poor, in the side test. Prior versions of the two-door vehicle had received the second-lowest score, marginal, in side crashes.
Mr. Lund said that during the latest test, the Wrangler's driver door opened during the crash. The opening could lead to a person being ejected from the vehicle, he said.
Chrysler spokesman Max Gates said the Wrangler "meets or exceeds" all federal safety standards and "no single crash test provides a full picture of a vehicle's crashworthiness."
Tests of the 2008 Jeep Patriot showed the benefits of side air bags. A version of the Patriot equipped with an optional front torso air bag received the top score, good, in the side test. A Patriot without the side air bags received the second-lowest score in a separate side test.
Both versions of the Patriot received the second-highest score, acceptable, in the front-end test.
The 2008 Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent without optional side air bags received the top score in the front-end test and the second-lowest rating in the side test.
General Motors spokeswoman Carolyn Markey said the Equinox and Torrent will have head-curtain side-impact air bags as standard equipment in the 2009 model year.
Ms. Markey said GM develops its vehicles to provide protection in more than 150 types of collisions. She called the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety side test a "single and very severe test."