Luxury cars score low in new crash test

(CBS/AP) DETROIT - Most midsize luxury cars — including the Mercedes-Benz C-Class — performed poorly in a new frontal crash test developed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The new test is designed to replicate what happens when a car strikes another car or a fixed object like a tree or utility pole - the type of accidents that kill roughly a quarter of those who are killed in car accidents, reports CBS News correspondent Seth Doane. The test strikes 25 percent of a car's front end into a five-foot rigid barrier at 40 miles per hour.

The results don't bode well for non-luxury models, which will be the next to undergo the new test. Insurance Institute crash test results are closely watched by the auto industry and often lead to changes in design or safety features. Good scores are also frequently touted in car ads.

Of the 11 cars tested, only the Acura TL, Volvo S60 and Infiniti G earned good or acceptable ratings from the institute, which is funded by insurers.

Scroll down to see IIHS's video of the crash tests

Four cars — the Acura TSX, BMW 3 Series, Lincoln MKZ and Volkswagen CC — earned marginal ratings. Four others — the Mercedes C-Class, Lexus IS 250, Audi A4 and Lexus ES 350 — earned poor ratings. Marginal or poor ratings indicate the cars wouldn't protect occupants very well in a real-world crash.

2012 Mercedes C250 during off-center frontal crash test
A 2012 Mercedes C250 is slammed into a mocked-up road pillar in an off-center frontal crash test performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

All of the cars tested were from the 2012 model year.

The institute said the new test indicates that side air bags — which are designed for direct impact, T-bone crashes but not for off-center, frontal ones — may not go off in time or extend far enough to protect occupants. In three cars — the BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen — the seat belts spooled out too much after the crash, causing the crash-test dummies to strike hard surfaces. The Volkswagen's door was completely sheared off during the test.

CBS News reached out to all the automakers tested. Those who replied stood by their safety record and some said they would incorporate this knowledge into designs moving forward. But Mercedes questioned the testing protocol altogether, saying it mimics an unusually severe and uncommon scenario.

"As a leader in automotive safety, we have full confidence in the protection that the C-Class affords its occupants — and less confidence in any test that doesn't reflect that," Mercedes said in a statement.

Toyota Motor Co., which owns the Lexus brand, accepted the results.

"With this new test, the Institute has raised the bar again and we will respond to this challenge as we design new vehicles," Toyota said.

But Toyota also noted that it has more top safety picks — 17 — than any other automaker.

The Insurance Institute said it plans to change its criteria for the top safety picks next year to incorporate the new test. The group said developed the test after years of analyzing real-world frontal crashes, which kill more than 10,000 people annually in the U.S.