BMW, Mercedes models with auto brakes earn top crash-prevention scores

A BMW 5 series brakes for a crash target. The car earned a superior front crash rating when equipped with an optional camera and radar system, the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said.

Photo credit: IIHS
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WASHINGTON -- Luxury models from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai came out on top in front crash prevention rankings of a growing crop of vehicles with optional automatic braking systems, according to a new study.

The BMW 5 series and X5 SUV, Hyundai Genesis and Mercedes-Benz E-class models equipped with optional automatic braking and collision warning systems earned the best score -- a “superior” rating -- in the second round of crash testing by the U.S.-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The institute, funded by insurance companies, rates vehicles as basic, advanced or superior for front crash prevention depending on whether they offer automatic braking and, if so, how effective it is in front crash tests at 12 mph and 25 mph (about 20khp to 40kph).

More broadly, automakers are making systems that pre-charge and apply the brakes automatically to avoid crashes more widely available and with greater stopping power.

IIHS says that more than 20 percent of 2014 models offer some level of automatic braking capability, more than double the rate among 2012 models.

Of the 24 models tested in the latest round, 21 earned the mid-level “advanced” or top “superior” rating while three earned a “basic” rating for offering only minimal automatic stopping capability.

The BMW 3 series, Infiniti Q70 and Toyota Avalon received the lowest scores.

In IIHS’ first batch of front crash prevention tests released in September, about 20 percent of the 74 models tested earned “advanced” or “superior” ratings.

The crash prevention systems now factor into the influential group’s overall vehicle safety ratings.

Model year 2014 vehicles can earn the group’s coveted “Top Safety Pick +” accolade with a “basic” rating on the front crash prevention test, while 2015 model year vehicles must receive an “advanced” rating on the test to earn the award.

“We are already seeing improvements from automakers since the initial launch of our ratings last September,” David Zuby, chief research officer at IIHS, said in a statement. “BMW and Lexus, for example, have added more braking capability to their systems, which has paid off in higher ratings.”

The IIHS said an improved front crash prevention system offered on 2014 model BMW X5 SUVs and 5-series models rated “superior” use both cameras and radar. Models with a camera-only system previously garnered the “advanced” rating.

Buick Regal, Cadillac CTS, Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Impala models with automatic braking technology earned “superior” ratings while falling short of perfect scores because their systems featured less stopping power than necessary for a perfect score.

Automatic braking systems are most common in luxury cars and light trucks, though they are beginning to trickle down into more mainstream vehicles. The collision warning and crash mitigation system on the Dodge Durango, for example, earned models of the SUV equipped with the technology an advanced rating in the test.

The broader adoption of automatic braking systems also comes as the technologies are becoming more relevant to other safety watchdogs in the United States and Europe.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is studying the technology and could propose mandating it, while the European New Car Assessment Program also rates front crash prevention systems.

You can reach Ryan Beene at rbeene@crain.com. -- Follow Ryan on Twitter

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