Chrysler has gotten back to us with an official statement which you can read below.
The 2012 Fiat 500 recently boasted a five-star safety rating given by the Insurance Institute Highway Safety, but it seems as though a lower National Highway Traffic Safety Administration score has rained on the hatchback’s safety parade with just three stars.
NHTSA's overall three-star rating breaks down as follows: four stars were given to the Fiat in the frontal crash, which measures the damage after a 35-mph crash into a fixed barrier. Rollover ratings weren’t too bad either, yielding a 14.5 percent risk of a rollover, and an overall four star rating. However, it seems as though side crashes are the most detrimental to the Italian microcar -- it earned two stars overall in the side crash category, which simulates a 38.5-mph t-bone type crash.
The overall three-star rating conflicts with the 500’s IIHS score, which was named a Top Safety Pick in October. So how is it possible that it scored so low on one end, but high on another? When the IIHS named the Cinquecento a Top Safety Pick, it was quick to point out that the title applies only to 500 models made after July 2011. Models produced before that point scored a Marginal rating because of an “inferior” driver’s seat assembly, in which a steel cross tube in the seat caused the seat to pitch forward during a crash, moving the dummy’s head too far forward into the airbag. It’s unknown whether the NHTSA tested one of the “inferior” models, but we have contacted the agency for comment and clarification.
The 500 comes packed with safety features, including standard electronic stability control and seven airbags: two front, two side impact, two side curtain, and one driver’s knee airbag. But there’s no escaping the 500’s diminutive size, the laws of physics, and their effect on crashworthiness.
Update: Chrysler has gotten back to us with information regarding when the Fiat 500 the NHTSA tested was built. The NHTSA tested a 500 that was built in May 2011, which was before the company made the modifications to the driver's seat assembly.
Development of the Fiat 500, like all Chrysler Group LLC vehicles, makes safety and security a priority. In fact, the Fiat 500 features more than 35 safety and security features including: driver and front-passenger advanced multi-stage air bags, driver’s knee air bag, full-length side-curtain air bags and standard seat-mounted side pelvic-thorax air bags, all to offer enhanced occupant protection to all occupants in the event of a collision. In addition, the company strives to continuously improve vehicle performance for third-party tests.
We do know that the 2012 Fiat 500 has been named a “Top Safety Pick” for 2011 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The IIHS recognizes vehicles that demonstrate “good” performance in front, side, rollover and rear crash test evaluations performed at its Vehicle Research Center.