The Chevrolet Spark (as it's badged in the US) offered the highest level of occupant protection in the new test, in which 25 per cent of the vehicle’s front end on the driver’s side strikes a rigid barrier at 64km/h, despite scoring a ‘marginal’ rating for structure – the most fundamental element of occupant protection, according to the IIHS.
The Spark uniquely achieved a ‘good’ rating for its protection of the dummy’s lower legs and feet, while it and the Mazda 2 were the only two vehicles to earn ‘acceptable’ ratings in the restraints and kinematics criteria. All other vehicles – Kia Rio, Toyota Yaris, Ford Fiesta, Nissan Versa sedan (Almera), Toyota Prius C, Hyundai Accent, Fiat 500, Honda Fit (Jazz) – were found to offer either ‘marginal’ or ‘poor’ protection in this area.
Seven of the 11 were downgraded for allowing too much occupant forward movement during the crash, with either the seatbelt not adequately holding the dummy in place or the dummy’s head missing or sliding off the front airbag.
Additionally, the side curtain airbags failed to provide sufficient forward coverage in eight of the city cars and didn’t deploy at all in the Yaris.
The two worst performers were the Jazz and the 500. In both, IIHS says intruding structures seriously compromised the driver’s space and the steering column was pushed back towards the driver.
In the Jazz, the dummy’s head barely contacted the front airbag before hitting the dashboard, while the driver’s door of the 500 opened after the hinges tore.
While the Spark offers better small overlap crash protection than its city car rivals, IIHS senior vice president for vehicle research Joe Nolan says its light weight means it does not offer the same level of protection as larger and heavier vehicles with comparable ratings.
"Small, lightweight vehicles have an inherent safety disadvantage. That's why it's even more important to choose one with the best occupant protection,” Nolan said.
“Unfortunately, as a group, [city cars] aren't performing as well as other vehicle categories in the small overlap crash.”