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Small Nissan Versa aces crash tests

Some small cars do well in Insurance Institute crash tests, but bigger cars still safer, group warns.

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com staff writer
versa_nissan_2007.01.jpg

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The Nissan Versa got top marks in crash test results released Tuesday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, though bigger cars still offer greater safety than small cars, the Institute said.

The Institute tested eight small cars. Only the Versa earned the top rating of "Good" for front- and side-impact protection as well as for whiplash protection in rear impacts. The Versa is slightly larger than the other cars in the report.

Small cars have become increasingly popular as fuel prices have risen and their quality and safety ratings have improved.

But even the safest small car offers less protection in a crash than a larger car, the Institute said.

"People traveling in small, light cars are at a disadvantage, especially when they collide with bigger, heavier vehicles," said Institute president Adrian Lund.

Photo Gallery: Top Safety Picks

The poorest-performing small cars in this round of tests were the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio. The Accent received a "Poor" rating in the Institute's side-impact test despite having side airbags as standard equipment. The Accent was rated as "Acceptable" for front-impact protection.

The Accent's crash test results also apply to the closely-related Kia Rio.

The Accent's steel body performed only marginally well in the side impact test, the Institute said. Crash-test dummes' heads were protected by airbags but the dummies' torsos were not well protected. (See correction.)

The Institute also tested the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Scion xB and Chevrolet Aveo. The Mini Cooper had been tested previously.

The Yaris, when equipped with optional side airbags, earned "Good" ratings in front- and side-impact tests, but rated only "Marginal" in rear-impact whiplash protection. Without the optional side airbags, though, the Yaris was rated "Poor" for side-crash protection.

The Scion xB, a tall, boxy wagon also made by Toyota, doesn't come with side airbags even as an option. Like the Yaris, it earned a "Good " rating for front-impact protection, but "Poor" for side protection and "Marginal" for rear impact protection.

Good performances, but no awards

None of the vehicles in this round of tests earned the Institute's Top Safety Pick Award. That award requires "Good" ratings for all crash tests and the availability of Electronic Stability Control, which the Nissan Versa does not have.

The Insurance Institute's front- and side-impact tests are different from those performed by the government.

For front-impact safety, the Institute uses an "offset" test in which the vehicle strikes a barrier with just part of its front bumper, concentrating impact forces.

In its side-impact test, the Insurance Institute hits the vehicle with a barrier that resembles the front of a SUV or pick-up truck. That type of impact represents a much graver risk of head injury, and therefore a greater risk of death than an impact from a car. Vehicles without head-protecting side airbags generally perform poorly in the Institute's side-impact test.

Rear-impact safety is calculated by, first, measuring various features of the seat and headrest. If those are judged to seem reasonably safe, the seat is then tested using an actual impact test.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety small car crash test results:

Nissan Versaexternal link Front: Good - Side: Good - Rear: Good

Toyota Yarisexternal link (with optional side airbags) Front: Good - Side: Good - Rear: Marginal

Honda Fitexternal link Front: Good - Side: Good - Rear: Poor

Mini Cooperexternal link (tested previously) Front: Good - Side: Acceptable - Rear: Marginal

Chevrolet Aveoexternal link Front: Acceptable - Side: Marginal - Rear: Poor

Scion xBexternal link Front: Good - Side: Poor - Rear: Marginal

Toyota Yarisexternal link (without side airbags) Front: Good - Side: Poor - Rear: Marginal

Hyundai Accentexternal link Front: Acceptable - Side: Poor - Rear: Poor

Kia Rioexternal link Front: Acceptable - Side: Poor - Rear: Poor

Photo Gallery: Top Safety Picks

Feedback

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Accent did not have rear airbags. (Return to story.)

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