In the latest round of 2014 model-year crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the organization assessed "minicars," models that are typically the smallest ones offered by a car company. Of the 11 models tested, only the 2013 and 2014 Chevrolet Spark earned a "Top Safety Pick" designation from the IIHS.
"Small, lightweight vehicles have an inherent safety disadvantage. That's why it's even more important to choose one with the best occupant protection," says Joe Nolan, IIHS senior vice president for vehicle research. "Unfortunately, as a group, minicars aren't performing as well as other vehicle categories in the small overlap crash."
To earn a "Top Safety Pick" for 2014, the tested model must achieve the highest rating of "Good" in the moderate overlap frontal-impact test, the side-impact test, the roof crush strength test, and the rear-impact injury prevention test. Additionally, the tested model must get a "Good" or an "Acceptable" rating in the tough new small overlap frontal-impact test, which the IIHS introduced in 2012 as a way to determine how a vehicle might protect occupants in the event of a hard impact on the front left corner of the vehicle.
According to the IIHS, the models that performed worst in the latest round of testing were the 2013 Honda Fit and the 2013/2014 Fiat 500. In each case, the vehicle's underlying structure severely intruded upon the passenger compartment, and the steering column was pushed back toward the driver. In the Fit, the driver's head barely contacted the air bag before hitting the instrument panel. In the Fiat 500, the driver's door opened after the hinges failed. A completely redesigned 2015 Honda Fit goes in sale by the summer of 2014, though crash tests for the newly designed model have yet to be conducted.
Among the mini vehicles tested, the following models received an overall rating of "Marginal":
The following models were given the lowest possible overall rating in IIHS crash tests of minicars:
- 2013/2014 Fiat 500
- 2013 Honda Fit
- 2013/2014 Hyundai Accent
- 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage
- 2013/2014 Nissan Versa Sedan
- 2013/2014 Toyota Prius C
While the Chevrolet Spark was the only member of this group to earn a "Top Safety Pick" rating, the IIHS reminds car buyers that lighter cars don't protect occupants as well as heavier cars. Quoting from the organization's press release: "Consumers should remember that the Spark, while offering more small overlap protection than other minicars, weighs less than 2,500 lbs. and doesn't protect as well as a larger and heavier vehicle with a comparable rating. Frontal crash test results can't be compared across weight classes."
The IIHS reminds consumers interested in selecting a heavier and safer vehicle as an alternative to a minicar that by moving just one size class higher, to small cars, they can choose from among 5 models that receive a "Good" rating in the small overlap test and 5 models that receive an "Acceptable" rating.