Latest crash test results for some of the popular hatchbacks based on features such as front and side impact, head protection and pedestrian impact
How strong are your minis? Mini cars, how strong are they? -- PHOTO: SPH

SUPERMINIS like the Nissan March, Toyota Echo or the Hyundai Atos are not only economical choices for motoring, they are also rather nifty cars with their own culture and purpose. But when a large lorry rumbles by, just how safe are such small cars?

Although car companies carry out their own crash tests, the European New Car Assessment Program (Euro NCAP) provides car owners with an independent assessment.

Since 1997, it has been attempting to push the safety technology of new cars further with its stricter-than-normal crash tests.

Euro NCAP is backed by five European governments, the International Automobile Federation plus affiliated automobile associations, as well as the European Commission.

Life! examined its latest crash test results for some of the more popular hatchbacks found plying our busy roads. Here, we reveal whether they will snap like matchsticks in the event of an accident.

Although the models tested by Euro NCAP may differ slightly in terms of specification from the cars sold in Singapore, the results provide a worthwhile indication of how safe each of the following small cars is.

HOW THE CARS ARE TESTED

POINTS are accumulated from four crucial tests: Front impact, side impact, head protection and pedestrian impact.

All tests are based on the European Enhanced Vehicle Safety Committee guidelines. The higher the score, the safer the car is judged to be.

There is no intention to predict the outcome in all types of crashes, since this is not possible realistically.

On the other hand, the test results returned by Euro NCAP as well as other crash test bodies serve to give the possibility of comparison as well as generate consumer awareness.

But it is important to note that a research paper presented jointly by the Swedish National Road Administration and Monash University in Australia indicated recently that Euro NCAP scoring was unrealistic when it came to assessing minor injuries.

FRONT IMPACT (MAXIMUM OF 16 POINTS)

AT 64 KMH, the test car strikes a deformable barrier that is offset slightly to one side.

Readings are taken from the Hybrid III crash test dummy, which is designed specially, in frontal collisions, to gather enough data about potential injuries from its built-in sensors.

SIDE IMPACT (MAXIMUM OF 18 POINTS)

A TROLLEY with a car-like front, ploughs at 50 kmh into the side of the test car. The specialist dummy here is the EuroSID-1.

HEAD PROTECTION (ALSO KNOWN AS THE POLE TEST)

SO TERMED as the test car, it is hurtled sideways at 29 kmh into a rigid pole.

The pole with a head diameter of 25.4 cm is used to create a penetration, at head level, into the side of the car.

The experts at Euro NCAP reckon that a quarter of all serious to fatal injuries happen in side impact collisions.

Protection like side airbags have been shown to help increase survival rates in such crashes.

Euro NCAP also tests the child safety seats recommended by the various manufacturers. It also conducts a pedestrian test, which measures how badly a pedestrian would fare in a collision with the car.

A total score is given which reveals the car's overall performance in the various tests, and a star-rating is used to give a general idea of the tested models' safety.

CRUNCH TIME: EIGHT SUPERMINIS SMASH IT OUT

DAIHATSU SIRION 

THE year 2000 model here features dual frontal airbags but scored worse in its frontal impact test than its side impact. It is also notable to point out that it is the first car in Euro NCAP pedestrian impact tests to achieve a three-star rating.

Driver's protection was reduced as the beam which held the instrument panel and the steering column split from the screen pillar, even when impact was relatively slight. However, legs and feet were reasonably insulated from injury.

The Sirion was exceptional in its side impact results even though it was bereft of side airbags.

Child safety is not addressed as Daihatsu does not recommend child restraints to its customers.

Test scores: Front seven points (44 per cent), side 15 points (83 per cent), overall 22 points (65 per cent)

Front and side impact rating: ***** Total score: 65 points, *****

RENAULT CLIO

THE tested three-door Clio scored impressive points, especially in its side impact tests. Renault efforts in making its Clio safer to drive have been commendable, the Euro NCAP said.

Design changes to the knee impact area and footwell padding netted good scores in the frontal impact test. Even the centre rear seat came with a sound three-point inertia reel belt, which none of the other cars provided.

Although the tested Clio did not have side airbags, Euro NCAP had only praise for its performance. Clios sold here are equipped with side airbags.

Both child restraints were specially tailored for Renault and mounted using strategic points within the seats. The restraints did very well in both tests.

Test scores: Front 11 points (69 per cent), side 15 points (83 per cent), overall 26 points (76 per cent)

Front and side impact rating ***** Total score: 76 points, *****

ECHO 1.0-LITRE

THE Toyota is a safe and strong small car with exceptional safety performance. Standard dual airbags worked well and both driver's feet were well-protected.

