By Jeff Gilbert
ARLINGTON, VA — (WWJ) — Some new concerns are being raised about the safety of subcompact cars, and it’s not necessarily about size. It’s about design.
“These small mini-cars are at an inherent disadvantage in the first place in crashes, just because of their low weight,” says Joe Nolan, senior vice president for vehicle research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “When you add not very good crash test results to that mix, you’ve really made a vehicle that becomes a poor choice if you’re shopping for safety.”
The Institute put 11 subcompacts through their new small overlap crash test, which simulates a collision with a tree or pole. Nolan said only one vehicle had acceptable results–the Chevrolet Spark.
“As a group, this is the worst we’ve seen, performance-wise, so far.”
The Honda Fit and Fiat 500 finished at the bottom of the list. In both cars, the Institute says intruding structure seriously compromised the driver’s space, and the steering column was pushed back toward the driver.
The Honda Fit’s crash test saw the dummy’s head barely contact the frontal airbag before sliding off and hitting the instrument panel. During the test of the 500, the driver’s door opened after the hinges tore. An open door creates a risk that the driver could be partially or completely ejected.
Nolan said one recurring problem was a design that caused internal components in many of the vehicles to shift in a crash.
“When that airbag starts moving out of the way, then there’s a chance your head’s not going to interact with the airbag, and instead hit some of the harder structures inside the car.”
Car companies stress that their vehicles meet, and exceed, all government standards. They traditionally examine the results of these crash tests and use them in future designs.
The Insurance Institute has been using this particular test to pressure the auto industry into making safer vehicles. Compact cars, only slightly larger than subcompacts, did much better in their testing.
That’s an indication, Nolan says, that car companies can do more to improve the safety of vehicles, even smaller ones.
“The knowledge is there to have better designs,” he said. “It’s just that not all automakers have implemented it on all of their products.”
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