Small cars scored worse in the IIHS’ new, tougher side crash tests – Car and Driver | CarTailz

  • Side impact accidents are particularly deadly, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) wants to change that.
  • Putting various body styles through its updated side crash test, the IIHS reports that many small sedans and hatchbacks struggled to achieve a good rating. (All 11 people tested had scored well overall in the original test.)
  • The Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback received good ratings, while Honda’s Civic, Nissan’s Sentra and Toyota’s Corolla received acceptable marks and Kia’s Forte (picture above) and Subaru’s Impreza received bad marks.

Safety technology in the automotive industry has evolved significantly in the 21st century, with advanced driver assistance systems becoming standard equipment. Adding these layers of driver redundancy aims to avoid accidents altogether, but driver aids have their limitations and the frequency of traffic accidents has skyrocketed in recent years. In collisions, the structure of the vehicle itself can mean the difference between serious injury or walking away with a few scratches.

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Small car performance is mixed in the new side crash test

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The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has added a new crash test to its safety rating system. Almost a quarter of car occupant fatalities can be attributed to severe side impacts and the IIHS recently updated this test to reflect reality, with a 4200-pound barrier hitting the side of test cars at 37mph. The results for small cars are worrying.

Good or acceptable ratings

Of the 11 models tested, only the Mazda 3 hatchback and sedan received the highest “Good” rating, with an acceptable level of damage to the safety cage and a minimal level of injury to the driver’s upper body and pelvis. The Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra and Toyota Corolla all received acceptable ratings, which translates to a setback of Good in IIHS terms, and showed weaknesses in driver’s pelvic protection. It’s worth noting that all of these models received an acceptable rating in the Structure and Safety Cage category – a stark contrast to the good ratings seen on many mid-range crossovers.

Mazda 3

Mazda’s legacy hatchback had a strong safety cage and delivered results with only a low probability of most injuries.


Four were rated “poor”.

Four of the 11 models tested received poor overall ratings due to inadequate safety cage design and the significant risk of injury to riders. Kia’s Forte performed worst, with a marginal safety cage rating and poor protection for the driver’s upper body and pelvis, while Subaru’s Impreza and Crosstrek families consistently had poor structural safety.

In particular, the Forte’s crash test resulted in a head impact on the window sill from the airbag, increasing the high risk of head injuries. Subaru’s crash test also showed a window sill impact and B-pillar intrusion into the cabin.

iihs side test for small car 1122

Insurance Institute for Road Safety

Across the board, small sedans and hatchbacks performed poorly compared to their midsize crossover counterparts, but fared similarly to small crossover and midsize sedan counterparts.

According to IIHS, a higher ride height results in better performance in the new rating because the impact is centered closer to the ground than the door. But that doesn’t mean these small sedans and hatchbacks are inherently unsafe.

“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 new 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.”

Nevertheless, it is clear that some manufacturers have found a way to ensure sufficient structural rigidity and crash protection with less material. In addition, all of these models received a good rating in the current side impact test, which uses a 3300-pound barrier at a speed of 50 km/h. The new test has a 4,200-pound barrier that hits the side of the vehicle at 37 mph, which IIHS says more closely mimics a real-world impact on a mid-size SUV.

This updated test is not an official test criteria for 2022 model year units, but the institute says that 2023 and later vehicles will need a Good or Acceptable rating on this updated test to earn Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ awards. As the IIHS continues to update safety standards, manufacturers will be under pressure to meet these benchmarks as IIHS ratings are a key indicator for safety-conscious car buyers.

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