The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced a new designation, the Top Safety Pick award, based on the performance of vehicles in their crash tests.
Winners of the institute's gold award included the Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego with optional side air bags; the Saab 9-3; the Subaru Legacy; and the Honda Civic four-door. The Five Hundred and Montego are corporate twins and were considered by the institute to be the same car, for award purposes.
They earned top scores in frontal offset and side impact tests, and a test that reviews seat and head restraints in rear crashes.
The silver award went to the Audi A6, Audi A3 and Audi A4; the Chevrolet Malibu with optional side air bags; and the Volkswagen Jetta and Passat.
The institute recognized vehicles that won top marks in front and side crash tests, plus the second-highest mark in seat and head restraint ratings.
No awards were given to minivans. Tests for pickups and sport utility vehicles were still being conducted.
The awards, which consider a vehicle's overall safety, replace the institute's previous practice of providing "best pick" designations for vehicles in each of the three tests.
The institute's president, Brian O'Neill, said the awards will help consumers quickly compare vehicles without having to review multiple sets of tests.
Sue Cischke, Ford's vice president for environmental and safety engineering, said Volvo engineers helped design the structure of the Five Hundred and Montego. The collaboration with Volvo, part of Ford's Premier Automotive Group, leveraged "our technical and intellectual resources to create this outstanding vehicle architecture," Cischke said.
Fred Adcock of Subaru of America Inc. said the award was "further validation of our commitment to overall occupant safety."