Safety is one of the most important features consumers look for in a new car, but how do you know which car is the safest? The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests most new cars to determine which offer the best protection in the event of an accident and which have the technology to avoid the accident entirely. The IIHS recently updated its side crash test to be more accurate with real-world situations, testing 11 small cars. The results were mixed.
The new side impact test uses a 4,200-pound barrier moving at 37 miles per hour to simulate a vehicle being hit broadside by another vehicle. The weight of the barrier has been increased from 3,300 pounds to bring it closer to the average weight of today’s SUVs – one of the more common vehicles on the road. Speed was also increased from 31 mph. This updated crash test was developed after research showed that nearly a quarter of road fatalities could be attributed to side impact accidents more severe than the test originally simulated.
Of the 11 small vehicles tested, seven received a Good or Acceptable rating (Good is the IIHS’ highest rating). The Mazda3 hatchback and sedan received good ratings while the Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla sedan, Toyota Corolla hatchback, Honda Civic sedan and Honda Civic hatchback were rated as acceptable in this new side impact crash test. The Kia Forte, Subaru Crosstrek, Subaru Impreza and Subaru Impreza wagon were rated as poor.
“It’s encouraging to see so many small cars passing grades in this new subtest,” said Becky Mueller, IIHS senior research engineer who led the development of the rating. “Smaller, lower vehicles are at a disadvantage when hit by the new test barrier, which is a more realistic representation of the front end of a typical modern SUV than our old barrier. Some manufacturers have already figured out how to adequately protect occupants of small cars in such a crash.” Previous IIHS tests on small and medium-sized SUVs showed that the higher ride height of these vehicle types offers better protection in the new side crash test.
The car’s solid structure and safety cage, as well as head-protecting side airbags that prevent front and rear seat passengers from hitting the car’s hard surface, help the Mazdas perform well in this new crash test. According to IIHS, the safety cage also held up well on the five vehicles rated acceptable, but there were more intrusions into the passenger compartment than the Mazdas.
The Subaru models that performed poorly in this new side crash test saw significant intrusion into the B-pillar and passenger compartment, with a relatively high risk of upper body injuries for front and rear seat passengers. With the Kia Forte, the driver showed a high risk of injury to the upper body and pelvis, with a relatively high risk of neck or head injuries.
Insurance Institute for Road Safety
It’s worth noting that these results are for a single crash test, which is more rigorous than what the IIHS has previously tested. All 11 vehicles achieved good ratings in the previous side crash test. Automakers often take results from these tests and use the information to update vehicle designs to not only pass future crash tests, but to make the vehicle safer for real-world situations. It’s safe to say that the manufacturers of the underperforming vehicles will examine the data to see how to improve performance in this more rigorous crash test.
When purchasing a new vehicle, it is important to consider the overall picture of a vehicle’s safety rating. Overall IIHS ratings are based on results in multiple types of crash tests, including small front overlap on driver and passenger sides, medium front overlap, and roof strength. More importantly, the IIHS looks at accident prevention and mitigation technology – the ability to avoid or mitigate an accident may be even more important than performance in an accident.
Taking all of these tests into account, most of the small cars on this list did well overall. The Mazda Mazda3, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid have all been awarded the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ Rating – the organization’s highest award. The Nissan Sentra and non-hybrid Subaru Crosstrek received the Top Safety Pick rating – in both cases these vehicles missed out on the higher rating due to poor headlight performance.
The updated side impact test is not currently included in the IIHS criteria for selecting winning vehicles. However, starting next year, a Good or Acceptable rating in this new test will be required to receive the Top Safety Pick rating, while a Good rating will be required to receive the highest Top Safety Pick+ rating.