By Deepa Seetharaman
DETROIT Jan 22 Subcompact cars including the
Fiat 500 and Honda Fit performed the worst of
any vehicle segment so far in a tough new test that assesses
what happens when the front corner of a vehicle hits another
car, a utility pole or tree.
Only one of 11 minicars tested by the Insurance Institute
for Highway Safety won an overall "acceptable" rating in the
so-called small overlap front crash test, the Chevrolet Spark
made by General Motors Co, IIHS said on Wednesday.
The Honda Fit and Fiat 500, made by No. 3 U.S. automaker
Chrysler Group LLC, were the worst performers.
The results prompted Consumer Reports magazine to drop its
recommendation of the Fit on Wednesday. Consumer Reports said,
however, that it expected the upcoming, newly redesigned 2015
Fit to pass the test "based on the newness of its design and
Honda's recent accomplishments with this stringent test."
In a statement, Honda said it expects the 2015 Fit will earn
a "good rating" on all IIHS tests, including the small overlap
front crash test. The 2015 Fit goes on sale in the United States
later this year.
Separately, Chrysler said the Fiat 500 "meets or exceeds all
government-mandated safety requirements and continues to offer a
high level of protection in four main crash types identified by
the IIHS: side, rollover, rear and moderate-overlap front."
The small overlap front crash test, which was introduced in
2012, is tougher than head-on crash tests used by the U.S.
government, according to automakers and IIHS, a U.S. nonprofit
funded by auto insurers.
Four minicar models were rated "marginal," including the
2014 Ford Fiesta. Six were rated "poor," including the
Toyota Prius c. None of the models received the best
possible rating of "good."
Both Consumer Reports and IIHS said small, lightweight cars
are at a safety disadvantage because of their size. In a crash
with a larger vehicle, a minicar will absorb more energy but
have less crumple space to absorb the energy of a collision.
"Small, lightweight vehicles have an inherent safety
disadvantage," Joe Nolan, IIHS senior vice president for vehicle
research, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, as a group,
minicars aren't performing as well as other vehicle categories
in the small overlap crash."
Compact cars, which are slightly larger than subcompacts,
fared "much better" on the small overlap front crash test, IIHS
The average vehicle made for the 2013 model year weighs
4,041 pounds, while subcompacts can weigh 1,500 pounds less,
according to preliminary federal data.
In the test, part of the car's front end hit a 5-foot rigid
barrier at 40 miles per hour. The vehicles were rated in three
areas: structural integrity, the effectiveness of the restraints
and potential injuries.
All the minicars, including the Spark, got a "poor" or
"marginal" rating for structural integrity, which IIHS called
"the most fundamental element of occupant protection." These are
the two worst ratings possible in this test.
Most cars are now built with safety cages that can handle
head-on collisions and other crashes without crushing the driver
and others inside the vehicle.
Small overlap crashes, involving only the small front corner
of a vehicle, affect the outer edges of the car, which are less
protected. In those cases, the front wheel, suspension system
and firewall bear the brunt of the crash, which can lead to
serious leg and foot injuries.