Small Cars Fare Poorly in Latest IIHS Crash Tests

In a report issued last Thursday, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said that half of the small cars it evaluated performed poorly in its latest crash tests.  Six of the twelve vehicles received a rating of “poor” or “marginal”, while the other six were rated as “acceptable” by the IIHS.

Among the worst-performing small cars were the Kia Forte and Soul, and Nissan Sentra.  All three models received a “poor” rating. The Chevrolet Cruze and Sonic, and Volkswagen Beetle were rated “marginal.”

The Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra and Scion tC received “acceptable” ratings, and the Honda Civic was rated “good.”

The IIHS says the new crash test methodology is significantly more challenging since it now that it includes a simulated front corner collision, in addition to side, rear, frontal and rollover crashes.

The institute also acknowledges that most of the small cars tested were already in production prior to the addition of the front corner crash test.   However, it says automakers have been aware of its intention to begin more stringent testing since 2009.

The IIHS began front corner impact testing in 2012 on three other automotive segments – luxury sedans, small SUVs and family sedans.  As a whole, the small car segment performed better than the luxury sedan and small SUV segments. Only five of the 18 vehicles tested in the family sedan segment were rated “poor” or “marginal.”

The front corner impact test was developed in response to the IIHS’ research that showed nearly 25 percent of frontal crashes that resulted in serious injury or death involve impact to a single corner of the vehicle, as in the case where a vehicle collides with a tree or utility pole.

The newly implemented front corner impact test involves a 40 mph collision with a five-foot-high barrier that impacts the driver’s side and overlaps approximately 25 percent of the vehicle’s overall width.

IIHS spokesman Russ Radar says, “This is a challenging new crash test and it’s not surprising that some vehicles are earning marginal and poor ratings.”  He also says automakers can’t take a “Band-Aid” approach to improving the structural integrity of their vehicles in order to cope with the new methodology. “For most manufacturers.” Says Radar, “the countermeasure will have to be built in when there’s a full redesign.”

U.S. automakers realize the importance of achieving an “acceptable” rating from the IIHS.  Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer says, “In today’s world cars are so competitive that all you need is a small flaw and your competition can exploit it.”

Brauer says automakers will have to redesign their vehicles in order to meet the new safety standards if they want to remain competitive.

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