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Only one small car out of 12 tested earned a good grade in the latest round of crash-test results compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Mini Cooper Countryman received a "good" ranking on the organization's small-front overlap test.

Its competitors in the small-car segment didn't do nearly as well. Four vehicles earned "poor" grades, including the all-electric Nissan Leaf and Juke, the Mazda5 and the Fiat 500L, and two more earned marginal scores.

Introduced two years ago, the small front overlap test has been a difficult one for automakers to master, particularly so for small cars, which have less weight to absorb the forces of a car accident. So far, IIHS has tested 32 vehicles in the small-car segment and 13 have earned marginal or poor scores. On the flip side, 19 earned good or acceptable scores.

"Consumers trading the inherent safety of a larger vehicle for the convenience or fuel economy of a small car should focus their search on these vehicles with state-of-the-art safety designs," said Joe Nolan, senior vice president for vehicle research at IIHS.

The small front overlap test simulates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with a stationery object, like a tree or utility pole. They're difficult ones for vehicles to handle, because the crash forces typically bypass safety structures and a car's front-end crush zone. Unfettered, those forces can push into the cabin and injure motorists.

Three green-friendly cars were among those tested in the latest round, making Wednesday's results key ones for consumers mulling a plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle.

Of these three, the Chevrolet Volt did best, earning an "acceptable" score overall and good or acceptable ratings for the way its structure and restraints functioned and protection of the crash-test dummy. An acceptable score on this test allows the Volt to keep its Top Safety Pick+ title from IIHS, the nonprofit safety organization's highest overall honor.

To earn that title, a vehicle must receive a good or acceptable rating on the small-front overlap test and a good rating on four others in the battery of IIHS tests, including moderate-front overlap testing and side impact. The Volt is the only small car in the latest round of tests to earn the Top Safety Pick+ title.

The Ford C-Max Hybrid also earned an acceptable ranking in Wednesday's results, though it received a "marginal" mark for its structure. The all-electric Nissan Leaf was a "poor" performer. In the Leaf, the crash-test dummy was exposed to 16 inches of intrusion in the lower occupant compartment and 14 inches in the upper occupant compartment.

IIHS notes that "the instrument panel, parking brake pedal and steering column were all pushed back toward the driver. Injuries to the left knee and lower left leg would be likely in a crash of this severity, and injuries to the left thigh would be possible."

"Electric vehicles have a unique challenge in the small overlap test because of their heavy batteries," Nolan said.

The Leaf wasn't the only Nissan vehicle to earn a poor grade. Researchers also recorded significant intrusion into the occupant compartment in the Juke, which was the 100th vehicle put through he small-front overlap test back in March. To mark that milestone, IIHS invited Autoblog to its Ruckersville, Virginia headquarters to watch the crash testing.

Although there were no results to share at that time, we noted in our behind-the-scenes look at the Juke test that the dashboard and airbag had shifted several centimeters out of position and that the structure around the lower part of the cabin had buckled. The dummy's feet weren't entirely trapped, but it took several technicians more than an hour to extricate the dummy from the car.

But the real clunker among Wednesday's results was the Madza5. IIHS says it's one of the three worst cars ever tested in the small-car tests, along with the 2014 Kia Forte and the 2012 Prius V.

"When we tested the Mazda5, we saw a host of structural and restraint system problems," Nolan said. "Parts of the occupant compartment essentially buckled, allowing way too much intrusion."

Injury measurements indicate that in a real-world crash, an occupant would have a high risk of injuries to the left thigh and leg. The steering wheel moved so far to the right that the crash-test dummy's head slid off the airbag and impacted the left side of the dashboard.

Worse, the side curtain airbags never deployed, exposing the dummy's head to contact with side structures and outside objects. The driver's door unlatched during the test too. IIHS said "that's something that shouldn't happen, and puts occupants at risk of being ejected from the vehicle."

It's the latest disconcerting crash-test result for the Mazda5. Previously, the car had earned the dubious distinction of being the only 2014 car tested from any segment to earn less than an acceptable rating on the organization's side-impact test.

"Most models earn a good rating," IIHS noted. On that Mazda5 test, measurements taken from the driver showed a likely pelvis fracture, and measurements from rear passengers showed that rib fractures and other internal organ injuries would be possible in a crash of that severity. It earned a "marginal" score.

This article originally appeared on Autoblog.

