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In a crash test of 11 of the smallest cars on the market, only one vehicle received an acceptable rating. The rest received marginal or poor ratings in the study, providing evidence that supports a widely held notion that smaller cars are among the least safe on the road.

No other vehicle group has performed as poorly on a new crash test than these mini cars, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the nonprofit group that conducted the testing. The latest results of which were released Wednesday. The Chevrolet Spark was the only car earning an overall "acceptable" rating on the small-front overlap test, and even that vehicle had its shortcomings, IIHS said.

"Small lightweight vehicles have an inherent safety disadvantage," said Joe Nolan, the senior vice president for vehicle research at IIHS. "That's why it's even more important to choose one with the best occupant protection. Unfortunately, as a group, minicars aren't performing as well as other vehicle categories."

The Mazda2, Kia Rio, Toyota Yaris and certain Ford Fiesta models all received "marginal" overall grades on the test, while the Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Versa, Toyota Prius C, Hyundai Accent, Fiat 500 and Honda Fit all earned "poor" ratings.

Results from these sub-compact cars fare much worse than vehicles sized just a little bit bigger, IIHS said. Among 17 cars evaluated in the small category, five earned "good" ratings and five more earned "acceptable."

Only introduced a year ago, the small-front overlap test has quickly become a key indicator of differences in automotive safety. IIHS introduced it as a way to replicate what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with a tree or utility pole at 40 miles per hour. In the real world, these sorts of accidents are more dangerous than others, in part because they bypass the front-end crush zones on most cars.

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Automakers have been rushing to make design changes to the front ends of their cars. Without a grade of acceptable or better, they cannot qualify for the IIHS' overall Top Safety Pick+ honor, given annually to the safest models on the market.

The 2014 Spark earned IIHS's second-highest honor, Top Safety Pick, last month, and its best-in-segment ranking in the small front-overlap will continue to help it stand out with safety-conscious customers.

Safety is "paramount to us, and this shows this is a vehicle you can feel safe putting your family in," said Chevy spokesperson Annalisa Bluhm. "Having IIHS rank us as a Top Safety Pick in December, and now ranking above the class, I think it just resonates how large our commitment to safety is."

Yet even the best vehicle in the class has shortcomings. It received a "marginal" grade in the structural category, though no mini car fared any better. Consumers should remember, IIHS cautioned, that the Spark still weighs less than 2,500 pounds and cannot be compared to heavier cars.

The two worst performers on the latest round of testing were the Honda Fit and Fiat 500, IIHS said. Crash-test dummies sustained injuries to both legs in those vehicles and the driver's space was "seriously compromised."

In the case of the Fit, IIHS said the dummy's head barely contacted the front airbag before sliding off and hitting the dashboard. In the Fiat 500, the driver's door opened, exposing occupants to the risk of being ejected.

"The latest results of the IIHS small overlap test confirm just how difficult it is to maintain passenger cabin integrity in a mini car," said Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. " ... It rests with the automakers of these models to upgrade their structural integrity while maintaining the low purchase price that defines the category."

Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at peter.bigelow@teamaol.com.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 1 Year Ago
      The SMART brand, ForTwo wasn't reviewed in this article, And it makes me believe that somebody's funding this biased Review. You can't say Only one brand of Small car holds up well in crashes if you haven't reviewed them all. Smart cars are amazing innovations and I don't really care what your reviews say, I'll Drive Mine to the end of time. The car is only as Safe as the Person behind the wheel. It's true some are fashioned to be safer, but in the end We over look the obvious point staring us in the face: ALL CARS ARE DEATH TRAPS! Some just pretend to be safer than others. Post script: I Drive a Smart fortwo.
      • 1 Year Ago
      And this is a surprise ?
      • 1 Year Ago
      In my opinion, there is another component of safety that is not calculated in the matter of large -v- small which is the driver's mentality. The drivers of behemoth trucks, cars, SUVs are very aggressive because of the perception of superiority. Being within a compact car is factually not as safe as a large car, but add the component of a bully behind a wheel of a tank, the safety factor is decreased in a compact car.
        • 1 Year Ago
        I will remember to remind them how much of a bully I think they are .I have been in accident while sitting at a light.By the way, Good thing I was in a PU .Because the Girl who hit me. Was in a Compact car.She walked away and I went to the hospital .Her car was towed and my PU was still drive able .Maybe if she had just hit the breaks .She could have driven home. No cure for Stupid is there?
          • 1 Year Ago
          Good thing she was driving a compact. I still drive cars that will survive a crash .My Life is worth more than afew extra stops to the pump.Stop driving Go karts with windows. Along with golf carts ,Which are being charged by Coal fired electric power plants.
          • 1 Year Ago
          Size is all relative. I've seen big Dodge Rams and F-150's get obliterated by semis and 10-ton trucks because the driver had a sense of invulnerability and wasn't paying as close attention as he should have. Your big pickup will crumple like a tin can in an accident with a real big rig. Those drivers didn't walk away either and many didn't make it out of the hospital. Defensive, safe, and courteous driving is the key. But even that only goes so far. Bigger is safer, but it won't make you immortal.
      • 1 Year Ago
      if u r over 40 u probally know the smaller cars r the death traps......i will pay the gas price to have my larger car. TRUE---i DONT DRIVE 50 MLES TO WORK BUT I THINK I WOULD STAY IN LARGER CAR and I do.
      • 1 Year Ago
      my 76 v.w. bus probably would do better just cause of the sheet metal guage its built with, it not a tin can
        • 1 Year Ago
        No, because of the lack of airbags and other safety features, you would probably be sliced to pieces by the metal and glass.
      • 1 Year Ago
      yeah, there should be more laws controlling what other Kwrap people have too. then we can add one more thing that " those we elect to be smarter than us" can cross off their list to legislate. that way they can get on to the next "thing" to control.
      • 1 Year Ago
      My daughter recently had an hit a telephone pole with our Accent. The front of the car was smashed half way up to the windshield and no one in the car got seriously hurt. the test on this vehicle is bodus.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Interesting report, I have a Prius and hit a tire stuck in the middle of I-75 head on going 80 MPHand didn't sustain much damage, the large SUV behind me hit it and was totaled.
      • 1 Year Ago
      I like these reports but is it too much to ask that we be given a real 1-2-3 list as to how these cars rank in performance. Marginal? In what way. Please know that we are intelligent enough to know there is no way a smaller car is going to be as wreck worthy as one twice it's size. Add to that driver skill, caution and driving defensively has much to do with avoiding collisions.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Soon we won't need tow trucks, just one big giant sponge.
      • 1 Year Ago
      It also depends on what you hit, or what hit your vehicle.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Ah, but they get good gas mileage! I've seen a "Smart" car get into a fight with an SUV ... not pretty. That's why I won't give up my gas guzzling SUV; I have a strong survival instinct.
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