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Muscle cars do poorly in IIHS crash tests

They may be some of the fastest and coolest cars on the road, but do they have the safety equipment to match their performance? Not necessarily, according to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash tests of the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Dodge Challenger.

None of these cars earned the “Top Safety Pick” rating, which is the IIHS’ top rating for crashworthiness, although the Mustang came close. The IIHS also awards a “Top Safety Pick+” rating for vehicles with collision avoidance systems like automatic braking, but none of the cars qualified for that either. The Mustang and Challenger only have rudimentary systems, while the Camaro doesn’t offer one at all.

Both the Mustang and Challenger earned five-star overall ratings from the federal government (the Camaro hasn’t been rated yet), but IIHS tests are a bit more stringent. They include a small frontal overall test introduced in 2012 to simulate an off-center collision with a narrow object like a tree or utility pole. In this test, the Camaro earned the top “good” rating, the Mustang was rated “acceptable,” while the Challenger was rated “marginal.”

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The Challenger performed particularly poorly in the small overlap test. The crash forced its driver’s side front wheel rearward, causing “intrusion” into the passenger space. The crash test dummy’s left foot was trapped, and technicians had to unbolt the leg in order to free the dummy. That has only happened five other times since IIHS began running the small overlap test, said IIHS president Adrian Lund. Analysis of the dummy indicated a “high likelihood” of serious leg injuries.

The Camaro did much better, keeping its passenger compartment intact, while some “intrusion” by the door hinge pillar and instrumental panel was noted in the Mustang. The Camaro was redesigned for the 2016 model year, while the Mustang was redesigned for 2015. The Challenger was updated for 2015, but it hasn’t been fully redesigned since the current-generation model appeared in 2008. All three cars tested had V8 engines.

The IIHS doesn’t normally test muscle cars or sports cars, because they make up a small share of the market (and crash tests are expensive). Nonetheless, sports cars experience the highest losses among passenger vehicles for crash damage repairs under collision coverage, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute. Their drivers are also more likely to engage in risky behavior. No one buys a Mustang, Camaro, or Challenger to go slow, after all.