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Small Cars Show Mixed Results For Side Protection In New Crash Test; Mazda Leads The Pack

Seven of 11 small cars performed well in a recent evaluation of their protective capabilities in a new, more rigorous side-impact crash test, despite challenges presented by low ride heights.

The Mazda 3 sedan and Mazda 3 hatchback were the top rated, followed by the Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla sedan, Toyota Corolla hatchback, Honda Civic sedan and Honda Civic hatchback.

The Kia Forte, Subaru Crosstrek and the Subaru Impreza sedan and wagon were the worst performers.

Those are the results of a new crash test released earlier this month by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit financed by the insurance industry. Considered tougher than previous similar tests, the goal is to help manufacturers make vehicles that maximize survival after a side-impact crash.

“It’s encouraging to see so many small cars with passing grades in this new side test,” Becky Mueller, senior research engineer at the Institute, and who spearheaded the development of the evaluation, said in a statement.

“Smaller, lower vehicles are at a disadvantage when struck by the new test barrier, which is a more realistic representation of the front end of a typical modern SUV than our old barrier,” she added. “Clearly, some manufacturers have already figured out how to provide sufficient protection in a crash like this even for occupants of small cars.”

The top rating in the institute’s assessments is good, followed by acceptable, marginal or poor. Each vehicle received an overall rating and in nine sub categories, including safety and structure of occupant compartment, and protections for preventing driver and rear passenger head, neck, torso and pelvis injuries.

The updated side crash test uses a heavier barrier traveling at a higher speed to simulate the striking vehicle than its predecessor. Both vehicle length — in particular, the length of the occupant compartment— and ride height are thought to impact efficacy, researchers said. A taller vehicle, for example, means the moving barrier strikes nearer to the floor of the occupant compartment. Smaller cars typically have low ride heights.

A few examples from the analysis:

The structure and safety cage of the Mazda 3, one of two vehicles that received the best rating, held up well in the new test, and the head-protecting airbags for both the driver and rear passenger prevented the dummies’ heads from hitting the hard surfaces of the vehicle interior, which resulted in low risk for most injury types.

The Forte, which received a poor rating, measurements taken from the driver dummy suggested a high risk of injuries to the torso and pelvis and a relatively high risk of a head or neck injury, researchers said. “The driver dummy’s head made hard impact with the windowsill through the side curtain airbag, and the structure of the occupant compartment was not maintained well, contributing to a moderate risk of injuries to the rear passenger’s torso and pelvis.”

For more information about the ratings program and specific details about the models evaluated, click here.

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