The Corolla earned a 'marginal' score overall in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) small overlap frontal impact test—a test that's quickly becoming a differentiator between the safest cars and the rest.
Why is this test so important? Because it mimics one that's especially injurious: a collision with a pole or tree (or another vehicle), when such a barrier overlaps with just 25 percent of the vehicle's front end, at 40 mph.
Although the IIHS did not say that occupant injury would have been likely in the test conditions, it did note that the structure and safety cage fared poorly. “Structural performance was poor and the driver's space was seriously compromised by intruding structure,” the Institute noted in its results, pointing to intrusion of more than a foot in the lower interior, and the possibility of leg injury; the steering wheel (and airbag deployment) moved to the right.
The Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, and Hyundai Elantra are all models that have achieved a better score of 'acceptable' in the new test, while both two- and four-door versions of the Honda Civic have achieved the top 'good' score. Some other models in the class—like the Subaru Impreza—still haven't been tested, but the otherwise highly rated Chevrolet Cruze earned a surprisingly low 'marginal' score in that test and the all-new 2014 Kia Forte was rated 'poor.'
This isn't the first low performance for Toyota in the test; recently there have been several. Both the mid-size Toyota Camry and the Toyota Prius V have also been rated 'poor' in the new test, with the IIHS pointing out that severe injury would have resulted. In fact the organization went so far with those models as to say that they “illustrate what can go wrong in a small overlap crash, despite good ratings in IIHS tests that qualify the cars for Top Safety Pick.”
The results surely come as a disappointment to Toyota; at a recent launch event where we got a first drive of the 2014 Corolla—and were otherwise impressed with its expanded appeal, beyond its reputation as a commuter appliance—we were told the automaker expected top results in all categories of the IIHS test.
While the body structure for the 2014 Corolla isn't clean-slate new, the automaker has introduced some important upgrades within the new model, such as ultra-high-strength steel impact beams for the doors, a rear-seat cross bar to help prevent rear-passenger side-impact injury, and a front side member that should help with this test, in dispersing energy at the front.
The version that the IIHS tested was a 2014 Corolla LE—the variant that Toyota expects will be most popular.