Chevrolet Spark IIHS small overlap test
Chevrolet Spark (IIHS)

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently put some of the smallest cars on the market through its crash tests, and overall, they did not do well. Out of 11 minicars from the 2013 and 2014 model years tested, only the Chevrolet Spark earned a Top Safety Pick award. The Spark received the highest rating of Good in the IIHS’ side, roof strength, head restraint and moderate overlap front tests, as well as the second highest rating of Acceptable in the newer small overlap front crash test. No minicars earned the highest honor of 2014 Top Safety Pick Plus.

IIHS Senior Vice President for Vehicle Research Joe Nolan says in a statement, “Small, lightweight vehicles have an inherent safety disadvantage. That’s why it’s even more important to choose one with the best occupant protection. Unfortunately, as a group, minicars aren’t performing as well as other vehicle categories in the small overlap crash.”

Because of their diminutive size and lower weight, minicars aren’t able to protect their passengers in a crash as well as bigger, heavier cars can. That’s because lighter cars tend to have weaker structures. The IIHS explains, “… every minicar, including the Spark, rates marginal or poor for structure, the most fundamental element of occupant protection. When a vehicle’s structure doesn’t hold up, injury risk is high.”

Honda Fit IIHS small overlap test
Honda Fit (IIHS)

Among the 11 minicars tested, the IIHS says the Fiat 500 and Honda Fit fared the worst. “In both cases, intruding structure seriously compromised the driver’s space, and the steering column was pushed back toward the driver,” the IIHS explains. “In the case of the Fit, the dummy’s head barely contacted the frontal airbag before sliding off and hitting the instrument panel. During the test of the 500, the driver door opened after the hinges tore. An open door creates a risk that the driver could be partially or completely ejected.”

The IIHS also tested the Ford Fiesta (2014), Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Mazda2, Mitsubishi Mirage (2014), Nissan Versa, Toyota Prius c and Toyota Yaris. Though the IIHS points out that the minicar class has the lowest ratings in its newer small overlap front crash test, it says that this is expected given the cars’ small size and lower weight. The Spark “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.”

Fiat 500 IIHS small overlap test
Fiat 500 (IIHS)

The IIHS changed its Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick Plus award criteria for 2014, making it harder for automakers to earn top honors. To be a 2014 Top Safety Pick Plus, a vehicle must earn the highest rating of Good in moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, as well as a rating of Good or Acceptable in the newer small overlap front test, and a rating of at least Basic, Advanced or Superior for front crash prevention, which takes into account the availability of technology features that help prevent a frontal impact crash, like forward collision warning or automatic braking. The IIHS 2014 Top Safety Pick award is essentially the same as the Top Safety Pick Plus award from 2013. To be designated a Top Safety Pick, a vehicle must earn the highest rating of Good in moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, as well as a Good or Acceptable rating in the small overlap front test.

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