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Most new "minicars" fail frontal crash tests

If you've ever seen one of those new "minicars" whizzing by and wondered how they might stand up to an accident, you're not alone. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently ran a series of crash tests on these sub-compacts, and the results are far from good.

Only one minicar out of the 11 IIHS put through a series of frontal crash tests received an “acceptable” rating. According to the Institute, that made the vehicles “the worst performing group of any evaluated so far.”

The test in question, called a "small overlap" or "small front overlap," simulates what happens when the front corner of a car hits another vehicle or stationary object at 40 miles per hour. The IIHS says these type of crashes affect the car's outer edges, which aren't well-protected by most vehicles' crumple-zone or crush-zone safety engineering. In a 2009 IIHS study of vehicles with good ratings for frontal crash protection, small overlap crashes made up nearly 25 percent of all serious or fatal injuries to a front-seat occupant in those cars.

}  In comparison, IIHS says the small car category of vehicles, a step up from minicars, have done better in small overlap crash tests. Out of 17 small cars tested by the group, five received good ratings and another five were classified as acceptable.

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

The Spark, produced by Chevrolet, a division of General Motors (GM), was the only minicar to come out of the IIHS tests with an acceptable rating. The Institute says seven of the 11 minicars tested were downgraded because their seatbelts failed to hold crash test dummies in place or their airbags were less than fully effective. In the case of one minicar, the Toyota (TM) Yaris, the airbag did not deploy at all.

} The test's worst performers were the Honda (HMC) Fit and the Fiat (FIATY) 500. Both vehicles suffered structural failures during the test crashes, which “seriously compromised the driver's space," according to the safety group. The 500's driver-side door was also torn off at the hinges, creating a worst-case scenario where a driver could be partially or completely ejected from the vehicle.

IIHS also notes that none of the 11 tested mincars offer any form of front-crash prevention. These increasingly common safety features include warning systems and automatic breaking that can prevent or mitigate some frontal accidents, and are meant to stop distracted or inattentive drivers from rear-ending a stopped or slower-moving car in front of them.

Following is the complete list of minicars tested by IIHS, along with their overall ratings score. Unless otherwise noted, the ratings listed apply to both 2013 and 2014 models:

  • Chevrolet Spark – Acceptable

  • Mazda 2 – Marginal

  • Kia Rio – Marginal

  • Toyota Yaris – Marginal

  • 2014 Ford Fiesta (built after August 2013) – Marginal

  • 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage – Poor

  • Nissan Versa – Poor

  • Toyota Prius c – Poor

  • Hyundai Accent – Poor

  • Fiat 500 – Poor

  • Honda Fit - Poor