In addition, the Echo earned a full score in its side impact, even though it had no side airbags. However, the Euro NCAP did make note that the head moved out the side window, which could prove dangerous in a real-life crash.

At the time of testing, an Echo-specific child restraint was still in the making.

Test scores: Front 13 points (81 per cent), side 16 points (89 per cent), overall 29 points (85 per cent)

Front and side impact rating: ***** Total score: 85 points, *****

NISSAN MARCH 1.0-LITRE

THE three-door hatchback version picked up most of its score in the side impact collision. However, there was head contact above the door window during the test, which may cause injury. The Euro NCAP has pointed out that Nissan has not made any major changes to improve its safety performance since 1997.

In frontal impact, the driver's airbag functioned well in protecting the head. There was no passenger airbag, but protection was very good on the whole, with no head contact with the dashboard seen.

On the other hand, the driver's chest was vulnerable to the steering. A protruding structure close to the driver's left knee was noted.

Both child restraints were forward facing and worked reasonably well. They also restricted the forward movement of the heads well.

Test scores: Front four pts (25 per cent), side 11 points (61 per cent), overall 15 points (44 per cent)

Front and side impact rating ***** Total score: 44 points, *****

SKODA FABIA 1.4-LITRE

SOON to be launched here, this small car with optional passenger airbags showed its resilience in the frontal tests. In fact, there was no evidence of chest contact with the steering wheel.

The lower torso, lower legs and feet were well-protected in both driver and passenger. The only downside was that the hard structures below the dashboards were ascertained to be dangerous to the driver's knees. The Fabia uses standard child restraints supplied by parent company Volkswagen, which did not work well here.

The forward-facing Britax Romer Prince restraint for children weighing below 18 kg ejected the whole child dummy upon rebound. Subsequent to this test, these restraints were found not to be approved for the Fabia and have been withdrawn from sale for the Fabia.

Test scores: Front 12 ponts (75 per cent), side 14 points (78 per cent), overall 26 (76 per cent)

Front and side impact rating: ***** Total score: 76 points, *****

DAEWOO D'ARTS

FOR a car without side air bags, this five-door hatchback gave a reasonable overall performance with good side impact results, especially for the head and chest.

However, there was marginal chest contact with the steering upon frontal impact. During collisions, hard structures under the dashboard and the brake pedal were hazardous to the driver's knees and feet.

Child restraints used in the test for three-year-olds fared poorly in the frontal crash and failed to contain the head in the side impact test.

Test Scores: Front six points (38 per cent), side 13 points (72 per cent), overall 19 points (56 per cent)

Front and side impact rating: ***** Total score: 56 points, *****

PEUGEOT 206

THIS three-door hatchback gave an excellent all-round performance. The 206 maintained a good survival space in a frontal collision. The only complaints noted were that some hard areas at the driver's knees might cause some injury.

For a car without side airbags, the 206 posed overall low risk of injury to all body regions. Both driver and passenger's heads were well-protected.

Euro NCAP was concerned about the manual switch that deactivated the passenger's airbag, as the lack of proper use of this switch could pose a risk to a child in a rear-facing restraint.

But on the whole, the restraints worked well, with good results in a side collision.

Test scores: Front 11 points (69 per cent), side 14 points (78 per cent), overall 25 points (74 per cent)

Front and side impact rating: ***** Total score: 74 points, *****

HYUNDAI ATOS GLS

THE Atos lost substantial points because of its instability during the frontal impact. This resulted in a fair bit of steering wheel movement and brake pedal intrusion. But there was minimal distortion around the driver's door, which worked afterwards.

Chest protection was poor for both driver and passenger. After a certain limit, the steering wheel distorted and the driver's head was still capable of hitting in front through the airbag.

Front occupants' knees were also vulnerable to injury in areas under and around the steering column.

 As for the good news, despite the lack of padding, the Atos returned a very high score in side impact tests, with a design that was judged to be well thought-out.

The child restraints did not fare as well, especially in the frontal impact.

Test scores: Front four points (25 per cent), side 14 points (78 per cent), overall 18 points (53 per cent)

Front and side impact rating: ***** Total score: 53 points, *****

* Note: The Hyundai Atos was tested in the February round of the Euro NCAP tests.

CONCLUSION

JUST when you thought that the European models were way ahead of their Japanese counterparts in terms of safety, the Toyota Echo (below) pops up to emerge as the best car in this class.

The Echo is only the third car tested by the Euro NCAP to achieve such impressive scores.

Here, it tops the list at 85 per cent, with its next contender, the Clio, with a scoring of 76 per cent.

Trailing right at the bottom is the Nissan March, which achieved a mere 44 per cent.

* For information on other models, check the website at www.Euroncap.com