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Most minicars fare poorly in tough crash test

The Chevrolet Spark during a crash test. The

The Chevrolet Spark during a crash test. The Spark is the only minicar tested to earn an acceptable rating in the small overlap front test. Credit: AP

Most minicars don't protect passengers well in a common type of frontal crash, an insurance group said Wednesday.

Of 11 models evaluated, only one, the Chevrolet Spark, was deemed "acceptable" by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in a test in which 25 percent of a car's front, on the driver's side, strikes a fixed object at 40 mph. None were rated "good."

The new test is more difficult than others by the institute or the federal government because it bypasses vehicles' front crumple zones, making it more likely that occupant compartments will collapse, the institute said. But such "small overlap" crashes account for about 25 percent of all real-world frontal crashes, said the institute.

"Unfortunately, as a group, minicars aren't performing as well as other vehicle categories in the small overlap crash," Joe Nolan, the institute's senior vice president for vehicle research, said in a statement.

Six of the cars -- including the bestseller, the Nissan Versa -- got the lowest rating of "poor." Others were the Mitsubishi Mirage, Toyota Prius c, Hyundai Accent, Fiat 500 and Honda Fit.

Toyota said in a statement, "With this new test, the institute has raised the bar again and we will respond to the challenge."

The two worst performers in the test were the Fit and the 500, the institute said. "In both cases, intruding structure seriously compromised the driver's space, and the steering column was pushed back toward the driver," the group said.

Chrysler said the Fiat 500 "meets or exceeds all government-mandated safety requirements and continues to offer a high level of protection in four main crash types identified by the IIHS."

Hours after the results were released, Consumer Reports magazine yanked its "recommended" rating for the Fit. Honda said in a statement that it expects its next generation Fit, due in showrooms in a few months, to score well on all the institute's tests.

Cars deemed "marginal" in the test included the Mazda 2, Kia Rio, Toyota Yaris and Ford Fiesta sedan and hatchback.

Long Island auto dealer Mark Calisi said the Spark is a strong seller and the Mazda 2 a fair seller at his Chevrolet and Mazda stores at the Eagle Auto Mall in Riverhead. Both are popular with East End summer homeowners and renters.

Calisi said the new safety ratings could affect sales. "Consumers are very well aware," he said. "They go online and they research a car as far as safety, gas mileage and recalls."

The new small-overlap test augments one by the federal government in which the entire front of the vehicle collides with a rigid barrier at 35 mph, and another by the institute in which 40 percent of the front end collides with a deformable barrier at 40 mph. The latter simulates about 24 percent of real-world frontal crashes, said the institute.

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