Needless to say, the folks over at Smart USA were not pleased to see the results of the latest batch of crash testing from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The IIHS did a series of frontal offset crash tests between small and mid-size cars, one of which included a smart ForTwo versus a Mercedes C300. While the results may have been what most people expected, they don't correlate with the ForTwo's results in standardized tests where the IIHS rates the smart as good in front and side impacts. The feds at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration give the smart 4 stars on frontal impact and 5 on side impact.
The problem, as Smart USA sees it, is that the IIHS devised a test that no automaker has designed to and that they claim only represents about one percent of real world accidents. Smart has even set up a site for customer testimonials about the crash safety performance of their ForTwo. Typically in the past, Smarts have actually done quite well in similar vehicle-on-vehicle tests, such as the ones conducted by Mercedes and Auto Motor und Sport after the jump.
The fundamental issue is that car structures are very complex and their response in a crash is highly dependent on the precise nature of the vehicle-to-vehicle interface. Because of standardized tests, cars are optimized to perform well in those, just as the powertrain is optimized to maximize results on the EPA mileage tests. It's not clear at this point how the IIHS methodology varies from what has been done in the past and why the results are so much worse. One thing that's clear: this story is far from over.