The Chrysler Group's tiny Fiat 500 has now received conflicting safety ratings from the two main organizations consumers rely on to determine whether their vehicles are safe.
Last week, the two-door subcompact was tagged by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with a three-star safety rating out of a possible five stars, the lowest rating for 2012 models tested so far.
Earlier in the year, the car was named a top safety pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which conducts crash tests on behalf of the insurance industry.
The 2012 500 received four stars from NHTSA for frontal crash and rollover accidents but received just two stars for side-impact crash safety for a combined overall rating of three stars, the agency announced on its Web site, safercar.gov. The IIHS gave the vehicle its top rating of "good" in all its categories.
In NHTSA's testing, the outgoing Dodge Caliber small car and Ford Escape crossover were the only other 2012 vehicles tested so far that have received three-star ratings.
The crash test results and star ratings have yet to be released for other 2012 small cars such as the Honda Fit, Chevrolet Sonic, Toyota Yaris and Mini Cooper. The Ford Fiesta subcompact received a combined four-star rating, the agency reported.
NHTSA's side-impact crash tests involve an impact with a side barrier and a stationary pole.
Though the vehicles tested had curtain airbags and torso/pelvis airbags, the rear-seat passenger position was rated at just two of five possible stars for safety in the 38.5-mph side-barrier crash test, while the driver's seat position achieved a five-star safety rating in the same crash test.
In the side-pole crash, which simulates an impact at 20 mph with a narrow, fixed object, the driver's position achieved a three-star rating out of a possible five stars, NHSTA reported.
"Development of the Fiat 500, like all Chrysler Group LLC vehicles, makes safety and security a priority," Chrysler said in a written statement, which cited the model's advanced safety features. "The company strives to continuously improve vehicle performance for third-party tests."
Russ Rader, a spokesman for the insurance institute, said the barrier in his agency's side-impact test, which simulates a crash with a truck or SUV, is higher than NHTSA's barrier, which simulates a broadside crash with a car.
Said Rader: "That's why consumers should always look at both sets of test results."