Results of IIHS small overlap front test of minicarsAlthough minicars can be more economical when it comes to fuel costs, they are considerably less safe when it comes to car crashes, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Only one of the 11 minicars the Institute tested in the small overlap front test, the Chevy Spark, achieved an “acceptable” rating, the IIHS announced in a press release yesterday.

In a Time magazine article titled “The Terrifying Video That Will Convince You Not to Buy a Small Car” (which you can see at the bottom of this post), Matt Vella points out that this small overlap front test has been challenging for vehicles of all sizes. In the test, a vehicle hits a barrier at 40 miles per hour on one quarter of the front bumper on the driver’s side of the car, Vella writes. As this blog reported in May of last year, most small SUVs did poorly in that test, and in August 2012, we wrote that most model year 2012 midsize luxury and near-luxury cars did poorly in the same test.

However, as David Shepardson writes for The Detroit News, this latest test finds that minicars are the poorest-performing group of any that has been tested. In addition, “Every minicar, including the Spark, rated marginal or poor for structure,” he writes. IIHS writes that when a vehicle’s structure does not hold up, the risk for injury is high.

Vella summarizes the findings of IIHS’s latest small overlap frontal test:

Six of the cars earned IIHS’ lowest rating, ‘Poor.’ Those vehicles included Chrysler’s Fiat 500, the Honda Fit, the Hyundai Accent, the Mitsubishi Mirage, the Nissan Versa, and Toyota’s Prius c. The Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio, Mazda2, and Toyota Yaris scored the second-worst of four possible ratings, ‘Marginal.’ Chevy’s Spark earned a rating of ‘Acceptable.’ Not one got the top rating of ‘Good.’

IIHS said the worst performers were the Honda Fit and the Fiat 500. ‘In both cases, intruding structure seriously compromised the driver’s space, and the steering column was pushed back toward the driver. In the case of the Fit, the dummy’s head barely contacted the frontal air bag before sliding off and hitting the instrument panel. During the test of the 500, the driver door opened after the hinges tore. An open door creates a risk that the driver could be partially or completely ejected.’

Small, lightweight vehicles have an inherent safety disadvantage, Joe Nolan, IIHS senior vice president for vehicle research, says in the IIHS press release. “That’s why it’s even more important to choose one with the best occupant protection,” he adds.

Although the Spark earned an “acceptable” rating in the small overlap front test and was the only vehicle in this test group with “good injury measures for all body regions,” it weighs less than 2,500 pounds and does not protect as well as a larger and heavier vehicle with a comparable rating, IIHS writes. Frontal crash test results, the institute notes, cannot be compared across weight classes.

Finally, neither the Spark nor the other minicars in the test group provide front crash protection, “an increasingly common safety feature that can prevent or mitigate some kinds of frontal crashes,” IIHS writes. All 2014 cars have to be available for purchase with front crash protection to qualify for IIHS’s highest safety award, its Top Safety Pick Plus.

You can see IIHS’s video here:

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