Minicars have some obvious advantages, especially for city drivers — they’re fuel efficient and easy to park (something we San Franciscans can appreciate). But, because they’re so lightweight, they also tend to be more vulnerable in collisions than larger cars. And, according to the latest small overlap front crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the structure of most minicars leaves much to be desired. In fact, only 1 out of the 11 models tested was deemed acceptable.
What’s a small overlap front crash test?
This test replicates a collision involving the front corner of the car while traveling at 40 mph. In a standard head-on crash test, much of the impact is absorbed by the car’s front-end crush zone. In the small overlap test, however, this zone is bypassed, which means the structure of the occupant compartment can collapse.
Though the small overlap test is fairly new (it was introduced in 2012), carmakers have made improvements in a number of size categories. So far, minicars don’t hold up as well.
Crash test results for minicars
The minicars tested were the Chevrolet Spark, the Mazda 2, the Kia Rio, the Toyota Yaris, the 2014 Ford Fiesta, the 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage, the Nissan Versa, the Toyota Prius c, the Hyundai Accent, the Fiat 500, and the Honda Fit.* The full list of results can be found here.
Only the Spark received an overall rating of acceptable in this test — though its structural rating was marginal, the vehicle controlled the movement of the dummy fairly well and had low measurements for dummy injury. Because the Spark also earned good ratings in the IIHS’s other safety tests, it was named a 2014 TOP SAFETY PICK. (The car does lack front crash prevention features, however, which are required for a vehicle to be named to the highest award level, TOP SAFETY PICK+.)
The Mazda 2, Kia Rio, Toyota Yaris, and Ford Fiesta received marginal ratings overall. And the Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Versa, Toyota Prius c, Hyundai Accent, Fiat 500, and Honda Fit were deemed poor overall.
Of the 11 vehicles, the Fiat 500 and Honda Fit performed the worst. In both models, the structure severely infringed on the driver’s space and the steering column angled too close to the driver. They were also the only models that showed an increased risk of injury to the right leg.
When a car’s structure collapses, the potential for injury is high, and seats and safety features like airbags can also be displaced. All of the vehicles tested received marginal or poor structure ratings.
Restraints and kinetics
This category rates how well the vehicle controlled forward motion. In many cases, the dummy’s head failed to make contact with the front airbag, the side airbag didn’t provide adequate coverage, and/or the seat or steering column shifted. Only the Spark and the Mazda 2 were deemed acceptable in this category.
Leg and hip injuries
Injuries to the lower legs and feet tend to be an issue in the small overlap test. The Spark did better here than most. Injury measures for the left leg and foot were marginal for the Yaris and Accent and poor for the Mazda 2, Rio, Mirage, Versa, Prius c, Fiat 500, and Fit. The Fiat 500, Accent, and Fit also showed less than acceptable measures for left hip and thigh injuries.
Front crash prevention
None of these minicars, including the Spark, offer front crash prevention features, which can often prevent collisions from occurring in the first place.
Comparing safety ratings
When comparing crash test results and safety ratings, it’s important to stay within a particular weight class. Generally, a small car won’t provide as much protection as a similarly rated larger car. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to drive around in a big SUV, but it is something to consider along with fuel economy and convenience. And, of course, it’s just one more reason to drive safely!
*Ratings apply to both 2013 and 2104 models unless otherwise noted