The Chevrolet Sonic became the first subcompact car to earn the top rating of five out of five stars in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash testing in data released Dec. 28, topping the Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Accent.
In another new crash test result, the Dodge Durango midsize/large crossover SUV tipped over on its side in NHTSA’s side-impact crash test, as did the Chevrolet Suburban earlier this year.
But because NHTSA doesn’t factor the tip-up into its rating, the Durango joined four other recently rated cars in earning four out of five stars overall — the score achieved by most 2012-model vehicles.
The other new four-star models are the new-for-2012 Hyundai Accent subcompact, the Hyundai Elantra compact sedan and Nissan Maxima upscale midsize sedan (which are not new models but which hadn’t been previously tested), and the Ram 1500 full-size pickup (whose scores improved over the 2011 model’s).
The Sonic is the eighth General Motors product to earn the overall five-star rating from NHTSA’s 35-mph frontal-impact crash test, 38.5-mph side-impact crash test, 20-mph side-impact crash test and rollover against a narrow pole — out of just 19 individual 2012 models that have done so thus far. The Sonic’s test results apply to both sedan and five-door hatchback models.
The Hyundai Accent, whose results apply to the sedan and hatchback models but not to the mechanically similar Kia Rio, did well in most tests, earning a four-star score overall. NHTSA does flag a “safety concern” of a higher risk of torso injury for the rear passenger in the 38.5-mph side crash test that is not evaluated as part of the star rating. (The Ford Fiesta was flagged for the same issue in that test, and the Fiat 500 did poorly in the measures NHTSA focuses on for the test.)
More subcompact cars are scheduled to be evaluated in 2012: the Honda Fit, Kia Rio and Soul, Nissan Juke and Versa, and Toyota Yaris. Their performance will give an even better sense of what scores should be expected from small, inexpensive cars.
Hyundai’s Elantra compact sedan, one class above the Accent, earned a weak score for front-passenger protection in the frontal crash test but otherwise strong ratings, which worked out to four out of five stars overall. Just one compact sedan — the Chevrolet Cruze — earned the top five-star rating, though several compact hatchbacks that are less direct competitors to the Elantra have also done so.
The Nissan Maxima also was held down by one weak score: for the driver in the frontal crash test. Note though that the frontal test, performed against a rigid barrier, simulates a head-on collision with a car of equal weight and is therefore more challenging for heavier vehicles.
The Ram 1500 pickup improves from three out of five stars overall in 2011 to four stars in 2012 following improvements its frontal-impact performance. 2011 Rams earned just two stars for frontal-impact protection; that improved to four for 2012. Other large pickups also earn four-star overall ratings.
The Dodge Durango, which earned four stars overall, is the fourth vehicle to tip over in NHTSA’s side-impact crash test. The Ford Escape and Nissan Rogue compact crossover SUVs rolled onto their roofs, and the Chevrolet Suburban — like the Durango — tipped over and landed on its side. Other models tested so far have skidded on all four wheels when struck by the barrier, or tipped only slightly.
Tipping over didn’t affect the Durango’s crash test score, which only measures injury to the dummies, but it’s preferable for a vehicle to remain upright after an impact — as most cars do. The Durango also lost points for front-passenger injury protection in the frontal crash test, and for having a higher mathemetically projected likelihood of rollover in a single-vehicle accident than most crossovers.
NHTSA’s star ratings are issued as part of its New Car Assessment Program, which features tougher crash tests than NHTSA requires of each car certified for sale in the United States. Its ratings complement those from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which conducts similar tests that measure cars’ performance in different scenarios than NHTSA’s.
See a full listing of cars’ NHTSA scores on this ScribD page, or visit safercar.gov for more information.