The 2012 Lexus IS is one of four cars that earned the lowest rating in the IIHS

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety unveiled its new small overlap frontal crash test this morning, which is designed to see how well a car performs in front-impact crash tests where the front corner of the car hits an object.

The IIHS crashed midsize luxury and near-luxury cars in the new test, which simulates hitting a tree or pole, by sending them at 40 mph toward a 5-foot-tall solid barrier.

“Nearly every new car performs well in other frontal crash tests conducted by the Institute and the federal government, but we still see more than 10,000 deaths in frontal crashes each year,” Institute President Adrian Lund says in a statement. “Small overlap crashes are a major source of these fatalities.”

According to the IIHS’s 2009 study of vehicles with “good” front crash ratings, these kinds of accidents account for almost 25 percent of crashes where those in the front seat died or were seriously injured. The IIHS explains that in a front-end crash, the impact is absorbed mainly by the engine and the middle-front crush zone of the car, but in a small overlap front crash, the impact is absorbed by the wheel, firewall and suspension. As a result, the wheel is often pushed back into the footwell of the car.

"These are severe crashes, and our new test reflects that," Lund says. "Most automakers design their vehicles to ace our moderate overlap frontal test and NHTSA's full-width frontal test, but the problem of small overlap crashes hasn't been addressed. We hope our new rating program will change that." Lund adds that for optimal protection in small overlap frontal crashes, cars with strong safety cages that can withstand any force the crush zone can’t absorb are ideal.

In the small overlap frontal crash test of 11 upscale midsize cars, the 2012 Volvo S60 and Acura TL earning the top rating of “good.” The 2012 Infiniti G received the second highest rating of “acceptable,” while the second lowest rating of “marginal” was given to the 2012 BMW 3-Series, Volkswagen CC, Lincoln MKZ and Acura TSX. Earning the lowest rating of “poor” were the 2012 Lexus IS, Lexus ES, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The IIHS says it will test affordable midsize cars next in the small overlap frontal crash test.

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