The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently crash-tested six model-year 2017 large cars; three came out on top, but the remaining three failed to get any safety awards. The Lincoln Continental, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Toyota Avalon earned the Top Safety Pick Plus award, IIHS' highest designation, while the Tesla Model S, Chevrolet Impala and Ford Taurus fared poorly.
The newest model in the group, the all-new Continental, earned good scores in all of the agency's crash tests; its front crash prevention system earned a superior rating, and its headlights also got a good score. To earn the Top Safety Pick Plus badge, cars need to have good scores across all five crash tests, as well as have an available front crash prevention system that earns a superior or advanced rating and headlights that are rated good or acceptable.
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which was redesigned for 2017, scored similarly to the Continental, and the Avalon was a close third, mirroring the other sedans' scores except for an acceptable headlight rating. The Avalon is a carryover model for 2017 and previously earned Top Safety Pick status, falling short of the Plus because it previously had only marginal and poor headlights available.
On the flip side, the Model S, Impala and Taurus earned merely an acceptable grade in the agency's tough small front overlap test and have poorly rated headlights, precluding them from qualifying for Top Safety Pick Plus. Of note, however, is the Impala's front crash prevention system. It received a superior rating; the Taurus' system earned just a basic rating and the Model S's system was not tested. While automatic braking comes standard on the Model S, the software for the feature was only recently activated.
The Model S previously earned an acceptable rating in the small overlap front crash test, and after making modifications was retested, but the crash had the same results. IIHS said that in the small front overlap test, the Model S's safety belt let the dummy's torso move too far forward, so the dummy's head struck the steering wheel hard through the airbag.
"Tesla made changes to the safety belt in vehicles built after January with the intent of reducing the dummy's forward movement," IIHS said in a statement. "However, when IIHS tested the modified Model S, the same problem occurred, and the rating didn't change."
Consumers should pay attention to this most recent crop of crash tests, especially in light of an IIHS study that determined that occupants in cars have a larger fatality risk than those in SUVs or minivans. By vehicle category, cars had an overall rate of 39 deaths per million registered vehicle years (one vehicle registered for one year) compared to 21 for SUVs and 19 for minivans; smallest cars proved to be the riskiest.