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Automakers adapt safety features to new 'small overlap' test

DETROIT — Two redesigned Honda Civic models were the only small cars to get the top rating in stringent front-end crash tests performed by an insurance industry group.

Half of the 12 compact and subcompact cars tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety fared poorly, while the other six performed well.

The two-door and four-door Civics earned "good" ratings, while the Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra and the 2014 Scion tC were "acceptable."

The Chevrolet Cruze and Sonic and the Volkswagen Beetle got "marginal" ratings, while the Nissan Sentra and the Kia Soul and 2014 Kia Forte were rated "poor."

The group didn't test the Toyota Corolla because a new version is coming out in the fall. The Corolla is the No. 2 selling small car in America, behind the Civic.

The cars were rated for their performance in the insurance institute's "small overlap" test of crashes that cover only 25 percent of a vehicle's front end. These tests, added to the IIHS' evaluations last year, are forcing automakers to bolster the front-end structure of all cars in order to avoid bad publicity from a poor performance.

The IIHS tests are stricter than the government's full-width front crash test. The institute says that in many vehicles, a crash affecting a quarter of the front end misses the main structures designed to absorb the impact, but account for nearly a quarter of frontal collisions that cause serious or fatal injuries to people in the front seats, the IIHS says.

The two Civic models and the Dart, Focus, Elantra and Scion tC each earned the IIHS' coveted "Top Safety Pick Plus" award for performing well in multiple tests, including the small offset crash. So far, 25 vehicles of all sizes have earned the award. The IIHS said that as a group, small cars performed worse than midsize cars, but better than small SUVs.

The IIHS, a nonprofit research group funded by insurance companies, conducts its small offset test by crashing vehicles into fixed 5-foot-tall barriers at 40 mph. The institute gives vehicles demerits when the structure intrudes into the passenger compartment, or if a crash dummy suffers injuries to head, neck, chest or other parts of the body. The group also measures how well seat belts and air bags protect people.

Automakers adapt safety features to new 'small overlap' test 08/08/13 [Last modified: Thursday, August 8, 2013 11:03pm]

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