Smart car © DaimlerChrysler

Extra5/14/2008 1:28 PM ET

Tiny Smart car scores big on safety

The pint-size 2008 Smart fortwo receives the highest rating in front-end and side-impact testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

By The Associated Press

The 2008 Smart fortwo micro car, the smallest car for sale in the U.S. market, has earned top scores in crash tests conducted by the insurance industry.

The 8-foot 8-inch-long vehicle received the highest rating of "good" in front-end and side-impact testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, helping address some concerns that occupants may be more vulnerable in the tiny two-seater.

The tests, released Wednesday, show how well vehicles stack up against others of similar size and weight. The institute noted that the front-end test scores can't be compared across weight classes, meaning a small car that earns a good rating isn't considered safer than a large car that did not earn the highest rating.

Adrian Lund, the institute's president, said a small car may be more practical in congested urban areas where serious, high-speed crashes are less likely. The institute conducted the crash test to help guide consumers who want a small car that can give them good protection.

"All things being equal in safety, bigger and heavier is always better. But among the smallest cars, the engineers of the Smart did their homework and designed a high level of safety into a very small package," Lund said.

Popularity grows for Smart car

Smart, a division of Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz brand, has arrived in U.S. showrooms this year as consumers deal with rising fuel prices. The automaker has received more than 30,000 reservations for the vehicle, which carries a base price of about $12,250, including destination charges. A fully loaded Smart Passion convertible has a price tag of more than $17,000. Customers are putting down $99 to reserve a car.

The vehicle, which had sold 6,159 units through the end of April, gets 33 miles per gallon in the city and 41 mpg on the highway. The fortwo is more than 3 feet shorter and nearly 700 pounds lighter than a Mini Cooper.

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The 1,800-pound car has a steel safety cage and four standard air bags, including two in front and two on the sides to protect the head and abdomen. It also has standard electronic stability control, which is designed to stop vehicles from swerving off the road.

"America has never seen a car this size before and their first question usually isn't about (fuel) economy, it's about safety," said Dave Schembri, president of Smart USA. "And that's why we think these results are so very important."

Top score, but problem with door latch

The Insurance Institute's front crash test simulates a 40 mile per hour collision with a similar vehicle. The side crash simulates what would happen if the vehicle was struck in the side by a sport-utility vehicle at 31 mph.

In a test that assessed the vehicle's protection in rear crashes, the fortwo received the second-highest rating of "acceptable."

In earlier crash tests conducted by the government, Smart received the top score of five stars in side testing but the driver door unlatched and opened during testing. While it did not affect the vehicle's test score, government regulators said the incident required them to note a safety concern for the vehicle that will appear on window stickers at dealerships.

The unlatching of the door could increase the likelihood of a driver or passenger being ejected from the vehicle, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.

The driver door also became unlatched when the IIHS conducted its side test. But the institute said the injury measurements on the test dummy were low and the opening didn't affect the dummy's movement.

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