Compacts have a bad reputation in terms of safety. It’s not really their fault: one of the big problems is that so many people are driving enormous cars today. When a lighter object gets hit or runs into a heavier object, it’s just going to take more damage.
But carmakers have realized two things: that compact cars are coming back into style, thanks to their fuel economy, and that safety is the number one priority. Ever since SUVs came onto the market in huge numbers, compacts have had their safety features improved exponentially.
It’s a win-win: Not only can a safer car improve your chances of surviving a crash, but your car insurance company will give you discounts for each new, cool safety feature.
Even so, some smaller cars are safer than others: here are the top five that did the best, in no particular order.
To give you an idea of just how tough the Scion xB actually is, federal standards require that a car be able to withstand 1.5 times its own weight if flipped onto its roof. The xB? It can take 6.8 times its own weight, according to government tests. Combined with stability and traction control, antilock brakes with brake assist, a highly-advanced airbag system, and even a first-aid kit (really), it’s one of the safest cars in any class.
The Focus has many safety features, but the most unique is its advanced airbags. The Focus uses a tethering system that pulls back parts of the bag slightly — so instead of running into a wall that softens, you get less of an impact with all of the safety. In addition, the airbags are designed to adjust to the driver, protecting your head and neck…in more ways than one.
The Corolla is the single best-selling compact in the USA, and it’s also one of the safest. Toyota was among the first to build in “crumple zones”; areas of a car that would absorb and release the kinetic energy from a crash without that energy going into the cockpit of the car. Even better, the steering wheel absorbs energy as well: this keeps it from, say, smashing into you if you have a front-end accident.
The Kia Forte comes with plenty of safety features standard, such as curtain side airbags and antilock brakes. But there are two features in particular that really stand out: the “reactive” headrests and the side impact door beams. The headrests are designed to support and protect your head if your car gets rear-ended: this is key because getting rear-ended can damage your back, neck and spine, and the headrest reduces those risks. The side impact door beams, meanwhile, keep the cabin from breaking or otherwise folding. In short, the Forte has you covered…from all directions.
Honda takes safety seriously: by 2012, all new Civic models will have stability control, usually reserved for SUVs, standard. In addition, Honda has been using its thirty year history of building compact cars to design a special body structure that turns the Civic into a tank: it can withstand crashes with much larger cars. Civics are not only sporty: they will keep you safe on the road.