• Mar 7th 2008 at 8:49AM
  • 10
One of the arguments frequently made during debates over raising fuel economy standards is that it will force people to drive smaller, less safe cars. The theory is that in a collision between a larger heavier vehicle and a smaller lighter one the heavy one will always come off better. Reality is, as usual, far removed from theory. All modern vehicles are built to withstand the same standard collisions and modern small cars protect their occupants as well as larger vehicles and generally much better than an older larger vehicle. The team from the UK car show Fifth Gear decided to conduct a crash test between an early '90s Volvo 940 Wagon and a three-year-old Renault Modus.

The Modus is B-Class car and was the first such car to get a 5-star rating in the EuroNCAP tests. Volvos, on the other hand, have a long standing and largely deserved reputation for safety. While modern small cars may indeed sustain a substantial amount of damage in a crash as they dissipate the energy, they tend to do a very good job of protecting occupants. One other thing to keep in mind in such mixed crashes is that while the larger vehicle may have more momentum, the lighter car can also be shoved out of the way to some degree, also dissipating energy. Fifth Gear did a 40mph frontal offset test with the Renault and Volvo (that's an 80mph closing speed) and you can check out the video after the jump. There's also a video of a Smart ForTwo doing a similar crash with a Mercedes E-Class, with similar results. Don't be afraid to think small, it probably won't kill you.

[Source: YouTube, via Trollhattan Saab]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      BoomBoom, the test should have been two cars that are the same model year. If you took a big/heavy new car vs a small new car, I bet the results would be somewhat different. However, that Modus did much better than I would have thought. An eighty mph crash is a serious crash.
      • 7 Years Ago
      It's worth noting that in a crash between a small and large vehicle, there are chances for secondary accidents.

      For example, in both of these demos, the smaller car has been deflected into what would be another lane.

      On a single lane street, this means parked cars or sidewalks.

      On a dual or more lane street, this means going into the flow of traffic.

      The larger vehicle might be susceptible to an addition direct rearward hit from traffic directly behind, but does not appear to deflect heavily into any other lanes.

      The smaller vehicle would appear to be susceptible to additional side impacts in the rear area from parallel traffic in the other lanes, or from impacting parked vehicles, in addition to vehicles coming from directly behind the small vehicle, which would likely hit the front driver again.

      Thus, while it is impressive that these vehicles survive at all (and I am frankly not dissuaded from buying one partly due to this), there are always additional considerations in the potential results of an accident.

      Therefore, I am more interested in the better way to survive and accident - avoiding it in the first place.

      A smaller vehicle with sufficient power of acceleration and good driving dynamics has a much better chance of avoiding an accident than a larger vehicle, even if that larger vehicle has equivalent power-to-weight ratios and driving behavior.

      Thus the importance of performance in a safe vehicle.

      I have lost count of how many times the combination of driving attention, skill, and proper use of acceleration and direction have saved me from horrible accidents where another driver has veered into the wrong side of the road.
      • 7 Years Ago
      And let us not forget, the Smart was designed by a legendary company when it comes to engineering, Mercedes. If it were designed by GM...I don't even want to think of the carnage possible. No, that wasn't fair. I am sure GM would make a safe small car IF they could afford proper testing/research. But since they have dug themselves into a hole for the past 20-25 years while losing market share, no cash is available to design an entirely new vehicle. They have to use bits from one or all of the other models they already make---cheaper that way.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Yeah, Car safety is more complicated than that what people usually think. Weight or size are quite unimportant for vehicle safety. And Airbags and all the other nice gimmicks are just secondary stuff.
      Most important is passive safety:
      Good crumple zone placement and configuration and a rigid passenger cell are the most important part of good safety.

      The only real problem is what EURONCAP doesn't test:
      Crash compatibility: In order to keep a crash between a big car (SUV, Truck, Bus) and a small car safe, the bigger car needs softer deformation zones than the smaller car.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I'm happy to see folks undermining the myth of SUV drivers that their cars are safer. They're bigger, heavier and feel safer, but modern crash tests don't support that feeling.
      • 7 Years Ago
      New big/heavy cars DO tend to be more safe for the passengers on the big cars. In small car if you design it well it can be just as safe. Now the problem in big cars is compatibility between cars of different sizes. The difference in weight between cars is what kills in crashes. That means crashing two big cars you will tend to do ok. crashing two small cars you will tend to do ok. But if you crash a small car with a big car, assuming they have the same level of design, the big car WILL do better and the small car worst. That's why it's safer overall to have people drive cars of similar sizes and with compatible crash zones.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The more gas goes up, the more likely people are to dump (or at least minimally drive) the big vehicles... thus most of the vehicles on the road will be smaller more fuel effecient ones anyway. Then the likely hood of Large vs Small goes way down in favor of Small vs Small.... or in reality Anything vs "yahoo on the cell phone"
      • 7 Years Ago
      "Don't be afraid to think small, it probably won't kill you."
      I don't think we will be seeing that on any billboards.
      • 7 Years Ago
      NCAP Crash Scores Audi A2 v Audi Q7:

      Interesting to see the new supersizeme Q7 gets same score as little old A2 for driver protection:

      • 7 Years Ago
      BTW: Two weeks or so ago EuroNCAP published the results of some pickups. The Nissan Navara and Isuzu D-Max are really bad:

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