Honda Motor Co.’s Civic won the top grade in a new crash test of small cars while Nissan Motor Co.’s Sentra and two Kia Motors Corp. models received “poor” ratings, according to an insurance industry group.
Half of the 12 small cars tested in a deadly type of front-end collision earned “good” or “acceptable” scores while the rest were “marginal” or “poor,” the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said today. Small cars fared better on average in the simulation of a “small overlap” crash than small sport-utility vehicles did in a May study by the institute.
The test of model-year 2014 cars may influence consumers’ vehicle purchases as makers of top-performing cars use the findings in marketing campaigns. The Arlington, Virginia-based insurance industry-funded group created the new test in part to give manufacturers an incentive to design safer cars.
The results underscore that safety need not be sacrificed in buying small vehicles, said Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Irvine, California-based automotive researcher Kelley Blue Book.
“Small cars are often associated with a lack of safety,” Brauer said in a telephone interview. “It’s often a concern for people shopping that category. ‘Am I going to be safe and protected in this vehicle if something bad happens?’”
Introduced last year, the institute’s test simulates a vehicle’s front corner colliding with a car, tree or pole. It’s tougher than simulations used by U.S. regulators to rate vehicles on a five-star auto safety system.
The Civic is the top-selling model in the U.S. so far this year in its segment of “upper small” cars, according to Autodata Corp., a Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey-based industry researcher. Toyota Motor Corp.’s Corolla ranks second. The Civic is Honda’s second-best-selling vehicle in the U.S. after the larger Accord.
The two- and four-door Civics, made by Honda, based in Tokyo, both scored “good,” the top rating, in the insurance institute’s simulation. Honda has designed its vehicles to withstand the types of crashes in this test and to have a survivable space for the driver after impact.
Toyota’s Corolla wasn’t tested because the automaker based in Toyota City, Japan plans to release it in a new design this month.
The institute chided Volkswagen AG’s Beetle because the car’s steering column moved almost five inches to the right upon impact as the driver’s seat dummy’s upper torso moved forward and left. That meant the dummy’s head barely touched the front air bag. At the same time, the seat belt released too far allowing the dummy’s head to hit the dashboard. The Beetle still scored better than the Sentra and Kia’s Soul and Forte models.
In the Forte, the car that performed the worst in restraints and the vehicle structure, the dummy’s head hit both the windshield pillar and the instrument panel.
“In the worst cases, safety cages collapsed, driver air bags moved sideways with unstable steering columns, and the dummy’s head hit the instrument panel,” David Zuby, the institute’s chief research officer, said in an e-mailed statement. “Side curtain air bags didn’t deploy or didn’t provide enough forward coverage to make a difference. All of this adds up to marginal or poor protection in a small overlap crash.”
Chrysler Group LLC’s Dodge Dart, Ford Motor Co.’s Focus, Hyundai Motor Co.’s Elantra and Toyota’s Scion tC were rated “acceptable.” General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet Sonic and Cruze, and the Beetle scored “marginal.”
The next group of cars to be tested is minicars, including the Fiat 500 and Honda Fit, whose results IIHS says it plans to release later this year.
Last year was the first year since 2005 when deaths on U.S. roads increased, rising 5.3 percent to 34,080, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.