WASHINGTON - Five compact pickup trucks heavily advertised as being rugged and tough are wimps in a high-speed crash, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said last week.
None of the five achieved a 'Good' rating - the best possible score - for occupant safety in a 40-mph crash.
The institute, which is funded by the insurance industry, said the 1998 trucks all failed to live up to manufacturer claims about energy-absorbing front ends and advertising-created images of toughness and durability.
'Toughness doesn't necessarily translate into good performance in a high-speed crash,' said the institute's president, Brian O'Neill.
The two vehicles that scored highest, the Toyota Tacoma and the Ford Ranger, still won only 'Acceptable' ratings.
Next came the Chevrolet S10 with a 'Marginal' rating, while the Dodge Dakota and the Nissan Frontier scored 'Poor.'
The results also apply to sister vehicles, including the Mazda B series, near-twin of the Ranger, and the GMC Sonoma and Isuzu Hombre, both variations of the S10.
Automakers vigorously disputed the test results, which many consumers refer to when considering a vehicle purchase.
Chrysler Corp., in a statement, said the institute's data from the crash dummy in the Dakota test appear to be simply erroneous.
Ed Lewis, a spokesman for Nissan North America, said that 'the auto industry as a whole' questions the validity of the institute's tests.
'We feel confident, based on our own laboratory testing and real-world experience, that the '98 Frontier is an excellent vehicle,' he said.
General Motors issued a particularly vigorous response.
Using charts, GM contended that measurements of forces on the crash dummy in the S10 were all in the same ranges as those from other vehicles that in the past have gotten 'Good' ratings from the institute.
'The institute's crash ratings are quite subjective and rely heavily on occupant compartment intrusion. However, intrusion is irrelevant if it does not cause injury,' said GM spokesman Kyle Johnson.
O'Neill said that, while energy absorption is important, 'no safety expert would claim it is the safety cage that should do the crushing.'
In its test, the institute runs a vehicle into the corner of a barrier at 40 mph. The institute measures impact on a crash dummy's head, chest and legs and analyzes the performance of the vehicle's structure and restraints before giving an overall score.