The smallest cars on the road carry the biggest injury risk in a common and deadly type of crash, a report released Wednesday reveals.
Only one of 11 small city and minicars passed the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's small front overlap crash test in which a car hits a barrier with the front driver's side corner at 40 miles per hour. It simulates clipping another car head-on or hitting a tree or pole.
The worst performer was the Honda Fit, which earned a "poor" rating in the test along with five other models and all but one of the rest were "marginal."
Just one car among the 2013 and 2014 models tested received an "acceptable" rating in the tough test -- the Chevrolet Spark. Thus, Spark is the only one in the group to earn the IIHS Top Safety Pick designation.
"We're geeked," says Chevrolet spokeswoman Annalisa Bluhm about the passing grade. She says improvements were made when the car was introduced into the U.S.but no modifications were added to pass the specific test. The car is a global product that was developed by General Motors' GM Korea unit.
The group performed worse than any other car category on the test, which was instituted in 2012. None received the highest rating of "good."
"Small, lightweight vehicles have an inherent safety disadvantage," Joe Nolan, a senior vice president for the institute, the safety arm of the insurance industry, says in a statement.
But spokesman Russ Rader says there is no reason they can't be re-engineered to perform well in the tests. Often, he says the problem is that the main shock-absorbing materials are bypassed or missed when an offset crash test is conducted. And he noted that while larger cars have generally performed better, automakers are working "feverishly to update their product to do better in this test."
Though the Fit finished last, Honda has improved crash performance in new versions of its other models, says Rader.
Honda just unveiled a redesigned 2015 Fit for the U.S. last week at the auto show in Detroit and in a statement predicted that the 2015 Fit will earn the highest rating in all IIHS tests, including the small overlap.
Besides Fit, also rated "poor" (from lowest to highest score) was Fiat 500, Hyundai Accent, Toyota Prius C, Nissan Versa and Mitsubishi Mirage.
Rated "marginal, " were Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, Kia Rio and Mazda2.
By Chris Woodyard