• Side crashes are particularly deadly, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) wants to change that.
  • Testing different body styles through an updated side crash test, according to the IIHS that many small sedans and hatchbacks struggled to achieve the Good rating. (In the original test, all 11 test takers scored well.)
  • The Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback scored well, while the Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, and Toyota Corolla earned acceptable marks, and the Kia Forte (pictured above) and Subaru’s Impreza received poor marks.

Safety technology in the automotive industry has advanced significantly in the 21st century, with advanced driver assistance systems becoming standard equipment. Adding these levels of driver redundancy is aimed at avoiding accidents in general, but driver aids have their limits and the incidence of road accidents has increased dramatically in recent years. When collisions occur, the structure of the vehicle itself can be the difference between a serious injury or getting away with just a few scratches.

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The performance of the subcompact car is a mixed bag for the new side crash test


The Insurance Institute of Road Safety has introduced a new crash test to its safety assessment regime. Nearly a quarter of vehicle occupant and passenger deaths can be attributed to severe side impacts, and the IIHS recently updated this test to reflect reality, with 4,200-pound barrier hitting the side of the test cars at 37 mph. The results for small cars are worrying.

Good or acceptable ratings

Of the 11 models tested, only the Mazda 3 hatchback and sedan received the highest rating of Good, with acceptable levels of damage to the safety frame and minimal levels of driver torso and pelvic injuries. The Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra and Toyota Corolla earned an Acceptable rating, which is a downgrade from Good by the IIHS, and showed poor driver pelvis protection. It’s worth noting that all of these models earned an Acceptable rating in the structure and safety category, a stark contrast to the Good rating seen on many midsize crossovers.

Mazda 3

Mazda’s aging hatchback had a strong roll cage and produced results with a low probability of most injuries.


Four were rated “poor”

Four of Tested 11 models received an overall rating of “Poor” due to inadequate roll cage design and significant risk of injury to drivers. Forte Kia performed worst with a minimum safety cage rating and poor protection for the driver’s torso and pelvis, while Subaru Impreza and the Crosstrek family has demonstrated poor structural safety across the board.

In particular, the Forte’s crash test resulted in the head hitting the window sill via the airbag, increasing the risk of head injury. Subaru’s crash test also showed head impact on the window sill and interior intrusion into the B-pillar.

iihs side test for small cars 1122

Insurance Institute of Road Safety

In general, small sedans and hatchbacks performed poorly in comparison medium-sized analogues of crossovers but it turned out similarly a small crossover and mid-size sedan counterparts.

The IIHS says the higher ground clearance results in better performance in the new rating because the impact is closer to the floor than the doors. But it does not mean these small sedans and hatchbacks are inherently dangerous.

“It’s great to see so many small cars passing this new side test,” said IIHS Senior Research Engineer Becky Mueller, who led the development of the new assessment. “Small, low vehicles are at a disadvantage when they encounter the new test barrier, which is a more realistic representation of the front end of a typical modern SUV than our old barrier.”

Despite this, it is clear that a number of manufacturers have found a way to provide sufficient structural rigidity and crash protection with fewer materials. In addition, all of these models scored “Good” in the current side impact test, which uses a 3,300-pound barrier traveling at 31 mph. The new test involves slamming a 4,200-pound barrier into the side of the vehicle at 37 mph, which the IIHS says more closely simulates a real impact from a mid-size SUV.

This updated test is not an official test criterion for 2022 model-year vehicles, but the institute says that starting in 2023, vehicles will need a “Good” or “Acceptable” rating on this updated test to earn a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ rating. . As the IIHS continues to update safety standards, manufacturers will face pressure to meet those standards, given that IIHS ratings are an important metric for safety-conscious car buyers.

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