Several luxury cars sold in the United States, including the top-selling Mercedes-Benz C-Class, scored poorly on a new frontal crash test designed to mimic what happens when a car hits another vehicle, utility pole or tree.
Of 11 midsize luxury or near-luxury vehicles built for the 2012 model year, only two - the Acura TL and Volvo S60 - earned "good" ratings in a small overlap frontal crash test, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said on Tuesday.
The C-Class, Volkswagen's Audi A4 and Toyota Motor Co's Lexus ES 350 and Lexus IS earned an overall "poor" rating in the test.
Most cars are now built with safety cages that can handle head-on collisions and other crashes without crushing the driver and others inside the vehicle.
But small overlap crashes, involving only the small front corner of a vehicle, affect the outer edges of the car, which are less protected.
In those cases, the front wheel, suspension system and firewall bear the brunt of the crash, which can lead to serious leg and foot injuries.
The Institute's test showed that there was a high risk of foot or leg injury in five top-tier vehicles. In both the C-Class and the Lexus IS, the crash dummy's right foot was lodged under the brake pedal.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration currently does not test for these crashes, according to the Institute.
"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," Institute President Adrian Lund said.
Small overlap crashes made up nearly a quarter of frontal crashes that caused serious injury or death, according to a 2009 study by the Institute, a non-profit supported by auto insurers.
Those models that fared the best in the test were the Acura TL built by Honda Motor Co and Volvo S60. Volvo is owned by China's Geely, parent of Geely Automotive Holdings Ltd.
One model, Nissan Motor Co's Infiniti G, earned an "acceptable."
Four models snagged a "marginal" score: the Acura TSX, the BMW 3 Series, Ford Motor Co's Lincoln MKZ and the Volkswagen CC.
In the test, part of the car's front end hit a 1.5-metre rigid barrier at 64kph.
The vehicles were rated in three areas: structural integrity, the effectiveness of the restraints and potential injuries.