6 Small Cars Make the Safety Grade

Small cars and safety are not mutually exclusive. At least that is what the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has found as it tested 13 small cars, recognizing six with its “top safety pick” award. Lest you think that the IIHS award is influenced by the manufacturers you are wrong – the institute is funded by the insurance companies for the purpose of assigning rates based on crashworthiness and other risks.

Top Safety Picks

The winners are the 2012 Ford Focus and Honda Civic, in addition to the 2011 Hyundai Elantra, Lexus CT 200h hybrid, Nissan Juke and Toyota Prius hybrid. The seven other cars rated, but not given the top award were: Dodge Caliber, Honda CR-Z, Honda Insight, Nissan Sentra, Nissan Versa, Scion xD and Suzuki SX4. All 13 models are sold in the compact or subcompact segments, tough areas for automakers to ensure top safety based on each vehicles dimensions and weight.

This is good news for consumers who are concerned that choosing smaller, more fuel efficient cars will come at a sacrifice to safety. The IIHS testing has revealed that consumers can have their cake and eat it too, enjoying high mileage cars and knowing that safety is tops in six models.

The “top safety pick” award was rolled out by the institute in 2006, but is currently tougher than what was originally put together. Those changes include a roof strength test, an electronic stability control requirement and a higher bar for rear impact protection. Initially, just three small cars made the original list, but now 22 are listed including the original three.

Law of Physics

The law of physics still matters and that is why the IIHS and others advise car shoppers to keep in mind when searching for a new car. That means a midsize Hyundai Sonata has a better chance of withstanding a crash harmful to vehicle occupants than a smaller Hyundai Elantra. Even with all of the latest safety equipment installed such as side impact airbags and stronger roofs, larger and heavier vehicles have an edge.

Still, today’s small cars do come with safety equipment not found in cars just five years ago. Airbags have since been joined by side curtain airbags, electronic stability control and improved safety belts. Some models include or offer active head restraints, side impact avoidance systems and stronger bumpers, giving occupants a better chance of walking away from a crash.

Katherine E. Ackerman

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