Safety enhancements helped Honda Motor Co. and Volvo earn top safety picks from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The 2013 Honda Civic, the first small car to achieve a "good" rating in the institute's new small overlap test, was fortified with the second generation of Honda's advanced compatibility body (ACE II) structure. The two- and four-door models both earned the rating.
Volvo responded to the small overlap test by updating the XC60 luxury SUV's airbag algorithm to ensure that the side curtain airbag deploys during such collisions.
The new test examined how well the vehicles handled 40-mph frontal collisions in which there is 25 percent overlap with a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier, which is a modification of the institute's moderate 40 percent overlap test.
The percentage used to describe the size of the test refers to the portion of the vehicle's front end that hits the barrier.
The small overlap test attempts to replicate what happens when the front corner of a car collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or utility pole, according to the institute.
The mid-sized Lincoln MKZ and Mazda 6 got "acceptable" ratings. All are 2013 models except the 2014 Mazda 6.
These were the only models involved in this round of testing.
The ACE II reinforced the body structure of the 2013 Civic -- and added about 26 pounds, said Chuck Thomas, chief engineer of automotive safety for Honda R&D Americas Inc.
"Probably the biggest thing we have to look at when we think about these types of changes is how do we minimize the impact of adding mass to the vehicle," Thomas said in an interview today. "One of the ways we try to do that when we look at improving things like crashworthiness in the small overlap crash is we try to minimize the mass by using the strongest materials that we can in the areas where we need strength."
When the initial small overlap results for luxury and near-luxury mid-sized vehicles were released in August, some automakers had mixed feelings about the new testing.
Mercedes-Benz was concerned with the uncommon nature of the accident scenario the small overlap recreates, while Honda said alterations to the front frame structure could affect handling, ride and fuel economy.
According to the institute, one of the main problems with small overlap crashes is that the typical energy-absorbing structures on the front middle 50 percent of vehicles are never engaged.
Instead, the wheel is the first to receive blunt force during small overlap incidents, which account for 25 percent of the 10,000 fatal frontal accidents that occur each year.
"All the vehicles are doing pretty well in our tests for frontal crashes. They're doing well in the government's frontal crash test, [but] we're still losing a lot of people," institute President Adrian Lund said before the first small overlap results were made public in August.
"What's the remaining problem? What's injuring them and killing them? It turns out that these small overlap crashes are a big piece of what's left."