Larger vehicles generally hold up better than smaller cars in crashes, so it’s significant that the Honda Civic compact was able to get the top score on the new test.
The revised 2013 Honda Civic is the first compact car to earn a Top Safety Pick “Plus” designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The insurance industry group does its own crash testing separate from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash test program required for new vehicles.
Two Civics — both the two-door and four-door models — and three other larger vehicles earned this top rating, it was announced today. The other top scorers were the redesigned 2014 Mazda6 midsize mainstream sedan, the Lincoln MKZ midsize luxury sedan and the Volvo XC60 midsize luxury SUV.
TSP+ means the cars were able to score a top “good” score on the new, tough “small overlap frontal crash test” — hitting a barrier at 40 mph with just the outside 25% of the car’s front end — in addition to the regular tests.
Larger vehicles generally hold up better than smaller cars in crashes, which is why it’s significant that the Honda Civic was able to ace the new, added test with a “good.”
Honda is delighted with its showing. “We believe this is a distinct competitive advantage, especially as more and more consumers place a premium on crash rating performance,” says Art St. Cyr, Honda’s vice president of product planning, in a statement.
The test is not easy. The small frontal overlap that IIHS began doing last year is designed to mimic hitting a narrow object, such as a pole, or a partial head-on collision on the driver side. In order to be designated as a TSP+, the vehicle needs to first pass the other IIHS front, rear, side and rollover tests — then pass the new small overlap test.
A bunch of cars have flunked the test, but the latest test results show that engineers are figuring out how to modify new cars to make sure they’ll pass. Reached for comment, Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety says such tests are critical to coaxing safety improvements out of automakers.
Honda Civic’s score reflects upgrades to the 2013 model of the popular vehicle that had just been redesigned for 2012. A makeover of that model was undertaken after criticism of the new car’s interior materials and other appearance and performance attributes, not its crash test results.
But while they were at it, Honda engineers built extra safety into the revised version, with significant changes to the front crash structure to meet the new test. The changes to the structure are related to the design of the front crash structure of Civic’s larger sibling, the redesigned 2013 Honda Accord midsize sedan.
The Accord was one of two mainstream midsize sedans to score “good” in the small frontal offset in earlier testing of 13 models (story here).
According to IIHS, Volvo engineers took a different approach, changing the SUV’s electronics so that the side-curtain airbag would deploy in the small overlap test.
This round of small overlap testing was at the request of the automakers, who were confident they’d do well, said IIHS spokesman Russ Rader. While this test is new and harder, IIHS has done a wider overlap test — 40% of the front end — since 1995.
NHTSA not added such tests to its battery but says it is is evaluating procedures for small overlap and also oblique frontal crash test. Since it published initial findings in September 2009, NHTSA has had research underway on such crashes and the types of occupant injuries that occur in them.
The agency says it also has developed two frontal crash test procedures that are designed to replicate head-on crashes when a vehicle’s front corner collides with an oncoming vehicle’s front corner at a slight angle. NHTSA’s tests use a moving barrier (simulating an oncoming vehicle) hitting the vehicle being tested. The agency has also completed tests to demonstrate the procedures produce consistent, repeatable results. And it says it is developing an advanced frontal crash dummy, called THOR, to potentially make more human-like measurements for predicting injury in the head, chest, hip, and leg areas.
NHTSA says that it and IIHS have been closely monitoring each other’s work in frontal crashes and that future test procedures pursued by the agency will complement the procedures used by IIHS.
Automakers feel pressure to do well on both the IIHS and the government tests, making the IIHS tests “almost a de facto government standard” alongside NHTSA’s, said Tom Baloga, a recently retired engineering vice president for BMW.
IIHS’ tests are “sometimes tougher than NHTSA tests,” says Dan Ryan, Mazda’s public and government affairs chief. But Mazda’s cars as they’re updated are designed to perform well in them, he says. IIHS does “a very good job publicizing the results so a lot of people see them. So it’s become a priority to do well.”