The Transportation Department is raising the bar on crash tests for new vehicles. It’s expected that upgrades in its 5-Star Safety Rating system will make it more difficult for new vehicles to earn top scores of five stars. Consumers use the so-called “Stars on Cars” system to assess and compare a vehicle’s safety value, which is posted on window stickers on cars and trucks in dealer lots.

Initial tests of 34 vehicles under the new standards found only two that meet them: the 2011 BMW 5 Series, and a version of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata. Most vehicles received 4 stars.

The Toyota Camry, the best-selling passenger car in the United States, received three stars overall and the compact Nissan Versa got two stars overall, underscoring the challenges of the new system.

Camrys from the 2010 model year received five stars in both front and side testing while 2010 versions of the Versa got four stars in front and side testing. Toyota said it anticipated the ratings for Camry could drop even if the vehicle’s design had not changed between model years. Toyota engineers are “investigating measures to further enhance safety performance” for Camry, the company said. Nissan said its customers receive “good real-world safety protection” in the Versa but that it would study the test results.

The program, which evaluates vehicles on front-end and side-impact crashes and rollovers, was started in 1979 and has helped generate interest in safety equipment such as side-impact air bags and anti-rollover technology. The government decided to revamp it for the 2011 model year because too many vehicles were getting top marks, making it difficult to distinguish the best performers.

To check out the list of vehicles tested so far under the newly upgraded rating system visit:

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