Small vehicles marketed as "subcompact" cars or "minicars" are popular but inherently less safe than larger vehicles due to, well, the laws of physics. Being strapped inside a bigger metal box versus a smaller metal box when being hit by another larger metal box does reduce the chance of injury, but not all of us can afford (or particularly desire) a big fancy metal box that's a gas guzzler and impossible to park. Hence, the minicar: small, better fuel economy, perfect for grabbing that amazing but tiny parking space...but there's bad news. Your minicar could be a deathtrap! A new test performed by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) reveals that out of 12 minicars tested, none could perform well enough to earn the highest rating of "good" from the IIHS, andsix earned the lowest rating of "poor." The four ratings range in decreasing safety from "good" (the highest rating) to "acceptable" to "marginal" to "poor." All minicars tested were 2013 and 2014 models.
The IIHS's new small overlap test, introduced in 2012, tests how well the vehicle's occupants fare when 25% of the car's front end hits a rigid barrier such as a utility pole, tree, or other vehicle at 40 mph. This test better simulates and evaluates what often happens in real-life car accidents and collisions where only part of the car hits a solid object. In contrast, the U.S. government's (the NHTSA) crash test simulates the safety of a vehicle when it hits a rigid barrier fully head-on at 35 mph. The IIHS says when a car hits part of the front end, the vehicle can't handle and diffuse the resulting energy from the crash. The result can be injuries and fatalities from collapsed structures inside the vehicle.
Surprising "poor" (worst) rated crash test performers were the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, and Toyota Prius C. In the Honda Fit's test, the steering column pushed so far into the vehicle that the crash test dummy's head slid off the air bag and into the instrument panel. What that translates into in real life with real people, I'm not sure I want to contemplate. Overall, the Honda Fit was judged to be the mini car with the most potential to injure or kill the driver in a small frontal overlap crash.
However, Honda claims that its 2015 model of the Fit will earn a "good" rating in the IIHS's small overlap test. So that's good news. In other reassuring news, the Fit earns top scores in the IIHS's other four tests like side impact and roof strength.
The IIHS noted that the category of "small" cars (slightly bigger than mini cars) performed much better in crash tests. Vehicles in that category would be cars such as the Honda Civic and the Toyota Prius. For those interested in a safer vehicle in 2014, the IIHS provides some tips and information, and their 2014 "Top Safety Pick" here.