IIHS minicar small-overlap testingThe Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and its challenging small-overlap crash test have passed judgment. In testing of nearly a dozen minicars, only one vehicle scored an acceptable rating on the ultra-tough test, which was instituted in August 2012.

The Chevrolet Spark was the only car out of 11 to net an "Acceptable" rating in the small-overlap test and the only one to be named a 2014 Top Safety Pick. The IIHS has four rating levels - Poor, Marginal, Acceptable and Good.

The Mazda2, Kia Rio, Toyota Yaris and 2014 Ford Fiesta all netted "Marginal" scores on the small-overlap test, while the 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Versa, Toyota Prius C, Hyundai Accent, Fiat 500 and Honda Fit all netted "Poor" ratings. We've posted the full score result sheet to the right.

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

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Minicars fall short for small overlap frontal protection

ARLINGTON, Va. - Only 1 minicar out of 11 tested achieves an acceptable rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's small overlap front crash test, making these tiny vehicles the worst performing group of any evaluated so far.

The Chevrolet Spark's acceptable rating in the test, along with good ratings in the Institute's four other crashworthiness evaluations, earns the new minicar a 2014 TOP SAFETY PICK award. The Spark was among the initial award winners announced in December. The new small overlap test results for the rest of the minicar group mean that no other models in this size category join the Spark in the winner's circle yet.

Introduced in 2012, the small overlap test replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or utility pole. In the test, 25 percent of a vehicle's front end on the driver's side strikes a rigid barrier at 40 mph.

The test is more difficult than the head-on crashes conducted by the government or the longstanding IIHS moderate overlap test because most of the vehicle's front-end crush zone is bypassed. That makes it hard for the vehicle to manage crash energy, and the occupant compartment can collapse as a result. Nevertheless, in many size categories, manufacturers have found ways to improve vehicle structures to meet this challenge.

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

In contrast to the minicar group's performance, most models in the small car category, which are a little larger, have done much better in the test. There are five good ratings and five acceptable ratings among 17 small cars that have been evaluated so far.

Looking at the component ratings that make up the overall marks, every minicar, including the Spark, rates marginal or poor for structure, the most fundamental element of occupant protection. When a vehicle's structure doesn't hold up, injury risk is high. Collapsing structures can knock frontal airbags and seats out of position, exacerbating the problem.

All the vehicles except the Spark and the Mazda 2 also earn low ratings for restraints and kinematics. Seven of the 11 were downgraded for allowing too much occupant forward motion during the crash. In these cases, either the safety belt didn't do a good enough job holding the dummy in place, or the dummy's head missed or slid off the frontal airbag. The side curtain airbag, which has an important role to play in small overlap frontal crashes, provided insufficient forward coverage in eight of the minicars and didn't deploy at all in the Toyota Yaris. In many models, the steering column moved sideways, and in three cars the seat tipped.

The two worst performers are the Honda Fit and the Fiat 500. In both cases, intruding structure seriously compromised the driver's space, and the steering column was pushed back toward the driver. In the case of the Fit, the dummy's head barely contacted the frontal airbag before sliding off and hitting the instrument panel. During the test of the 500, the driver door opened after the hinges tore. An open door creates a risk that the driver could be partially or completely ejected.

Injury measures on the dummy's left legs are marginal or poor for many models. In most cases, potential injuries involved the lower leg, but the Fit, 500 and Hyundai Accent were downgraded for left thigh or hip injury. The Fit and 500 were the only vehicles to record elevated injury risk to the right leg as well.

Despite its marginal structure, the Spark achieves an acceptable overall rating because the dummy's movement was fairly well controlled and its injury measures were low. The Spark is the only vehicle with good injury measures for all body regions, including the lower leg and foot, generally a problematic area in the small overlap test. This may be related to the fact that the structure around the lower part of the occupant compartment held up better than other minicars, despite intrusion in the upper part.

Consumers should remember that the Spark, while offering more small overlap protection than other minicars, weighs less than 2,500 pounds and doesn't protect as well as a larger and heavier vehicle with a comparable rating. Frontal crash test results can't be compared across weight classes.

