BMW and GM vehicles were among six of the eight cars that received the top score, superior, in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's latest frontal-crash prevention test. The test debuted last September and awards frontal-collision warning systems one of three scores: basic (driver warning only), advanced (warning with moderate auto-braking) and superior (warning with good auto-braking). IIHS conducts auto-braking tests at 12 and 25 mph with an inflatable obstruction.
The latest test crop included 24 cars, mostly luxury models. All were 2014s, save the 2015 Audi A3 and Hyundai Genesis sedan. The BMW 5 Series sedan and X5 SUV ranked superior with optional auto-braking collision warning systems, as did the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Hyundai Genesis with similar systems. GM's Buick Regal, Cadillac CTS, Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Impala also earned the top score for the models' optional auto-braking collision warning systems. Thirteen other vehicles — the Audi A3 and A6; the BMW 2 Series, 3 Series, 5 Series and X5; the Buick LaCrosse; the Dodge Durango; the Infiniti QX50 and QX70; the Lexus IS and GS; and the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class — earned advanced scores. Finally, the BMW 3 Series, Infiniti Q70 and Toyota Avalon received basic scores.
Of course, virtually all cars earn such ratings only with optional equipment — and some have multiple systems that score differently. Case in point: The 2014 BMW 3 Series earns all three scores depending on what package you choose. The 3 Series' collision-warning systems range from a basic carryover system that auto-brakes only for cars that it detects have stopped after moving. In the 3 Series, two more advanced systems employ a camera (advanced rating) or a camera and radar (superior rating). BMW's X5 and 5 Series also get both systems and advanced or superior ratings, depending on which system you choose.
Confused yet? There's more.
IIHS rolled out the test in September 2013 after the affiliated Highway Loss Data Institute found that automatic-braking systems lowered insurance damage claims more than driver-warning systems alone. In that initial test, 25 models earned the basic rating while just 15 earned an advanced or superior grade. All of them were 2013 or 2014 models, but now IIHS says some automakers have since improved their auto-braking systems. The 2013 BMW 3 Series, for example, rated basic; the 2014 rates as high as advanced. The 2013 Dodge Durango rated basic in the September test, which IIHS carried to the 2014 Durango. Dodge added auto-braking to the 2014 Durango, however, and IIHS now rates it advanced.
In the ever-moving target for safety awards, IIHS will require an advanced or superior rating in frontal-crash prevention scores for its highest award, Top Safety Pick Plus, come 2015. Today, that status can be achieved with a basic rating in frontal-crash prevention scores.
But more cars are incorporating the auto-braking systems necessary for netting the top two scores. In the 2012 model year, just 10 percent of new models offered collision warning systems with auto-braking, IIHS spokesman Russ Rader said. For the 2014 model year, 20 percent offer it.
"As we do surveys of drivers who have some of these systems on their vehicles, we find that they like them," Rader said. "Automakers are making fast work in making these systems available and improving their functionality.
See IIHS' latest ratings here.