The Spark recently underwent the IIHS’ latest and most expo-sing crash test – the small overlap test – in which 25% of the vehicle’s front corner on the driver’s side is impacted by a solid object at
64 km/h, mimicking a large proportion of often-fatal road accidents.
Competing against 10 other small vehicles, the Spark has been revealed as the only entrant to achieve a score of “acceptable”. The other vehicles scored either “marginal” or “poor”.
The Spark’s acceptable performance in the small overlap test – a test which reveals inherent and previously untested weaknesses in a vehicle’s frontal structure – coupled with its “good” ratings in all other IIHS tests (the highest possible score), enables it to win the 2014 top safety pick award – the first time a small car has performed well enough to be given the honour.
IIHS senior vice-president for vehicle research Joe Nolan said: “Small, lightweight vehicles have an inherent safety disadvantage. That’s why it’s even more important to choose one with the best occupant protection.”
Only one minicar out of 11 tested achieved an acceptable rating in the IIHS’ small overlap front crash test, making these tiny vehicles the worst performing group of any evaluated so far.
The institute introduced the the small overlap test in 2012 and it replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or pole.
In the test, 25% of a vehicle’s front end on the driver’s side strikes a rigid barrier at 64.373km/h. The test is more difficult than the head-on crashes conducted by the government or the long-standing 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.
“Unfortunately, as a group, minicars aren’t performing as well as other vehicle categories.”
In contrast to the minicar group’s performance, most mo-dels in the small car category, which are a little larger, have done much better in the test.
There are five good ratings and five acceptable ratings among 17 small cars that have been evaluated so far. All the vehicles – except the Spark and the Mazda 2 – also earn low ratings for restraints and kinematics.
Seven of the 11 were downgraded for allowing too much occupant-forward motion during the crash. 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 side-curtain airbag, which has an important role to play in small overlap frontal crashes, provided insufficient forward coverage in eight of the minicars and didn’t deploy at all in the Toyota Yaris.
In many models, the steering column moved sideways – and in three cars the seat tipped. The two worst performers were the Honda Fit and the Fiat 500. In both cases, intruding structures seriously compromised the driver’s space, and the steering column was pushed back towards 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.
– Own correspondent.