Chevy Spark only tiny car to get acceptable rating in new IIHS crash tests

The Chevy Spark was the only tiny car to earn a top safety pick award in small-overlap front crash testing conducted by the IIHS.

Photo credit: IIHS
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Most of the tiniest cars on the road fared poorly in the challenging new small-overlap crash test from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, with only the Chevrolet Spark getting an acceptable rating, the group said today.

The Spark was the only tiny car to earn a top safety pick award in small-overlap front crash testing conducted by the group. Introduced in 2012, the small-overlap test re-creates conditions in which the front corner of a vehicle strikes another vehicle or object. During the test, the front quarter of the driver side of the vehicle collides with a barrier at 40 mph.

The test is more difficult than a head-on collision because the front-end crush zone is bypassed, directing energy through the vehicle differently than intended, which can result in the passenger compartment collapsing.

"Small, lightweight vehicles have an inherent safety disadvantage. That's why it's even more important to choose one with the best occupant protection," Joe Nolan, IIHS vice president, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, as a group, minicars aren't performing as well as other vehicle categories in the small-overlap crash."

Tougher tests, such as the small-overlap front crash test, have thinned the ranks of IIHS top safety picks for 2014 -- with 70 percent fewer vehicles earning the honor than last year. The IIHS started requiring vehicles to ace the new small-overlap test this year to receive the award.

Because of the revised testing, and increased importance of the small-overlap test, the Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Toyota Prius C and Toyota Yaris lost top safety pick status from last year.

The worst performing vehicles in the group were the Honda Fit and Fiat 500 -- with both having the structure of the vehicle "seriously compromise" the passenger compartment. According to the IIHS report, the driver door of the Fiat 500 tore open at the hinges during the test, which creates the risk of the driver being ejected.

Most injuries to the crash dummies in the vehicles involved the left leg, but the Fit, 500 and Hyundai Accent were downgraded because injuries also affected the left thigh or hip. The Fit and 500 were the only vehicles that recorded elevated risk to the right leg as well as the left.

While the structure of the Spark did intrude into the passenger compartment, it was limited to the upper area of the compartment and it was the only vehicle to achieve good injury measurements for all body regions during the tests.

The vehicles tested were the Chevrolet Spark, Mazda2, Kia Rio, Toyota Yaris, 2014 Ford Fiesta, 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Versa, Toyota Prius C, Hyundai Accent, Fiat 500 and Honda Fit.

Fit no longer recommended

In a related development, Consumer Reports revoked its recommended status from the Honda Fit following the latest IIHS tests.

Honda has traditionally fared well with Consumers Reports and the automaker has said that it expects the redesigned Fit, due out this spring, to perform much better in testing.

“[The] redesigned 2015 Honda Fit will come to market in just a few months and we anticipate it will earn top safety scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, with a 'Good' rating in all test modes including the rigorous small overlap front crash test,” a Honda spokesman said in a statement.

Consumer Reports also said the IIHS Top Safety Pick Chevrolet Spark scored too low on its road test to be recommended, regardless of its crash protection. The only subcompact vehicle to be recommended as performing well in a road test by Consumer Reports is the Kia Rio, which was given a marginal crash rating by the IIHS.

Gabe Nelson contributed to this report.

You can reach Sean Gagnier at sgagnier@crain.com.

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