The test simulates what happens when the front corner of a car collides with another vehicle or a stationary object such as a tree—25 percent of a car’s front end on the driver side strikes a five-foot-tall rigid barrier at 40 mph. The small overlap test is now part of IIHS’ basic battery of tests.
The IIHS explains, “The test is more difficult than the head-on crashes conducted by the government or the longstanding IIHS moderate overlap test because most of the vehicle’s front-end crush zone is bypassed. That makes it hard for the vehicle to manage crash energy, and the occupant compartment can collapse as a result.
“Nevertheless, in many size categories, manufacturers have found ways to improve vehicle structures to meet this challenge.”
In the most recent minicar front overlap test, the Honda Fit, Fiat 500, Hyundai Accent, Toyota Prius c, Nissan Versa sedan and 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage all received “poor” overall ratings.
The 2014 Ford Fiesta (built after August 2013), Toyota Yaris, Kia Rio and Mazda 2 received “marginal” overall ratings.
The Spark, which received an “acceptable” overall rating, received “good” ratings on all dummy injury measures, “acceptable” on restraints and kinematics, and “marginal” on structure.
No minicar earned a rating above “marginal” on structure, which the IIHS calls “the most fundamental element of occupant protection.”
The IIHS says, “The Chevrolet Spark’s ‘acceptable’ rating in the test, along with good ratings in the Institute’s four other crashworthiness evaluations, earns the new minicar a 2014 Top Safety Pick award.”
The IIHS says all of the minicars except the Spark and the Mazda 2 earned low ratings for restraints and kinematics. “Seven of the eleven were downgraded for allowing too much occupant forward motion during the crash,” says the IIHS. “In these cases, either the safety belt didn’t do a good enough job holding the dummy in place, or the dummy’s head missed or slid off the frontal airbag.”
The two worst performers are the Honda Fit and the Fiat 500, says the IIHS. “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 airbag 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.”
The IIHS raised the bar for its 2014 rating, and as a result, just 39 vehicles earned either a Top Safety Pick+ or Top Safety Pick compared to 130 vehicles in 2013. The main difference, says IIHS President Adrian Lund in a statement, is that the “small overlap front crash is now part of our basic battery of tests, and good or acceptable performance should be part of every vehicle's safety credentials.”