The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has released results from another round of crash tests. If the test cars were kids and the IIHS' grades were coming from an elementary school teacher, some would be grounded for a week. One would be shipped off to reform school.
The test subject were all small cars -- specifically, 2014 models of the Chevrolet Volt, Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Fiat 500 L, Hyundai Veloster, Mazda5, MINI Cooper Countryman, Mitsubishi Lancer, Nissan Juke, Nissan Leaf, Scion FR-S, Scion xB, and Subaru BRZ. Those vehicles were subjected to the IIHS' newest test, introduced in 2012: the small overlap crash.
It's a tough test to pass, because it involves 25 percent of a vehicle's front end colliding with a barrier at 40 mph. In the real world, this kind of accident happens all the time, when cars edge across the center line and hit the corner of an oncoming vehicle, or when cars hit telephone poles and other narrow-ish objects. Now that the IIHS has created a test to mimic those sorts of incidents, however, automakers realize just how tough it can be to design a car so that one-quarter of its front end will protect 100 percent of the vehicle.
Just one of the twelve models passed the small front overlap crash test with a "good" rating: the MINI Cooper Countryman. IIHS says that the Countryman's "safety cage held up reasonably well" and that its airbags prevented the test dummy from moving around the cabin too much. Based on IIHS calculations, the risk of serious injury to occupants would've been low. Since the Countryman scored a "good" rating on the IIHS' four other crash tests, it has received the honor of being an IIHS Top Safety Pick.
The Volt, C-MAX Hybrid, Lancer, FR-S and BRZ earned "acceptable" ratings on the test. All saw some damage to the safety cage, and the restraints didn't work as well as the IIHS would've liked. On the whole, however, damage to test dummies was minimal, except for in the FR-S and BRZ, where the collision caused some issues with the dummies' lower legs and feet. (It's not surprising that the two cars had similar problems: remember, they're essentially the same car.)
Because the small overlap crash test is so new, the IIHS only requires cars to score "good" or "acceptable" on it to earn a Top Safety Pick rating -- provided they ace all four of the organization's other crash tests (moderate front overlap, side, rollover, and rear). Since these models did just that, the C-MAX Hybrid, Lancer, FR-S and BRZ were all named IIHS Top Safety Picks.
The Chevrolet Volt earned the distinction of being a Top Safety Pick+, because it comes with an optional front crash prevention system -- something that none of the other models included in this round of tests offer.
The Fiat 500L, Mazda5, Nissan Juke, and Nissan Leaf earned a rating of poor on the small front overlap crash. Damage to the occupant compartment was substantial in all four models, as were injuries suffered by test dummies. (Though there weren't any issues with the head, neck, or chest, below the waist, things were a bit gruesome.)
The Mazda5 has the dubious distinction of turning in one of the three worst performances ever recorded on the IIHS' small front overlap crash test. (The other two on that list are the 2014 Kia Forte and the 2012 Toyota Prius v.) The Mazda5's driver's side door unlatched during the test, upping the risk of occupants being ejected from the vehicle. More alarming, the side curtain airbag didn't deploy at all.
The Mazda5 was also the only 2014 model to earn anything less than "acceptable" on the IIHS' side impact test. (Most cars earn a rating of "good".) Analysis of the dummies after the test revealed likely fractures of the pelvis and ribs. Ouch.
For an overview of the small front overlap crash test and how well these cars performed, check out the IIHS video embedded above.