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Small cars struggle in latest round of crash tests

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(Crain News Service photo) The Chevy Volt received an “acceptable” rating in the small overlap test.

By Vince Bond Jr., Crain News Service

DETROIT (July 30, 2014) — Small cars performed poorly in a new round of insurance industry crash testing, with the four-door Mini Cooper Countryman receiving the only good rating of 12 cars evaluated.

Meanwhile, the lithium ion electric batteries of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and Nissan Leaf electric vehicle survived during their first Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests with no problems reported.

The cars were evaluated using the institute’s small overlap front crash test.

The test, in use since 2012, examines how well vehicles handle 40-mph collisions in which there is 25 percent frontal overlap with a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier on the driver’s side.

Although the Leaf’s battery held up, the electric vehicle (EV) still received a poor rating in the test after suffering significant damage that puts drivers at risk of left knee, thigh and lower leg injuries.

The Volt, which picked up the institute’s only Top Safety Pick+ overall award after this round of testing, received an acceptable rating in the small overlap test.

To receive the group’s Top Safety Pick+ designation, a vehicle must earn:

• A good or acceptable rating in the small overlap test.

• A good rating on the institute’s other four tests.

• Advanced or superior ratings for front crash prevention.

Electrified vehicles face a “unique challenge” in safety testing because of their heavy batteries, the IIHS said.

Overall, the institute has tested 32 small cars for small overlap front crash protection, with 19 earning good or acceptable ratings and 13 receiving marginal or poor ratings.

Mini does well

“The Countryman’s safety cage held up reasonably well,” Joe Nolan, the institute’s senior vice president for vehicle research, said in a statement.

“The safety belts and airbags worked together to control the test dummy’s movement, and injury measures indicate a low risk of any significant injuries in a real-world crash this severe.”

The institute has said that such crashes account for around 25 percent of all crashes.

The Ford C-Max Hybrid, Mitsubishi Lancer, Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ achieved acceptable ratings to join the Volt. The Hyundai Veloster and Scion xB received marginal ratings.

The bottom tier’s poor ratings went to the Fiat 500L, the Nissan Juke and Leaf and the Mazda5. The Mazda5, which had parts of its occupant compartment buckle, shares the worst performer distinction with the 2014 Kia Forte and 2012 Prius.

Leaf results

The institute said the Leaf experienced as much as 16 inches of intrusion in the lower occupant compartment and 14 inches in the upper occupant compartment. The instrument panel, parking brake pedal and steering column were forced back toward the driver, the institute said.

One of the main problems with small overlap crashes, according to the institute, is that the main structures on the front crush zone aren’t engaged. This makes it difficult for vehicles to manage crash energy, the IIHS said.

“Collapse of the occupant compartment is the downfall for four small cars in this group, including the Fiat 500L, Mazda 5, Nissan Juke and Nissan Leaf,” Mr. Nolan said. “A sturdy occupant compartment allows the restraint systems to do their job, absorbing energy and controlling occupant motion.”


This report appeared on the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.


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