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Small cars do badly in side crash test
Of 14 small cars tested by insurance group, 12 are rated as "Poor."
March 7, 2005: 4:23 PM EST
Insurance Institute Side Impact Crash Test
Tests were performed on 14 small cars. Those with optional side airbags were tested without them, and again with them if the manufacturer requested it.
Car Head-protecting side airbags Rating 
Chevrolet CobaltOptional (tested with)Acceptable
Toyota CorollaOptional (tested with) Acceptable
Chevrolet Cobalt Optional (tested without) Poor 
Volkswagen New Beetle Standard Poor 
Suzuki Aerio Standard Poor 
Mitsubishi Lancer Optional (tested without) Poor 
Mazda3 Optional (tested without) Poor 
Ford Focus Optional (tested without) Poor 
Hyundai Elantra Standard Poor 
Toyota Corolla Optional (tested without) Poor 
Kia Spectra Standard Poor 
Suzuki Firenza Standard Poor 
Nissan Sentra Standard Poor 
Saturn Ion Optional (tested with) Poor 
Saturn Ion Optional (tested without) Poor
Dodge Neon Optional (tested without) Poor 
 Source:  Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Of 14 small cars involved in a test of side-impact crash safety, 12 received a rating of "Poor" from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Because of these results, Consumer Reports announced Sunday night that it was removing the Ford Focus as its pick as the best small car for 2005.

For more on Consumer Reports Best Cars, click here.

Only the Chevrolet Cobalt and Toyota Corolla, when equipped with optional head-protecting side airbags, received ratings of "Acceptable," the second-highest rating on the Institute's four-point scale. "Poor," which the other 12 vehicles received, is the worst possible rating.

Both the Cobalt and the Corolla earned a rating of "Poor" when tested without the side airbags. If a vehicle has side airbags as an option, rather than standard equipment, the Institute tests the vehicle without them. Vehicles are then re-tested with side airbags if the manufacturer requests it and pays the costs involved.

The Dodge Neon, which performed worst on the test, the Institute said, was singled out for particularly harsh criticism in the Insurance Institute's report.

"This car is a disaster," Lund says. "The structure is poor, and both dummies' heads were hit by the barrier during the crash test. High forces were recorded on the head, torso, and pelvis of the driver dummy. If this had been a real driver in a real crash, it's likely it wouldn't have been survivable."

In a written statement provided to journalists, DaimlerChrysler, manufacturer of the Dodge Neon, pointed out that in similar crash tests by the U.S. government, "Neon's performance was typical of small passenger cars."

The Insurance Institute's side impact test is designed to simulate the impact of a pick-up truck or SUV into the side of a vehicle carrying relatively small women. In the test, a barrier weighing 3,300 pounds is pushed into the side of the vehicle at a speed of 31 miles per hour.

The U.S. government also tests vehicles for side-impact safety, but uses a slightly different test. That test uses a barrier that is lower to the ground, simulating a car, but moving faster than in the Insurance Institute's test. The Neon earned three out of a possible five stars in the government's side impact crash test.

Production of the Neon is being phased out and a wagon-styled replacement vehicle is in the final stages of development for the 2006 model year.

Several of the cars earned "Poor" ratings in spite of having head-protecting side airbags. Although the airbags did protect the crash test dummies' heads, the impact still inflicted severe punishment on the dummies' bodies.

"Side airbags can protect the head, but if the vehicle structure doesn't hold up well then serious injuries to other body regions still can occur," said Adrian Lund, chief operating officer of the Institiute. "With better structures along with the side airbags, the performances of these vehicles would improve."

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Consumer Reports picks the best cars: click here.  Top of page

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