Holly's Blog: Five Minivans Rank High For Safety

Nov 16, 2011

By Holly Anderson, Editor in Chief

When my husband and I added a third car seat to our burgeoning fleet this year, I knew my days of driving a sedan were numbered.

A minivan likely will be our next big purchase. I will drive a minivan in the very near future. I will...drive...a minivan. I will. What? I donít sound excited? Iíll admit it. I fought this inevitability tooth and nail, until something strange happened recently. I drove one.

A day trip from Central Illinois to Chicago, afforded me the opportunity for an extended test drive. Impressed by the roomy interior, comfy seats and smooth handling, I arrived home that evening with a bombshell for my husband. I changed my mind about the harsh judgment Iíd extended toward all minivans, indiscriminate toward every make and model.

It wasnít that I thought I was too cool for school, well, maybe a little. They just look so big and bulky. Why would I need all that space? Well, reality is an interesting thing. Among other things, the third car seat means our big, old, golden retriever got bumped from the short list of passengers in our current vehicle.

My very practical husband, who wanted to purchase a minivan months ago, probably knew Iíd come around eventually. Now that heís won the big minivan battle, itís time to decide which one will best meet our needs.

Apparently, all minivans are not created equal, as evidenced in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safetyís recent listing of 2011 TOP SAFETY PICKS.

Five minivan models earned the 2011 TOP SAFETY PICK award from IIHS, standing out for superior protection in rollover crashes.

The 2012 Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan, and Volkswagen Routan ó which all share a common structure ó join the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna in the TOP SAFETY PICK ranks following new evaluations for rollover protection. To qualify for the designation, vehicles must have the highest rating of good for frontal, side, rollover, and rear crash protection and must have electronic stability control (ESC).

Two other minivans, the Kia Sedona and the Nissan Quest, fall short on rollover protection, with the Sedona receiving the lowest rating of poor and the Quest ranking as acceptable.
Rollover protection depends on roof strength, according to IIHS.A good roof strength rating has been a requirement for TOP SAFETY PICK since the 2010 awards. The Institute began the rollover ratings after research showed that strength-to-weight ratios higher than the government's required minimum of 1.5 reduce the risk of serious or fatal injury in rollovers. When vehicles roll, their roofs hit the ground, deform, and crush. Stronger roofs crush less, reducing the risk that people will be injured by contact with the roof itself. Stronger roofs also can prevent people, especially those who aren't belted, from being ejected.

The frontal crashworthiness rating is based on results of a 40 mph frontal offset crash test, according to IIHS. The side rating is based on performance in a crash test in which the side of a vehicle is struck by a barrier moving at 31 mph. The barrier represents the front end of a pickup or SUV. Rear crash protection is rated according to a two-step procedure. The first step is measuring head restraint geometry. Seat/head restraint combinations with good or acceptable geometry are tested dynamically using a dummy that measures forces on the neck.

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