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Subcompact cars fare poorly in new crash tests

By Dee-Ann Durbin

AP Auto Writer

LAST UPDATED: 04:10 a.m. HST, Jan 22, 2014

DETROIT » Subcompact cars fared poorly in new crash tests performed by an insurance industry group.

None of the 12 minicars tested got the highest rating of "good" from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Chevrolet Spark was the only car that earned the second-highest rating of "acceptable." Six of the cars — including the segment's best-seller, the Nissan Versa — got the lowest rating of "poor."

All of the cars were from the 2013 or 2014 model years.

"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's senior vice president for vehicle research.

The institute's small overlap test, which was introduced in 2012, mimics what happens when a car's front corner collides with another vehicle or an object like a 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 differs from the U.S. government's frontal crash test, in which a car strikes a rigid barrier head-on at 35 mph.

IIHS says hitting only part of the front end makes it harder for cars to manage the energy from a crash. In several of the subcompacts, the structures collapsed, which can exacerbate injuries because the air bags, seats and other parts get knocked out of position.

In the test of the Honda Fit, for example, the steering column pushed so far into the vehicle that the dummy's head slid off the air bag and hit the instrument panel. IIHS said the Fit was one of the worst performers in terms of potential injuries to the driver.

Honda responded that the 2015 Fit, which goes on sale in a few months, should earn a top score on the small offset test. The recently redesigned Honda Civic, which is one size up from the Fit, is among five small cars with "good" ratings on the test. A four-door Civic is around 300 pounds heavier and 18 inches longer than the current four-door Fit.

The current Fit does get top scores in the institute's other four tests, including measurements of roof strength and side impact protection.

IIHS said the Fiat 500 was also one of the worst performers. The crash force ripped the door hinges off the 500, causing it to fall open during the test.

Spokesman Eric Maybe said the Fiat 500 meets all government safety requirements and, like the Fit, gets "good" ratings in all four of the institute's other crash tests.

Cars with "marginal" ratings were the Kia Rio, Mazda2, Toyota Yaris and Ford Fiesta. Cars with "poor" ratings — in addition to the Fit, the Fiat 500 and the Versa — were the Toyota Prius C, Mitsubishi Mirage and Hyundai Accent.

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awahana wrote:
LEAF and Tesla earn kudos here, for safety.
on January 21,2014 | 08:48PM
MillionMonkeys wrote:
See ya in a casket--er, Kia!
on January 21,2014 | 10:10PM
false wrote:
Mini is the best all around, comfort, go and safety. Solid animal. Try it. It will make you happy.
on January 22,2014 | 03:41AM
ellinaskyrt wrote:

They're very safe cars no matter what size or price bracket you consider. MINI Coopers have been rated "GOOD" by Insurance Institute for Highway Safety(its highest rating) in terms of moderate overlap front tests and rear crash protection. IIHS gave it "ACCEPTABLE" for side impact protection and roof safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the MINI five stars out of five for rollover protection. All of those things help reduce injury to the car's inhabitants in case of an accident.

I would say the best "safety" feature though, is its agility in terms of acceleration, ease in handling curves, and responsive brakes--all of which, given a decent, attentive driver, help avoid accidents.

They are quirky cars though. Definitely NOT for everyone to own. As a driving machine: yes, motoring in a MINI does bring joy at a more affordable price than its stablemates in the BMW family (those "ultimate driving machines'), even to those who wouldn't buy one because it doesn't meet their needs.

on January 22,2014 | 07:00AM
HAJAA1 wrote:
Not! Really??
on January 22,2014 | 06:29AM
ellinaskyrt wrote:

I'll add that SMART cars were given the IIHS highest safety rating of GOOD for moderate overlap, side impact, and roof strength whereas it got an AVERAGE rating (second best rating) for rear crash protection. The NHTSB gave it three out of five stars for rollover safety.

So not all "mini" cars are failures in terms of safety. Depends on the make/model. However, it seems to me that the German engineering in the SMART (made by Mercedes Benz) and MINI Cooper (BMW) make a difference.

on January 22,2014 | 07:16AM
saveparadise wrote:
Live free and die free. Don't let others tell you otherwise. Buy the vehicle you want and drive carefully. Kasera-sera.
on January 22,2014 | 08:02AM
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