The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety today released the results of its small-overlap crash tests on subcompact cars, and the results are concerning. Of the eleven vehicles tested, only one, the 2013-2014 Chevrolet Spark hatchback, scored well enough to earn the IIHS's Top Safety Pick rating.
In the small overlap crash test, 25 percent of the car's frontal area impacts a barrier at a speed of 40 mph. The test is designed to simulate accidents where a car only glances against another object, for instance when hitting a tree or pole. Vehicles must score "Acceptable" or "Good" in the test to be considered for the IIHS Top Safety Rating pick.(The lower two ratings are "Marginal" and "Poor.")
The 2013-2014 Chevrolet Spark was the only subcompact tested that scored "Acceptable" in the test, because the car protected the driver from injury even though its structural integrity in the crash was rated only "Marginal." Because it also scored "Good" in the IIHS's moderate-overlap front crash, side-impact, roof-crush, and head-restraint tests, it was voted an IIHS Top Safety Pick. The Mazda 2, Kia Rio, Toyota Yaris, and 2014 Ford Fiesta all received "Marginal" ratings in the small-overlap test. The 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Versa sedan, Toyota Prius C, Hyundai Accent, Fiat 500, and Honda Fit all scored "Poor."
The IIHS says the biggest problem with subcompact cars is that their weaker, smaller crash structures allow for more intrusion into the passenger compartment. This can push parts like the steering wheel toward the driver, and also means safety elements like airbags might be moved out of their correct positions. In the case of the Fiat 500, the door hinges sheared in the crash, which the IIHS says could have allowed for the driver to be, "partially or completely ejected."
"Small, lightweight vehicles have an inherent safety disadvantage," IIHS senior vice president for vehicle research Joe Nolan said in a statement. "Unfortunately, as a group, minicars aren't performing as well as other vehicle categories in the small overlap crash."