Dec. 19, 2006 — -- Sales of subcompact cars, the smallest cars in America, were up 42 percent in the last year, but a new study says they may not be as safe as you think.
With subcompact car sales booming, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety decided to put the cars through tests for front crashes, side impacts and rear impact crashes.
Some vehicles did quite well. The Nissan Versa was the best of the bunch and got good ratings in all three crash tests.
The Toyota Yaris was a close second with optional side air bags, and the Honda Fit was the next best.
They were followed by the Mini Cooper and the Chevy Aveo-Scion xB.
The Hyundai Accent ranked at the bottom, garnering an acceptable rating for front crashes and poor ratings for side and rear impacts. Hyundai said its vehicle had an excellent real world safety record.
As safe as some of the smaller cars are, they still don't compare with larger vehicles.
In an accident on the road, size wins out.
"The laws of physics simply dictate that in a crash between two vehicles, the smaller car gets the worse end of the deal," said David Zuby of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
"So when you choose among the smallest cars, in an attempt to get better fuel mileage, you are trading off safety," Zuby said.
This is the first year the institute has run crash tests for subcompact cars.
It is possible to pick the safest of the small cars. But, the institute says, if you can afford it, bigger is usually better.
The report also points out that popular cars that are a bit bigger, including the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, are nearly as fuel efficient as minicars.
However, the report says, these bigger cars can be expected to offer better protection in serious crashes.