Jeep Tops in New Roof Strength Tests, Kia Dead Last

The Kia Sportage sport utility vehicle received poor ratings Tuesday in new roof strength tests designed by the insurance industry to give consumers a better sense of how their vehicles might perform in a serious rollover crash.

The Volkswagen Tiguan, Subaru Forester, Honda Element and Jeep Patriot received top scores among a dozen small sport utility vehicles tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The Suzuki Grand Vitara, Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue and Mitsubishi Outlander received the second-highest score of acceptable. Roofs on the Honda CR-V and the Ford Escape merited the second-lowest rating of marginal.

The test results apply to 2009 model year vehicles. The institute tested 2008 versions of the Sportage and Element because 2009 models were not available at the time. The institute said there were few changes between model years and no changes to the roof.

Click here for PHOTOS from the test

The test results for the Sportage also apply to the Hyundai Tucson, which shares the same vehicle underpinnings. Results for the Escape also apply to the Mazda Tribute and Mercury Mariner, which also have the same platform.

The institute, based in Arlington, Va., released its first results of new tests on vehicle roof strength. The institute conducts crash tests on new vehicles and provides consumers with safety ratings in side, front- and rear-end crashes.

More than 10,000 people a year are killed in rollover crashes in the United States and the government has been considering tougher roof requirements for several years. The standards have not been significantly changed since 1973.

Current vehicles need to withstand direct pressure of 1.5 times the weight of the vehicle. The rules only apply to vehicles of 6,000 pounds or less, excluding many SUVs and pickup trucks. In the test, a metal plate is applied to one side of the roof to simulate it striking the ground.

The Bush administration considered a standard of 2.5 times the vehicle weight but did not finalize it. The Obama administration could release new requirements by late April.

Under the institute's criteria, a vehicle roof must withstand a force of 4 times the vehicle's weight to receive the top score. For the second-highest rating, a roof must withstand a force of 3.25 times the vehicle weight.

The second-lowest score applies to vehicles with a strength-to-weight ratio of 2.5 and anything lower receives the worst rating.

Automakers said it was difficult with a single test to measure a roof's ability to protect motorists in a rollover crash.

Kia spokesman Alex Fedorak said the institute's rating "by itself, does not provide a complete assessment of a vehicle's ability to protect occupants in these complex events." He said anti-rollover technology called electronic stability control has been standard equipment on all Sportage SUVs since 2005.

Ford spokesman Wes Sherwood said claims data from the insurance industry indicates that the Escape "performs well in all types of accidents, including rollovers." The Escape has anti-rollover technology along with sensors that help detect and prevent rollovers.

Honda spokesman Chris Naughton noted the CR-V had performed well in government and IIHS crash tests. He said it was "important that any safety test be considered in the context of overall safety performance."

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