Twelve small cars have recently undergone a second round of crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and only one has earned a rating of "Good."

BMW AG's four-door Mini Cooper Countryman was the only car that earned the highest rating in the insurance industry-funded IIHS' small overlap front test, while five cars, namely the electric hybrid Chevrolet Volt, Ford C-Max Hybrid, Mitsubishi Lancer, Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ were given a rating of "Acceptable." Meanwhile, the Scion xB and the popular Hyundai Veloster earned "Marginal" ratings. The remaining four cars, the Fiat 500L, Nissan Juke, Mazda 5 and the all-electric Nissan Leaf were given "Poor" ratings.

"The Mini Cooper Countryman gave a solid performance," says IIHS senior vice president for vehicle research Joe Nolan. "The Countryman's safety cage held up reasonably well. The safety belts and airbags worked together to control the test dummy's movement, and injury measures indicate a low risk of any significant injuries in a real-world crash this severe."

While the Mini Cooper Countryman, a vehicle that is different from the two-door Mini Cooper that has yet to be subjected to crash tests by the IIHS, performed almost perfectly, the gasoline-powered Mazda 5 has shown the worst performance among all cars tested during the IIHS' two rounds of testing. It shares that distinction with the Kia Forte 2014 and the mid-size hybrid Prius v.

"When we tested the Mazda 5 we saw a host of structural and restraint system problems. Parts of the occupant compartment essentially buckled, allowing way too much intrusion," Nolan explains.

On the alternative fuels side, the Chevrolet Volt, with a performance rating below the Countryman, was named a Top Safety Pick+ because of its front crash prevention system consisting of automatic brakes and collision warning, two features that are not available in the Countryman, which was dubbed only a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS.

The small overlap front test is a new test introduced in 2012 that aims to replicate what happens when the vehicle's front corner of the driver's side collides with a rigid barrier, such as a tree, an electric pole or another vehicle, while running at 40 miles per hour. The IIHS says the small overlap front test bypasses the main crash-absorbing structures on the vehicle's front end, making it difficult to manage crash energy and earn a "Good" rating.

During the test, the IIHS placed crash test dummies with sensors on the vehicles' driver's seat to evaluate resistance to passenger compartment intrusion. This involved checking to see whether the air bags deployed properly to cushion the passenger's head from hitting the dashboard, the window frame or any other object outside the vehicle and that the seatbelts prevented the driver from diving forward into the dashboard.

The IIHS has now subjected 32 cars to the small front overlap test, 19 of which have earned an overall rating of "Good" and "Acceptable" while 13 others have earned "Marginal" or "Poor" ratings. 

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