WASHINGTON - Officials at Volkswagen of America Inc. may already be overjoyed at the success of the hot-selling New Beetle, but still more good news is coming.
At a press conference scheduled for today, May 4, in Washington, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is expected to announce that the new Bug is the safest small car of the 12 it has evaluated in its current round of high-speed crash tests.
The 1998 New Beetle is the only one of the 12 to be given a 'Good' rating for overall crashworthiness - the highest possible ranking - and will be labeled a 'Best Pick' among small sedans, Automotive News has learned.
The car was crash-tested on April 24, as the last vehicle in a round that began last summer.
The institute ranked the previously tested Honda Civic No. 2 and the Toyota Corolla/Chevrolet Prizm No. 3, but they were only given 'Acceptable' ratings. Other categories are 'Marginal' and 'Poor.' (See table on Page 48.)
The institute, an insurance-industry-funded research organization, has given its 'Good' rating to nine other models in the current test round, but all are midsized vehicles or bigger.
In its testing, the institute crashes vehicles at 40 mph into the corner of a barrier, a so-called frontal-offset collision.
The institute then measures 'injuries' to crash dummies, evaluates effects on vehicle structure, and adds or subtracts from scores for the quality of other safety features, including head restraints.
The current-generation Volks-wagen Golf/Jetta received only a 'marginal' rating in the offset-crash test, and ranked ninth for overall safety. The new Bug is based on the next generation Golf IV, which is due to arrive in the United States late this year or early next.
According to officials at the institute, vehicles are rated 'Good' in the high-speed crash test if the passenger compartment stays intact, if the crumpled front end does not intrude into the cabin and if airbags and seat belts function as required.
The New Beetle experienced only 'very minimal intrusion' into the cabin, the officials said.
In contrast, the Kia Sephia, which finished last among small cars tested, experienced 'major intrusion into the driver footwell area and moderate rearward movement of the instrument panel,' the institute said.
The Bug's high marks in the high-speed crash test came only a week after the car outperformed other small sedans in 5-mph tests of front and rear bumpers.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety President Brian O'Neill said that the results 'show what can be accomplished when a manufacturer decides to make damage resistance a priority.'
There are four bumper tests: front into a flat barrier, front into an angled barrier, rear into a flat barrier and rear into a pole.
Total damage to the New Beetle from the four tests combined was only $134. That is in contrast to $656 for the Saturn SL - the next best figure - and $3,042 for the Hyundai Elantra, the worst.
VW of America spokesman Tony Fouladpour declined to discuss the test results.