The IIHS Just Made Cars Heavier (Again). BMW 3 Series Scores \”Marginal\”

Safety is of huge importance in automobiles, there is no arguing that. Over the past few decades, the work of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has held auto manufacturers to a higher standard for protecting occupants in a crash situation. The caveat to all this increased safety is additional weight and technology infiltrating cars. The fact is safety sells, and cars that can tout being a “Top Pick ” usually see the benefit in increased sales so car companies are building to these tests. Today, the IIHS introduced the world to its first additional test since its original offset test, the small overlap frontal test.

In the test, 25 percent of a car ‘s front end on the driver side strikes a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier at 40 mph. A 50th percentile male Hybrid III dummy is belted in the driver seat. The test is designed to replicate what happens when the front corner of a car collides with another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole. Outside of some automakers ‘ proving grounds, such a test isn ‘t currently conducted anywhere else in the United States or Europe. Basically, the test is testing the structural integrity (for crash purposes) of the wheel well and firewall as the test is designed to miss the engine and frame structures.

One would think that front wheel drive vehicles would have an advantage in this test because they offer more mass and drive train components (which tend to be more substantial) in that are but in this first round that was not entirely the case. The Acura TL and Volvo S60 earn good ratings, while the Infiniti G earns acceptable. The Acura TSX, BMW 3 series, Lincoln MKZ and Volkswagen CC earn marginal ratings. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus IS 250/350, Audi A4 and Lexus ES 350 earn poor. All of these cars were 2012 models.

What this all means is that either brands are going to introduce new heavier, higher strength steel into these areas (like Volvo already does) or do poorly on the test and watch safety conscious consumers flock to other cars that perform better. There is one caveat to all this aside from safety- maybe, this will force others outside BMW to look into carbon fiber on a larger scale and help improve safety and decrease weight simultaneously (we can dream right?)

BMW 2012 3 Series

The 2012 BMW 3 Series earned a grade or “marginal ” during the test but when compared to the competition, the BMW did very well and the passenger cell remained relatively in tact.

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  • mike

    “The IIHS Just Made Cars Heavier (Again). “

    Seriously? Do you have a spouse or kids? If you don’t want the weight at the cost of speed then go strip out all your airbags and save a few pounds.. Better yet go buy a motorcycle.

    • BimmerFile_Michael

      Sure do- and still feel that some of the added safety requirements is getting to the point now that makes people less responsible and less skilled as drivers in the US. Passive safety is a last resort- spend some money on driver training, less distractions and better roads and see less fatalities. I am all for safety but look at the Lincoln, that car was engineered to pass tests and not for “real world” safety, that happens a lot and a life would have been lost. Now if there was a requirement for cars to be safe and hit a weight requirement rather than being engineered to be safe and cheap I am all for that. The point is that the EPA is requiring vehicles to hit a certain MPG, and now there are new crash tests which basically are making cars heavier- they are counter productive it is difficult to do both. I buy BMWs (and MINIs) because of the full arsenal of safety features and the real world safety they design for, not because of what a new test says but not all people are in the same mindset. The fact is, this BMW saved a life- sure there may have been a leg injury but a life was not taken by the crash but because the test shows an injury the next car design will add 50 lbs to the nose of the car. My weight argument has nothing to do with speed, that is what a track is for. I have been in Germany for a year now and I have seen only two accidents and both were minor, in the states I would see a major one once a week- the difference is driver ability, roads and lane discipline not because of any safety feature. Adding more safety to protect people is getting to the point of absurdity- why don’t we all just drive around in Osh Kosh M-ATVS? Then we’d be safe, no? When is enough enough- and the response I expect is the standard “until there are no lives lost due to accidents”. There will always be lives lost, its sad but that is how things work and I believe when its my time its my time. Having almost been there I know all too well how precious life is…. and I am still here thanks to a BMW, that more than likely would do even worse on this test.

      • mike

        There’s only so much you can do training-wise to make yourself safe.. Its the OTHER idiots on the road that scares the hell out of me.. Its the distracted drivers who talk, text, eat, read, apply makeup, don’t pay attention or who are just plain too old to drive. Sorry, my line of work requires that I go to nasty accident scenes on a weekly basis. If you saw the tragedy that often, it would make you think differently.

        If using a heavier frame saves ONE innocent life (who would have died at some distracted driver’s hands) it’d be worth making the 3 series a little heavier. Buy lighter rims, ditch the spare, etc..

        • BimmerFile_Michael

          I think that is my point, its not training yourself- its training EVERYONE. Driving a car is not a right, it is something that needs be earned. In the EU it takes years of driver training, by professionals, to get a license. People also obey the rules of the road, don’t believe in doing anything while driving but driving and that is all the difference. But when is enough enough? You can’t build a car that saves everyone- it is a weapon when in the hands of people that suck, it is a loaded gun and even the best body armor with no cost constraints can’t stop a perfectly placed bullet. I am all for safety but after all these years it almost seems like the IIHS was looking for something to do. And with the BMW, if that rim didn’t stick there no injuries would have happened, not to mention that this is a complete worse case scenario, no braking means no weight transfer off the rear which means no spin diversion for the RWD cars… I’d love to see this test conducted again, I know BMW does way more in designing these cars than for tests but maybe this will help by forcing others to do the same (like Lincoln) Just wish there was a way that won’t add more mass to these killing machines. Those OK M ATVS get horrid MPGs by the way 🙂

          • mike

            I think what would make both of us happy would be a move to affordable, lightweight carbon fiber frames, which is stronger than whatever materials used today. I think there is a way to have it both ways..

        • adam

          You do realise this is a car and not a locomotive correct? Even if everyone in the good ol USofA drove an A1 tank we’d still have the average 4-5 million accidents a year and 40,000 annual fatalities. People are responsible for their own actions behind the wheel. I suppose your a big proponant of “speed kills” yes? And if u have any questions about road safety with high speed ask Michael and ask about the Autobahn. Rant ended.

          • mike

            You say rant, I say discussion. No one’s name calling and I respect the difference of opinion.

      • adam

        Michael, are you familiar with the song Red Barchetta by Rush? A nightmare future with everyone via govt regs driving indestructo tanks for cars playing target practice with guys in sports cars. I have a feeling thats coming to america in about 5-10 years time. I am all for safety and efficiency but not when both are forced by govt regs. This test seems a little… well bullshit, if this car passed the Euro NCAP tests which are stricter than this… again this test is bullshit. Your toughts Michael?

        • mike

          I have to agree with this point. I suppose I’ve got the right to buy a volvo station wagon if I want a safe car.. and by buying a less safe car it only endangers those who drive it and no one else.. (argument could be made that a heavier car can endanger others upon impact). Its an interesting conversation..

          • Adam

            Again you cant save people from their own stupidity, not matter what you equip them with. I’ll use trains as an example again. In the 80’s-90’s there was an epidemic of people running into the side of moving freight trains, claiming they did not see them (how one can miss a mile long, 15ft. tall vehicle moving at over 30 mph is beyond me), long story short the government mandated that railroads put reflective stripes on the sides of locomotives and freight cars, now we’re in the 2000’s and has that situation rectified itself? well to quote a locomotive engineer “still too many dumb ass drivers hit our sides”

          • mike

            And I’ll just pretend I’m driving that train.. “still too many dumb ass drivers hit our sides”. No matter how good a driver I am, this will still happen. And when it does, I hope I have the choice to buy any car I want, even one with reinforced frames and beams – carbon fiber or steel.

  • ZYH

    Safety and Weight has no direct relation. Harder crash tests should push manufactures to come up with better material and structure, not added weight. Look at how carbon fiber enforced plastic is.