2013 Honda Civic IIHS test
The 2013 Honda Civic earned the top rating of Good in the small overlap front crash test. (IIHS)

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety evaluated small cars in its latest round of crash testing, and half of the 12 models tested were named Top Safety Pick Plus vehicles. The highest rating of Good was earned only by the 2013 Honda Civic sedan and coupe. The second highest rating of Acceptable went to the 2014 Scion tC, 2013 Hyundai Elantra, 2013 Ford Focus and 2013 Dodge Dart.

The IIHS put the small cars through its newer small overlap frontal crash test, which is designed to see how well a vehicle performs when the front corner of the vehicle hits an object. The crash test simulates the vehicle hitting a tree or pole, by sending it toward a solid barrier at 40 mph. In the moderate overlap frontal crash test, vehicles also travel at 40 mph, but toward a barrier that isn’t completely rigid. In the moderate overlap front test, part of the crumple zone is engaged, while in the small overlap test, the crumple zone is mostly avoided.

“Nearly every new car performs well in other frontal crash tests conducted by the Institute and the federal government, but we still see more than 10,000 deaths in frontal crashes each year,” Institute President Adrian Lund said last year when the IIHS introduced the new small overlap test. “Small overlap crashes are a major source of these fatalities.” According to the IIHS’s 2009 study of vehicles with Good front crash ratings, these kinds of accidents account for almost 25 percent of crashes where those in the front seat died or were seriously injured.    


The small cars that earned the second lowest rating of Marginal in the small overlap front crash test include the 2013 Chevrolet Cruze, Chevrolet Sonic and Volkswagen Beetle. The 2014 Kia Forte, 2013 Kia Soul and 2013 Nissan Sentra received the lowest rating of Poor.

David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer, says in a statement, “The small cars with marginal or poor ratings had some of the same structural and restraint system issues as other models we've tested. In the worst cases safety cages collapsed, driver airbags moved sideways with unstable steering columns and the dummy's head hit the instrument panel. Side curtain airbags didn't deploy or didn't provide enough forward coverage to make a difference. All of this adds up to marginal or poor protection in a small overlap crash.”

The IIHS says the Kia Forte “was the worst performer for both restraints and structure of all of the small cars evaluated. Too much belt slack and a side curtain airbag that deployed but didn’t provide enough forward coverage allowed the dummy’s head to hit the windshield pillar and instrument panel.”

The Los Angeles Times reports, “Kia said that all of the vehicles it sells in the U.S. meet or exceed federal motor vehicle safety standards.”

2014 Kia Forte IIHS test
The 2014 Kia Forte had the worst performance in the small overlap front crash test. (IIHS)

To date, the IIHS has evaluated affordable and upscale midsize cars, as well as affordable compact SUVs in its newer small overlap frontal crash test. The IIHS says minicars will be tested next and their crash test results will be announced later this year. A vehicle is named a Top Safety Pick Plus if it earns the top score of Good in moderate overlap front, side, rear and rollover tests, and earns either a Good or Acceptable score in the small overlap frontal test. A total of 25 vehicles have earned the highest Top Safety Pick Plus award so far.

Bloomberg Businessweek says these tests are important for in-market car shoppers. “The test of model-year 2014 cars may influence consumers’ vehicle purchases as makers of top-performing cars use the findings in marketing campaigns.” 

Among the recent small car test group, IIHS Top Safety Pick awards were given to the Chevrolet Cruze, Chevrolet Sonic, Kia Forte sedan, Kia Soul, Nissan Sentra and Volkswagen Beetle. To earn a Top Safety Pick award, vehicles must earn the top score of Good in side, rollover, rear and moderate overlap front tests.

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