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Small Cars Struggle With IIHS Crash Tests

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author photo by Doug DeMuro January 2014
  • Small cars struggled in IIHS crash tests
  • Only one of 11 subcompacts tested earned a Top Safety Pick award
  • IIHS's small overlap front test caused many of the problems

Small cars are struggling in the latest round of Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash tests. IIHS recently announced that just one new small car out of 11 tested performed well enough to earn the nonprofit group's Top Safety Pick award.

According to IIHS, the primary culprit behind the low scores has been the agency's new small overlap front test. Designed to replicate crashing into a pole or a tree, the test involves a 40-mile per hour impact at the driver-side front corner of a car. The test can -- and does -- cause significant damage to vehicles and sometimes creates serious "injuries" for the crash-test dummy.

In the most recent round of IIHS testing, only the Chevrolet Spark performed well in the test -- and even then, its rating of Acceptable still fell short of the IIHS's top score of Good. Four vehicles -- the Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio, Mazda2 and Toyota Yaris -- earned a mediocre score of Marginal. The agency's lowest score of Poor went to six small cars: the FIAT 500, Honda Fit, Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Versa and Toyota Prius c.

The IIHS says the reason behind poor crash-test scores for small cars is exactly as you'd expect: They just don't have as much mass to protect against serious collisions. In the case of the Honda Fit and FIAT 500, passenger room was seriously compromised after the small overlap crash, leaving a hypothetical driver with a high chance of serious injuries.

Interestingly, you don't have to increase vehicle size dramatically for far better crash-test results. The IIHS gave Top Safety Pick+ scores -- its best crash-test rating -- to the Honda Civic, Mazda3 and Toyota Prius. Seven other compact cars earned the slightly lesser Top Safety Pick score, proving that there's a big safety difference between compact and subcompact.

What it means to you: Before choosing from today's small cars, you might want to look over the IIHS's crash-test videos and decide how important safety is to you.

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Small Cars Struggle With IIHS Crash Tests - Autotrader