When it comes to vehicular safety, size matters -- a lot, according to a recent crash test.
"It's physics," Insurance Institute for Highway Safety president Adrian Lund said. "It's a law that with the weight and size advantage of the larger cars, they're always going to have a safety advantage in crashes."
In each of the tests, the large-model vehicle did best, although manufacturers argue that the tests are conducted at speeds that drivers are unlikely to reach in actual crashes.
Still, the report noted that the results are an indication of the relative safety of people riding in small cars as opposed to larger cars. It said the people riding in the smaller car would be at a disadvantage because the smaller car would be pushed backward by the larger vehicle during impact.
Indeed, the death rate for people in mini cars involved in crashes was almost twice that of people in large cars in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The miniature Honda Fit was pitted against the midsize Accord, while the Toyota Yaris went up against the Camry in the institute's crash tests.
In both cases, the smaller cars suffered much more damage than their midsize counterparts. The Toyota Camry actually intruded far into the Yaris' passenger compartment.
The institute said that was because smaller vehicles do not have a long hood to cushion the blow.
The standard also held true even for luxury-brand cars.
The Smart Fortwo hybrid vehicle, made by Mercedes, went airborne when crashed into the heavier Mercedes C Class. The heavier car always strikes the lighter one with more force, according to the institute.
Despite they're enduring more damage than the larger cars, all three mini cars tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety passed every government crash test.
All three did well in the institute's frontal offset barrier test, but all three did poorly in frontal collisions with midsize cars.
The tests illustrated one major point, however. "When it comes to cars, size matters," Lund said.
The cars' manufacturers said the institute's head-on tests are unfair, because they are conducted at speeds that exceed the vast majority of real-world crashes. But the institute said it has been conducting similar tests for years.
"The unusual and extreme conditions produced by this test highlight the issue of compatibility between vehicles, albeit at higher speeds than most actual, vehicle-to-vehicle crashes. Honda conducts extensive research on vehicle-to-vehicle and other types of crashes at our state-of-the-art crash test facilities in Tochigi, Japan, and in Ohio, with industry-leading capabilities for the study of car-to-car crashes.
"Honda's Advanced Compatibility Engineering body structure is a result of this research, and specifically addresses frontal crash compatibility between vehicles of different size and ride heights while helping to absorb the energy of a frontal crash by channeling energy through both the upper and lower structural elements. Our Ace body structure has helped all 2009 Honda vehicles achieve Good IIHS ratings and five-star NHTSA NCAP frontal crash ratings (except the S2000).