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  • 110 Comments
      atabak3701
      • 11 Months Ago
      Why is it that every car has to meet highway crash tests? High speed crash protection is where the money is spent for crash safety. Why can't we just have some small cars that are restricted to lower speeds, say 35 mph? These could be our commuter vehicles and the ones we use for local driving. Lets face it. If you are willing to race a bicycle down a hill at 40 mph or more with a cheesy helmet as your only crash protection, why do you need all this crash protection for the steel box that travels next to the bicycle?
        mhdjl
        • 11 Months Ago
        @atabak3701
        Do you really expect commuters travelling to cities from the suburbs to only drive at 35 mph? It's one thing if the vehicle is only going to be used on city streets, but most commuters drive on highways with speed limits of 55 - 65 mph.
      neternms
      • 11 Months Ago
      Anyone that thinks they just don't build them like they use to, should watch this video. 2009 Malibu vs 1959 Bel Air crash test http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtxd27jlZ_g
      dkp50
      • 11 Months Ago
      Sorry, But SIZE DOES MATTER.. The smallest car we ever drove was a Camaro back in the 60's & 70's and that was for fun Either Buy a SUV or Get a Pick Up Truck ! Spend $500 yr more on gas to be A Heck of alot Safer and get a V6 in it if speed is less Important than Gas Mileage.. If have a Small Tin Can Car? Just don't go taking it out on the Hwy's ..stay in the City Streets were they were designed For.. and for the $ they want for those Little cars? They're NUTS ! They're worth 50%/Half that much ! Don't be a Sucker !
      Bob Martine
      • 11 Months Ago
      What the hell does IIHS stand for?????????????????????????????????/
        • 11 Months Ago
        @Bob Martine
        Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
        Lita
        • 11 Months Ago
        @Bob Martine
        How frightening that you were sitting at a keyboard with access to the Internet (in order to post this), but not bright enough to google IIHS.
      Lois
      • 11 Months Ago
      Bring back the steel bumpers..Plastic bumpers asre killing us..
        neternms
        • 11 Months Ago
        @Lois
        All modern cars have a metal bumper under the plastic bumper. That plastic part you see is just a cover. This is a Grand Prix without its rear bumper. http://i243.photobucket.com/albums/ff171/palsut/rearbumper31.jpg
      Pearl
      • 11 Months Ago
      Just maybe my next little car will be a mini cooper.
      • 11 Months Ago
      Seriously, how much protection could be built into a golf cart with a roof? These cars should not even be allowed on the local streets much less Interstates. Who in their right mind will drive a "SmartCar" on an Interstate, thinking that if they are involved in a wreck that they will survive?
      max11222
      • 11 Months Ago
      Of course you forgot the SMART car again for obvious reasons...... IT IS THE SAFEST SMALL CAR AND EVEN BEATS MANY DOMESTICS
        bdgrizcp
        • 11 Months Ago
        @max11222
        They also make a great hood ornament for my Ford F-350 pick-up. The wife keeps one in the back of her Hummer in case she has a breakdown.
        • 11 Months Ago
        @max11222
        That's because a Smart Car is not a SMALL car, but a MICRO car. follow the link to the IIHS for all the results, including micro cars, or SUVs etc. You can search by Manufacturer.
          tmachine2
          • 11 Months Ago
          You'd never catch me in a Smart Car. I'd rather be riding a motorcycle w/o a helmet before I would ride in a sardine can.
      Clyek
      • 11 Months Ago
      If you are wearing a seat belt, how do your get ejected from a vehicle?
      snhhert
      • 11 Months Ago
      Just stop running into each other and everyone will be fine. Everyone's in a huge hurry. Young Asian drivers are the worst.
        pagifal
        • 11 Months Ago
        @snhhert
        Asian drivers? You ought to drive in the Denver area where there are a lot of Mexicans driving. Especially the young female drivers who are so short they have to look through the steering wheel and they drive like there is no tomorrow. Scary.
      crfcron
      • 11 Months Ago
      Don't sell the old car's short on speed My Plymouth Fury was Made of steel & Iron with a 360 V8 and had it clocked over 123.9 MPH by a Trooper on the Maine Turnpike Old cars were not slow my 1957 Impala chevy small block V8 was no slow poke either even my 1977 slant Six cylinder Plymouth wagon would do an honest 105 mph with no problem , the Gas was onlt 28 to 35 cents a gallon in those days but most of my cars if you kept the speed limit got at least 17 mph city and 20 on the hiway . at least they all had strong Steel Bumpers and a Frame structure for safety
      Irish
      • 11 Months Ago
      New cars are built for speed. Older cars are built for safety. Which would you rather have?
        Mark
        • 11 Months Ago
        @Irish
        Safety, especially when I have my son in the car. I see a lot of young drivers in these new small sporty cars speeding foolishly. I've seen first hand what happens to these little plastic sport cars. Texting, talking on the phone, laughing when they cause a near accident. Some just don't get it. I only drive a truck or my favorite is a big old Lincoln. My 2000 Lincoln TC Touring Edition rides like a dream, gets decent gas MPG. You can find them all day cheap with low miles. I buy them from Older folks who've become too old to drive safely or pass.
        neternms
        • 11 Months Ago
        @Irish
        Old cars were built with old technology. Simple as that. When you compare the two, old cars a clearly unsafe by today's standards. I'd take a new car all day long. Check out this video for proof. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtxd27jlZ_g
          hrdchgr69
          • 11 Months Ago
          @neternms
          add air bags to older cars and the comparison has the newer cars fade away (or totally disintegrate when they hit something , leaving you with nothing around you to protect you !!)
          neternms
          • 11 Months Ago
          @neternms
          It has nothing to do with airbags. Watch the video. The important thing to note is the overall movement of the dash and steering wheel in the Bel Air. In the 2009 Malibu, you don't have that kind of movement. The new cars are built to act as a bubble around the occupants compartment. Everything else is meant to absorb the impact. All the airbags do are prevent the occupants from smacking their head off of hard objects (steering wheel, A-pillar, B-pillar). If you put airbags in older cars, that steering wheel still is moving 1-2 feet inward right into your chest, that dash is also coming at you breaking your legs or worse. Here's the link again, if you missed it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtxd27jlZ_g
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