Is that why I keep seeing crashed Smart cars? Just kidding. However, I
did dig up a few youtube videos of smart cars being crash tested.
Quite impressive stuff. If it had a crumple zone, it would be a really
safe car. Since it doesn't, it isn't. That nearly impenetrable cage
that protects the occupants likely makes the difference between open
casket and closed, but little more.
The latest (2007>) Smart ForTwo gained a four star rating in the
European NCAP tests. This rating indicates a very high degree of
protection for vehicle occupants.
The earlier model performed less well but still gained three stars.
A careful look at this video of the actual NCAP test will tell you
that the Smart ForTwo does indeed have a crumple zone. The 2007 model
is about 4.5 inches (112mm) longer than the earlier model and all of
this additional length is at the front of the car, accounting for the
improved performance and a four star rating:
I don't own a Smart but have rented several FourTwos while on
vacation. I found them to be far more capable cars than their
appearance would suggest.
I did not know about the new longer crumple zone. I am going solely
off the crash tests that I have seen done with the smart car, and am
not sure which generation I saw.
One thing I just noticed that I did not specify in my earlier
statement is that I am talking about high speed crashes. That is where
high levels of acceleration, (or deceleration if you 'd like to think
of it as that) matter.
In the Smart the safety cage stays remarkably and impressively intact.
It actually performs better than most cars. However, doing the math
shows that even using a uniform deceleration--which is ideal,
unrealistic, and definitely best case scenario--still yields a high
deceleration experienced by the passengers. Simple physics can't be
denied. It really is as simple as dividing the velocity at the
beginning of the crash by the amount of time that the body is
decelerating. This gives the deceleration (technically it is referred
to as an acceleration.) This time is a function of how far the body is
allowed to move after the crash, which for most cars is a function of
how far it crushes. Technically the smart gives you a little more
since the shoulder belts give.(This doesn't help for abdominal
The mass of the Smart works against it for head-on collisions. In most
situations, unless the smart is going siginficantly faster, it means
that the smart will move backwards following the crash. It won't just
be the acceleration of stopping the car, but the car will experience
the acceleration of the car gaining velocity in the rearward
Even though the cage stays intact, and the belt tensioners allow some
give to the shoulder belt, which lessens the jolt to the torso, there
is still going to be a higher chance of casulaties at high speeds than
a car that has more crumple zone.
So while it is impressive,and I'd even be willing to experience a
crash in one at up to say 25 mph, I doubt a crash is surviveable at
much over 45.
Look at this video.
Is that with the new one or the old one?
That's the old one. The frequent references to its three star rating
in the EuroNCAP test should tell you that. The new model gets a four
star rating and might just have achieved five stars had side airbags
been fitted as standard - which they are only on the more expensive
I find the car's crash performance nothing short of incredible. It's
a really tiny car, but it performs as well as many larger cars in the
demanding, realistic and representative EuroNCAP test. Some of
Europe's best selling family cars fail to manage three stars, let
alone four, and one didn't even manage one star!
Of course a larger car would appear to offer greater safety, but
EuroNCAP results show otherwise in the case of the Smart.
Many people believe that older, larger Volvo and Mercedes sedans offer
greater safety than a new small car. Fifth Gear, the same TV
programme that staged the Smart tests, arranged for an offset head-on
collision between a Volvo 940 and a three year old Renault Modus,
which is very much smaller.
The Renault virtually demolished the Volvo. The combination of an
effective crumple zone and a strong safety cell was remarkable in such
a small car. Google on "Renault Modus" for details of the car, which
is also sold as a Nissan Note. The video is available on YouTube in
several versions. Just search on "renault modus volvo".
That is impressive. But we are pitting two cars from different
generations against each other. The Volvo was designed and built
before offset crashes were used in crash testing. It was never
designed for that. The cards were stacked against it so to speak.
The Volvo was designed solely for straight on full frontal impacts. It
by design uses the entire front end to absorb the energy in that sort
of impact, and was made flimsy enough to absorb as much energy as
possible to lessen teh acceleration experienced by the occupants.
Since only half the front end was being crashed, it couldn't use the
other half to soak up the energy, and smooshed too far. The Renault is
actually designed for offset crashes. They mention this in the video.
That bar going across the front helps to dissipate the energy into the
rest of the front end. This also serves a second function. It helps
reshape the front end in a way that lets the car slide off the object
it is striking. If you notice the trajectory of the Renault versus the
volvo, it keeps going after it rotates. It does a much better job of
lightening the accelerations experienced by the occupants.
As far as passenger compartment intrusion and intactness the Renault
did better, and this is also where the Smart shines. I've noted
multiple times that the Smart is really great for passenger
compartment integrity. The volvo did poorly because the engineers had
not considered offset crashes where the energy is not absorbed by the
entire front end.
So I think I've established that it is my opinion that the Renault did
so well versus the Volvo because it was an offset crash, and it is a
newer car with offset crashes taken into consideration in the design.
Additionally, the intentionally-crumply crumple zone of the volvo
helped absorb some of the Renault's energy.
Now if we shift gears and go to a full frontal collision, I think that
the volvo would not cave like that since both sides of the passenger
compartment would take the impact, the Renault would likely still stay
intact, and the Renault would not be able to slough off the side of
the Volvo. The end result would be that the Renault would wind up
moving backward a few feet, the volvo would stop a few feet past the
impact, and the Renault passengers would experience higher levels of
acceleration than those in the Volvo.
But I am not really interested in debating the Renault versus the
Volvo as much as the Smart. I know that in America we test cars
against cars of the same size. I had a hunch that it was that way
across the pond, and the video mentions that that is the case. I still
believe that this is why the Smart scores so well.
Although we have seen that small cars can hold their own against large
cars(Renault versus Volvo) and that the Smart can experience some
really heinous crashes with almost no passenger compartment intrusion
or deformation, I still do not see how the matter of acceleration
experienced by the passengers in a real crash can be overlooked. I say
real crash, because you aren't always going to be crashing a Smart
into a Smart size vehicle. That is how it got its four star rating
though. The real world pits much heavier cars against the Smart, and
when they collide, the Smart occupants will experience much higher
accelerations than those in the large car. This is why I believe the
Smart car passengers will not fair as well. It is actually my
reasoning behind my statement that a crash in a Smart versus another
car would be the difference between a close casket and an open casket
funeral. In the smart you'll still be uncrushed and still look good,
but be dead from internal injuries. If it didn't have such a good
cage, you'd also be crushed, thus the closed casket funeral. Either
way the Smart occupants are not going to see tomorrow. When I say high
speed I am thinking on the order of 45 mph and up.
In real crash tests the dummies are monitored for G loads, which is a
measure of acceleration. This is factored into the crash test rating.
None of the videos that I have seen with the Smart have reported what
the peak levels are. They concentrate on how intact the compartment
is. Seems like pure marketing to me. Until I get the whole story, I
will remain skeptical of the real world crash-worthiness of the Smart
The IIHS has released the crash test results for the USA Smart ForTwo,
headed "First Institute crash tests of Smart car: diminutive
two-seater earns top ratings for protecting people in front & side
crashes." An impressive performance, I'm sure you will agree.
Here are links to the IIHS announcement and comments from elsewhere in
the auto industry. If the links wrap on to a second line, you may
need to copy and paste the sections of the link into your browser
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