Six of 12 small cars do well in front crash tests

DETROIT (AP) Six of 12 small cars performed well in front-end crash tests conducted by an insurance industry group, but some popular models fared poorly in the safety evaluations.

Only the two-door and four-door Honda Civic models earned the top rating of “good” in the tests done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra and the 2014 Scion tC got “acceptable” ratings.

But popular models such as the Chevrolet Cruze and Sonic and the Volkswagen Beetle got “marginal” ratings, while the Nissan Sentra and the Kia Soul and 2014 Kia Forte each were rated “poor.”

The group didn’t test the Toyota Corolla because a new version is coming out in the fall. The Corolla is the No. 2 selling small car in America, behind the Civic.

The IIHS ratings are influential because many auto shoppers find them while researching vehicles on the Internet.

The cars were rated for their performance in the insurance institute’s “small overlap” test of crashes that cover only 25 percent of a vehicle’s front end. These tests, added to the IIHS’s evaluations last year, are forcing automakers to bolster the front-end structure of all cars in order to avoid bad publicity from a poor performance.

The IIHS tests are more stringent than the U.S. government’s full-width front crash test. The institute says that in many vehicles, a crash affecting one-quarter of the front end misses the main structures designed to absorb the impact. Yet such crashes account for nearly a quarter of the frontal collisions that cause serious or fatal injuries to people in the front seats, IIHS says.

The two Civic models and the Dart, Focus, Elantra and Scion tC each earned the IIHS’ coveted “Top Safety Pick Plus” award for performing well in multiple tests, including the small offset crash. So far, 25 vehicles of all sizes have earned the award.

IIHS said that as a group, small cars performed worse than midsize cars, but better than small SUVs. Results for mini-cars will be released later in the year, the group said.

Kia said in a statement that the IIHS test goes beyond U.S. government requirements and noted that the Soul and Forte received top safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Nissan said it will review the IIHS tests. The Sentra, it said, performed well in other IIHS tests.

GM, which makes Chevrolet, said it’s working to improve the structure and restraints in its small cars where technically possible. Volkswagen said its cars exceed all federal safety standards.

IIHS, a nonprofit research group funded by insurance companies, conducts its small offset test by crashing vehicles into fixed barrier at 40 mph (64 kph).

The institute gives vehicles demerits when the structure intrudes into the passenger compartment, or if a crash dummy suffers injuries to head, neck, chest or other parts of the body.

The group also measures how well seat belts and air bags protect people. “Good” is the top rating, followed by “acceptable,” then “marginal” and “poor.”

(Copyright 2013  Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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