The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s decision to implement the small overlap frontal collision test has proven troubling for automakers, since despite being one of the more common types of accidents, its also one of the hardest to protect against — or so it would seem. The test involves running the vehicle into an obstacle at about 40 miles per hour in such a way that a portion of the front end of the car (about 25 percent on the driver’s side) is impacted to simulate a partial head-on collision with a telephone pole, another car, or what have you.
The test was originally instituted in August 2012, and since then, automakers have been scrambling to fall into compliance with the new trial. One particular class of vehicle, the minicar, seems to be having more trouble than usual, though perhaps expectedly, as this class offers the least amount of room between the occupants and the front of the car.
With a rating system of Poor, Marginal, Acceptable, and Good, only one vehicle was able to pull an Acceptable rating — and that was the highest of the class. ”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, the IIHS’s senior vice president for vehicle research, in a statement. “Unfortunately, as a group, minicars aren’t performing as well as other vehicle categories in the small overlap crash.”
“Looking at the component ratings that make up the overall marks, every minicar … rates marginal or poor for structure, the most fundamental element of occupant protection,” the agency’s statement reads. “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.” IIHS concluded by noting that “frontal crash test results can’t be compared across weight classes,” so the ratings seen here cannot be extrapolated to larger models.
Here are the 11 minicars that IIHS tested and how they fared in this difficult test. The following are ranked alphabetically.
1. Chevrolet Spark
Believe it or not, the Chevrolet Spark was actually the best-performing car of the lot, racking up an Acceptable rating from the crash test — the only minicar to do so in the recent trials. “The Spark achieves an acceptable overall rating because the dummy’s movement was fairly well controlled and its injury measures were low,” the IIHS said. “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.”
2. Fiat 500
Moving from the best to one of the worst, the Fiat (FIATY.PK) 500 was among the bottom performers in the small frontal overlap test, with a Poor rating to show for its efforts. The 500 displayed an “intruding structure [that] seriously compromised the driver’s space, and the steering column was pushed back toward the driver,” IIHS said. “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.”
3. Ford Fiesta
The Ford Fiesta scored a Marginal rating on the frontal overlap test, again putting the vehicle on one of the lower rungs as far as performance. Lower leg and foot scores were a strength for the Fiesta, though head and neck posed some challenges; outside of those particular isolates, the Fiesta did about as well as the other 10 vehicles that participated in the trial, which is to say not very well overall.
4. Honda Fit
The Honda Fit was up there — rather, down there — with the Fiat 500 as one of the lowest-scoring models tested. The Fit received mostly Poor ratings across the board and was endowed with a Poor overall rating after it failed to impress the observers. “In the case of the Fit, the dummy’s head barely contacted the frontal airbag before sliding off and hitting the instrument panel,” IIHS said. It was also one of two — the other being the 500 — that registered damage to the driver’s right leg, as well as the left.
5. Hyundai Accent
The Hyundai Accent ranked above the 500 and the Fit but rounded out the bottom three for scores. Its performance for lower leg and foot damage as well as hip and thigh damage are what saved the Korean compact from sliding to the bottom of the pile, but overall, the car didn’t fare considerably better than the Fiat or Honda. Interestingly, the Hyundai performed considerably below the Kia Rio, a closely related model that actually rounded out the top three leading performers from this segment.
6. Kia Rio
On that note, the Kia Rio: recipient of a Marginal score (which is actually kind of high for this lot) and a notable performer when it came to structure and Restraints and Kinematics (a metric used to score the effectiveness of the seat belts and the general movement of the occupant during impact). As far as test dummy damage, the Kia did quite well, though the lower leg and foot rating (a Poor when isolated) pulled the car’s score down; head, neck, chest, and hip/thigh all received Good ratings.
Mazda’s miniature Mazda2 city car was crowned with a Marginal rating, after a Poor rating for — what else — feet and lower leg damage hindered its score. It was still able to score second, ranked only behind the Spark, as it was awarded an Acceptable rating for Restraints and Kinematics, and a Marginal rating for its structure. The rest of the body damage scores placed in the Good area.
8. Mitsubishi Mirage
The new 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage landed a Poor rating overall but still had a high enough score to keep it around the middle of the 11 cars subjected to the test. The Mirage didn’t score well for Restraints and Kinematics, or for feet and lower leg damage, though structure was rated at a decent Marginal and the rest of the body scored Good ratings.
9. Nissan Versa
Nissan’s (NSANY.PK) Versa sedan performed in a rather average fashion when compared to its competition, with a Poor rating overall, a Poor rating for structure, but a Marginal rating for Restraints and Kinematics. Again, as with most of the others, a Poor rating for foot and lower leg vulnerability prevented the Versa from sweeping the bodily harm ratings across the board.
10. Toyota Prius c
Three Good ratings — all under the dummy injury measurements — could salvage the Toyota Prius c’s overall rating, as it was subsequently slapped with a Poor rating overall and a Poor rating for both structure and Restraints and Kinematics. It’s unclear as to whether the fact that the Prius c is a hybrid — the only one on the roster of minicars — had anything to do with its poorer performance; notably, the standard Prius liftback has also historically had trouble with the same type of collision.
11. Toyota Yaris
The Toyota Yaris finished up with a Marginal rating overall, with the same rating for structure and (perhaps surprisingly) the lower leg and foot damage metric. It scored a Poor rating for Restraints and Kinematics, though, as it stayed largely consistent with the median scores from the other participants.