Toyota makes changes to Prius c minicar to earn Top Safety Pick

August 6, 2015

A midyear change to the Toyota Prius c, a scaled-down version of the hybrid-only model, takes it from a poor to an acceptable rating in the small overlap front crash test and puts it on the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety's list of Top Safety Pick winners.

To improve small overlap protection, Toyota made structural improvements to the front end and occupant compartment of 2015 Prius c models built after May. The side curtain airbags also were lengthened.

When IIHS put the modified minicar through the small overlap test, the driver space was maintained reasonably well. Maximum intrusion was 9 inches at the lower door-hinge pillar, compared with 12 inches in the test of the earlier, poor-rated version. Upper intrusion also fell by 3 inches.

The performance of the vehicle's safety belts and airbags wasn't ideal. The dummy's head barely contacted the frontal airbag before sliding off the left side. The safety belt allowed the dummy's head and torso to move too far forward, and the head hit the instrument panel. The driver's seat also tipped forward and toward the B-pillar.

The side curtain airbag deployed and, in contrast to the earlier model, had sufficient forward coverage to protect the head from contact with side structure and outside objects.

Measures taken from the dummy indicate that injuries to the left lower leg would be possible in a crash of this severity. The risk of other significant injuries is low.

With good ratings in the Institute's other crashworthiness evaluations — moderate overlap front, side, head restraints and roof strength — the Prius c qualifies for the Top Safety Pick award. It has no available front crash prevention system, so it isn't eligible for Top Safety Pick+.

Since the challenging small overlap test was added to the Institute's awards criteria in 2013, IIHS has allowed vehicles to qualify with an acceptable rating in order to put awards within reach of more models. Starting with 2016 Top Safety Pick, a good small overlap rating will be required. Vehicles with an acceptable rating such as the Prius c will need further improvements if their manufacturers want to hold on to the honors.

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