The Most Dangerous Cars in America

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1. Ram 1500
> Make: Dodge
> Bad ratings: side-marginal; rollover-marginal
> 2011 sales: 156,983
> Price: $22,120
> JD Power Initial Quality: 2/5

Though Dodge has been offering the half-ton Ram 1500 since 1981, its safety track record has long been unimpressive. From 1998 through 2001, the truck received failing marks from IIHS in frontal offset tests, and was rated “poor” in protecting heads and left legs, as well as in restraining the crash test dummy. Though frontal offset ratings have since received “good” ratings from the IIHS, the vehicle’s side-impact and rollover ratings remain substandard. Curiously, it was the opposite in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tests. The agency found fault with the Ram’s performance on frontal impact tests but not with side impact tests. Despite safety concerns, the model has been selling well, and from 2007 to 2011 Dodge sold more than 100,000 trucks each year.

2. Colorado Crew Cab
> Make: Chevrolet
> Bad ratings: side-poor; rollover-marginal; rear-marginal
> 2011 sales: 31,026
> Price: $17,475
> JD Power Initial Quality: 3/5

The Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon crew cab are fundamentally the same light truck made by General Motors (NYSE: GM) with differing cosmetic features. The small pickup performed quite poorly in the IIHS tests, earning a “poor” side-impact grade and “marginal” grades for rollover and rear safety. Sales of the Colorado have been especially poor in recent years; GM sold 75,716 such cars in 2007 and only 31,026 in 2011. Making matters worse, a November, 2011, recall of 5,220 Colorados and Canyons due to seat belt safety concerns did not help either the brand’s sales or its safety record.

3. CX-7
> Make: Mazda
> Bad ratings: rollover-marginal; rear-marginal
> 2011 sales: 35,641
> Price: $22,190
> JD Power Initial Quality: 4/5

Although it will be replaced by the newer CX-5 model next year, the CX-7’s safety record certainly will not be remembered fondly. Despite “good” scores in front and side impact ratings, low grades in rollover and rear-impact measures go against perceptions that the CX-7 is a safe car to drive. Sales rose from about 20,000 in 2009 to 35,641 in 2011. Still, this is down from 2007 when 42,199 CX-7 cars were sold.

4. CX-9
> Make: Mazda
> Bad ratings: rollover-marginal; rear-marginal
> 2011 sales: 34,421
> Price: $29,725
> JD Power Initial Quality: 4/5

Assembled in Hiroshima, Japan, the Mazda CX-9 received “marginal” scores in both rollover and rear safety ratings. The CX-9 also had the lowest strength-to-weight ratio of all midsize SUVs tested by the IIHS. This ratio measures how much force a car’s roof can handle before it crushes five inches, and then it is divided by the weight of the car. Despite these poor ratings, the number of CX-9s sold increased from 25,484 in 2007 to 34,421 in 2011.

5. Pathfinder
> Make: Nissan
> Bad ratings: rollover-marginal; rear-marginal
> 2011 sales: 25,935
> Price: $29,290
> JD Power Initial Quality: 3/5

The Nissan Pathfinder earned “marginal” ratings in rollover and rear-impact testing from the IIHS. The Pathfinder’s performance in government rollover tests is likewise troubling, as it registered an estimated 20% to 30% risk of rolling over during testing. At a price of $29,290, the cost of a Pathfinder is similar to that of the Mazda CX-9 or the 4-door Jeep Wrangler. According to Edmunds sales figures, both these models have outsold the Pathfinder in the past three years.

6. Wrangler
> Make: Jeep
> Bad ratings: side-marginal (2-door), side-poor (4-door); rear-marginal (both)
> 2011 sales: 122,460 (all Wranglers), 46,803 (2-door), 75,657 (4-door)
> Price: $22,970 (2-door), $30,745 (4-door)
> JD Power Initial Quality: 3/5

With “marginal” ratings in side and rear-impact protection, the two-door Wrangler joins other SUVs, such as the CX-7, CX-9 and Pathfinder, as a poor performer in IIHS tests. One of the few car models that actually underperforms the two-door Jeep Wrangler is the larger four-door version. This version of the Wrangler also received a “marginal” rear-impact rating, yet was also given a “poor” side-impact rating. During a recent IIHS side-impact test, a dummy was struck by the steel bars supporting the four-door Wrangler’s convertible roof. Both of the models’ overall poor performance stems in part from the fact they were unable to protect the driver’s or back-seat passengers’ heads and other bodily parts in simulated accidents. Despite earning the lowest score of any mid-size SUV from Consumer Reports, the Wrangler still sells especially well with more than 120,000 sold in the U.S. in 2011.

7. SX4
> Make: Suzuki
> Bad ratings: rollover-marginal, rear-marginal
> 2011 sales: 12,520
> Price: $13,849
> JD Power Initial Quality: 2/5

The least-expensive car on this list, the Suzuki SX4 performed poorly in rollover and rear-test ratings. Among the more than 30 small cars tested by the IIHS, the SX4 was the only small car to receive two scores of “marginal” or “poor” out of four ratings. Similarly, the SX4 also received a “fair” rating, the second-lowest possible, in government side-crash testing. The model’s U.S. sales also have languished, falling from 30,166 in 2008 to 12,520 last year.

Michael B. Sauter