Subcompact Cars Fare Poorly in IIHS Crash Test

In a congested city like San Francisco, it’s tempting to purchase the smallest car possible to squeeze into street parking spots. However, results from a new IIHS crash test should be considered before you pay for a subcompact car.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (“IIHS”) tested 11 popular minicars, using model years 2013 and 2014. None of the cars received the highest rating of “good” from the institute. Only one car, the Chevrolet Spark, received the second-highest rating of “acceptable.” Half of the cars tested received the lowest rating of “poor.”

The institute tested the following vehicles: Kia Rio, Mazda 2, Toyota Yaris, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Fiat 500, Nissan Versa, Toyota Prius C, Mitsubishi Mirage, Chevy Spark, and Hyundai Accent.

Joe Nolan, the senior vice president of IIHS, released a statement saying, “small, lightweight vehicles have an inherent safety disadvantage.”

Unlike the U.S. government safety tests, IIHS conducts an “overlap” test, which mimics what happens when a car’s front corner collides with another vehicle or hits 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. IIHS states that this type of collision is harder on vehicles because the car’s structure must “manage the energy” from the crash. In several of the tested cars, the structures collapsed, which can exacerbate injuries because the air bags, seats, and other parts are knocked out of position.

For example, though the Honda Fit received top scores in four other IIHS crash tests, in the overlap test the steering column was pushed so far into the vehicle that the dummy’s head slid off the air bag and hit the instrument panel. Honda responded that the 2015 model year Fit, which goes on sale in a few months, should earn a higher score on the offset test.

The Fiat 500 also performed very poorly in the test. The crash force ripped the door hinges off the vehicle, causing it to fall open during the test. A representative from Fiat responded to the results, stating that the 500 meets all government safety requirements and, like the Honda Fit, received top ratings in the four other IIHS crash tests.

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