Tiny Smart car gets crash test kudos

The Smart ForTwo earns the top rating for front and side impact protection in crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

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By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The ultra-tiny Smart ForTwo earned top marks in side and front crash tests, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said Wednesday. The two-seat car did not earn the Institute's Top Safety Pick designation, however, because it didn't earn top marks for whiplash protection.

But even if the ForTwo improved its whiplash protection, it would not be named a Top Safety Pick, said IIHS spokesman Russ Rader. The institute does not have a specific size requirement, but the ForTwo is simply too small to be considered safe under all conditions, including highway driving, he said

Smart would not comment on the IIHS's decision regarding the car's eligibility to be a Top Safety Pick.

The ForTwo, which is about three feet shorter and 700 pounds lighter than a Mini Cooper, earned the best possible rating of "Good" for front and side impact protection in tests by the IIHS, a private group funded by insurance companies.

The ForTwo received an "Acceptable" rating, which is the second best possible, for whiplash protection in rear impacts. Technically, that would prevent it from getting a "Top Safety Pick" from the IIHS.

The ForTwo is the smallest car the IIHS has ever tested. "All things being equal in safety, bigger and heavier is always better," said institute president Adrian Lund in an statement. "But among the smallest cars, the engineers at Smart did their homework and designed a high level of safety into a very small package."

The ForTwo, which the IIHS classifies as "microcar," has very little crush space in its short front end. The institute credits the car's seatbelts and airbags with helping minimize crash forces on the occupants. The crash test dummy's head hit the steering wheel through the airbag during the front crash test, but the impact wasn't hard enough to affect the final rating, said spokesman Rader.

"The IIHS frontal crash test is conducted at a higher speed than required by federal safety standards, and it's an offset test that replicates most real-world crashes. The smart's sophisticated safety management system performed as designed," said Smart's Schembri.

A different kind of test

The federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted different crash tests, whose results were released in April and showed some weak points.

In the NHTSA front crash test, the ForTwo earned the top rating of "Five Stars" for driver protection, but just "Three Stars" for passenger protection. Few vehicles today get ratings as low as three stars in NHTSA's front crash tests.

The IIHS uses a different type of front crash test and does not place a crash test dummy in the passenger seat. While NHTSA tests vehicles by crashing them straight into an immovable barrier, the institute crashes vehicles into a deformable barrier so that just part of the vehicle's front end strikes it.

Results from front impact crash tests, no matter how they are conducted, cannot be compared between cars of different sizes. In a real-world front crash, occupants in a smaller vehicle would experience greater crash forces when hitting a larger vehicle going in the opposite direction.

The Smart ForTwo earned the best possible ratings in side impact tests conducted by both NHTSA and IIHS, but in both cases, the door became unlatched during the crash tests. While that didn't affect the final score in either case, it's not ideal, said IIHS's Lund.

Smart is a product of Germany's Daimler (DAI) (DAI), which also makes Mercedes-Benz luxury cars. To top of page

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