In addition, neither the Spark nor the other minicars in the test group offer front crash prevention, an increasingly common safety feature that can prevent or mitigate some kinds of frontal crashes. For 2014, vehicles must be available with front crash prevention to qualify for the highest safety award from IIHS, TOP SAFETY PICK+.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 1 Year Ago
      I witnessed my first accident as a newly minted driver 40 years ago. A trailer truck rear-ended another trailer truck with one small (became even smaller) car caught in between. This happened on the highway. State police couldn't identify the type or make of the car nor could they immediately identify how many bodies were in the car. It was a horrific mess. I learned then, physics is unforgiving, never travel between two 18 wheelers, mind your distance, and drive as if you have a giant "hit me" target painted on your vehicle. Be safe.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Let me put it this way: subcompacts are more nimble and present a smaller target, makng emergency collision avoidance maneuvers easier and safer.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Where`s Chevy Sonic? It`s Fiesta`s rival and I`m curious about it.
      Aurio Salimonne
      • 1 Year Ago
      One of the main accident problems is education,education is free of charge and you just have to paid close attention when driving,
      Travis C. Vasconcelo
      A small car is a lifestyle choice that one makes. If they are educated to the risks, they will do what is necessary to protect themselves from them. This wouldn't stop me from purchasing one of them. I drive a Miata as a daily driver, so I understand the need to drive hyper defensively . The IIHS makes up these tests and conduct them purely to validate the raising of rates. Lets face if folks, it is a lot cheaper to purchase and wreck a car than to pay speakers to go out there to do their bidding for them. Personally, I think the responsibility is on the operator of the motor vehicle (I know, what a foreign concept…responsibility!) and the Insurance industry should be regulated to the point the rates are based on the individual and their driving record, not the vehicle itself.
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Travis C. Vasconcelo
        problem today is people are more distracted driving....regardless of what car/truck/suv or its size. Traction control, ABS, stability control, back up sensors/camera, self parking cars, now accident avoidance....people actually forgot HOW to drive....you are one of the few that drives hyper defensively. I drive small trucks, full size trucks and compact car. depends on what i need for that day/week/month. I dont try to tow a 10k trailer and off road vehicle with my 2011 Corolla S.. i will use my F350 Dually crewcab diesel...but you are 100% correct.....its up to the DRIVER!!!
      • 1 Year Ago
      It be interesting to see engineers come up with in the future for this type of crash. It seems like a difficult challenge,even for some larger cars just got marginal ratings too. But smaller cars got less space to work with to absorb impacts I imagine. Maybe more reinforcement around the passenger area and front bulkhead? And if one is in a situation that a crash is imminent, I say aim where the full front of the car as much as possible. Make best in a worst situation.
      • 1 Year Ago
      - Many small cars received perfect IIHS safety ratings... http://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/v/class-summary/small-cars -
      • 1 Year Ago
      One of the characteristics of minicars should be decreased overall mass. It looks as if many minicars are simply scaled down version of a manufacturer's small cars. The small Chevrolet that 'passed' is actually based upon a Korean design that wasn't engineered for this type of test. If the mass of the car behind the engine were decreased there would be less energy to absorb in a crumple zone. With the newer steel alloys being used this degree of damage is likely not repairable to as new condition; i.e. as safe as the new car. In addition, why are minicars being designed to sat 4 or 5? Here is an idea. Stop purchasing 5 passenger vehicles since most of the time the rear seat is rarely used. Rent a 4 or 5 passenger vehicle when you actually need it rather than drag all that useless weight around with you when you or one other are the only people in the car. Then the car that you do purchase could be smaller, weigh less, be more fuel efficient and be more survivable during an impact.
        • 1 Year Ago
        So your saying everyone needs to buy and drive smart cars? Sorry but that would not due, and in my case NOT on your life. I am sure that a Smart or super micro car would have taken the 12 inches of snow and the 8 below degrees better than my 4x4 Silverado. Rent a bigger car every time you need to haul more than 2 people? I had an accedent over a year ago and it took me 3 days to get a rental, and the nearest rental place to me is a 90 mile round trip. Also a 2012 Smart compared to a 2012 Sonic. So it is safer for a car to only have a 70 HP 68 Lb/Ft of torque motor to merge onto an interstate, than a 138 hp 125 LB/FT torque motor. NO IT IS NOT! So by your standards my wife should rent a car for one day per week when she stops after work to get groceries because the smart only has 7.8 cubic feet of cargo. You have to remember that you will never get rid of trucks (semi\'s, and pick-ups) people have to have them, like me. So now you will say I should have 2 vehicles, because i need a pick-up and a small car. Oh wait I can just rent a truck, but rental places realy do not like people towing with their vehicles that is why it is so hard to get one hence the 3 day wait i mentioned before. So if for say my family decides to go out to eat then we either have to wait 1-3 days for a car to do it, take 2 cars, or just jump in and go. Let\'s see JUMP IN AND GO SOUNDS WAY BETTER! You are not all there. You are not thinking what other people have to do or need. You have differant needs than me, what would work for you may not work for me. I also must state that a 2012 Smart car was only about $1300 cheaper than a Sonic with no A/C get A/C and they were about the same price
      Avinash Machado
      • 1 Year Ago
      Kudos Chevy.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Good reason to buy that F-150
      Jim R
      • 1 Year Ago
      The solution is obvious. We need to ban any car weighing more than 2,500 pounds. These dangerous assault cars are threatening our lives and our children. Our CHILDREN! Think of the CHILDREN! We have to do this so they'll be safe! Nobody needs a car that large anyway! You don't like this plan to save our children? You must be one of those evil rich jackasses that like to show off how much better you are than everyone else. You could stand to be taken down a peg. When you're forced to drive the same little car as all your underpaid employees maybe you'll understand their plight and take a pay cut, you empty corporate suit! BAN ASSAULT CARS!
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Jim R
        I can't tell if you're serious.....but i'm really hoping you aren't
          • 1 Year Ago
          He's still trying to piggy back jokes off the gun debate. Jokes which were never really funny to begin with.
      Cadillac Jack
      • 1 Year Ago
      "Chevy Runs Deep" You'll be deep, six feet under!
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Cadillac Jack
        The Chevy Spark performed the best.
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Cadillac Jack
        Well at least the Chevy, was the only car out of the eleven, to score an acceptable rating. While the other cars scored a lower marginal rating.
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