Insurance Institute: Most Minicars Flunk Frontal Crash Test

Another batch of cars fell short in the latest frontal crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which said Tuesday that nearly all 11 minicar models that were tested failed with either “marginal” or “poor” ratings.

The Chevrolet Spark was the only minicar model to perform well, obtaining an “acceptable” rating in the small overlap frontal crash test, along with the IIHS Top Safety Pick for 2014 award.

Here is the list of crash-tested minicars and their overall ratings for the small overlap test:

Acceptable Overall Rating

Chevrolet Spark

Marginal Overall Rating

Mazda 2

Kia Rio

Toyota Yaris

2014 Ford Fiesta (built after August 2013)

Poor Overall Rating

2014 Mitsubishi Mirage

Nissan Versa sedan

Toyota Prius c

Hyundai Accent

Fiat 500

Honda Fit

The small overlap test recreates a crash in which a car’s front corner strikes a stationary object at 40 mph.

The small overlap test is a “more difficult” follow-up to the Institute’s “moderate overlap test” because it assesses safety when “most of the vehicle’s front-end crush zone is bypassed,” the Institute said in its report.

“That makes it hard for the vehicle to manage crash energy, and the occupant compartment can collapse as a result,” the report said.

Institute’s More ‘Rigorous’ Standards Include Small Overlap Crash Tests

Adrian Lund, president of IIHS, said that introducing the small overlap test was part of a push to harden standards. The Institute sought to make obtaining its highest distinctions “more difficult for manufacturers,” which often use the Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ awards to advertise their latest car models.

A car model’s safety ratings play an indirect role in insurance costs, which car insurers determine more through relying on claims trend data and driving history than through awards from independent organizations.

Even still, those top safety awards are valued among carmakers and the Institute’s more ‘rigorous’ standards have reshaped the list of car models that receive them.

There were significantly fewer models in the crop of Top Safety Pick+ and Top Safety Pick vehicles that the Institute announced last month.

A number of car types, including small SUVs and midsized vehicles, have suffered in test ratings since the Institute introduced its small overlap crash in 2012.

Models tested in the minicar group fared even worse than most other car types.

Minicars mostly flunked tests for “structure,” which the Institute said rates the “most fundamental element of occupant protection” that can collapse in a crash, dislodging everything from airbags to car doors to seats to steering wheels; all those items can cause serious injury to occupants when loosed during a crash.

“Small, lightweight vehicles have an inherent safety disadvantage,” Joe Nolan, senior vice president for vehicle research at the Institute, said. “That’s why it’s even more important to choose one with the best occupant protection.”

Chevy Spark Noted; Honda Fit, Fiat 500 are Two ‘Worst Performers’

The highest-rated minicar, Chevrolet’s Spark, obtained its acceptable overall rating in the small overlap test largely on how the car model mitigated chances of injury.

Crash test dummies in the Spark returned “good” ratings for all body regions, which include the “head & neck,” “chest,” “hip & thigh,” and “lower leg & foot,” the last of which is typically the hardest area to protect in small overlap crashes, according to the IIHS.

“The dummy’s movement was fairly well controlled and its injury measures were low,” the Institute said about the Spark.

On the other hand, 9 of the 11 tested minicar models were either “poor” or “marginal” in protecting the lower legs and feet.

The Fiat 500 and Honda Fit, which the Institute called the two “worst performers” among minicars in the small overlap test, actually showed “elevated injury risk to the right leg,” according to the IIHS.

Small overlap crashes with the Fiat 500 and Honda Fit sent steering columns “back toward the driver.” The Institute also said that tests showed that hinges to the 500’s driver door broke, showing the risk that “the driver could be partially or completely ejected.”


About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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