Small Cars Safer Than Ever


The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently tested seven more 2009-model-year small cars and has now found that 11 of the 21 small cars it has tested have earned the top rating of Good in side crash tests. That’s up from the three out of 19 small cars tested in 2006 that earned that rating.

However, none of the seven tested in this round earned the IIHS’ Top Safety Pick designation, as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla did. Highest rated were the Suzuki SX4, the Ford Focus, the Toyota Matrix and its twin, the Pontiac Vibe. By far the worst of this group — and of all small cars — was the Chrysler PT Cruiser, which scored the worst rating, Poor, in side and rear tests. IIHS decries the PT for its poor results, but we’ll point out that it is by far the oldest design of any of the cars tested.

The bigger surprise to us was the Saturn Astra’s mediocre grades; it rated Marginal — or second worst — in side crash tests. The Astra is based on a European GM platform, and you’d think it would rank higher.

IIHS goes out of its way to say that while the improvements small cars are making are significant, larger cars are still a safer bet.

“There’s no escaping the laws of physics,” IIHS senior vice president Joe Nolan says. “People in larger, heavier cars fare better in crashes with other vehicles and in single-vehicle crashes than people in smaller ones.”

The full results from the recent tests are below, and you can check out all of IIHS’ Top Safety Picks here.

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Former managing editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David Thomas

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