Ford Fiesta Comes In Dead Last in Industry's Grimmest Ranking

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
ford fiesta comes in dead last in industrys grimmest ranking

Every three years, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ranks new vehicles in terms of deaths incurred by their occupants in roadway collisions. The most recent tabulations cover the 2015-2018 time frame (focusing on 2017 and equivalent earlier models), and a domestic subcompact that proved quite popular right up until the end of its North American lifespan has the ignoble duty of bringing up the rear of the pack.

On the other side of the issue, one large American SUV placed first in the list of vehicles you’ll want to find yourself in when metal meets metal. One shouldn’t be surprised that small car nameplates proliferate among the list of losers, with bigger models proving better at absorbing blows.

By any measure, four-door “mini” cars (subcompact) featured the worst death rate per 1 million registration years of all automotive segments. Same when ranked by 10 billion miles traveled. Subcompact cars showed 108 deaths per million registration years, far outpacing the death rate among compact cars (62) and midsize (43).

Midsize luxury cars returned a rate of 22 deaths per million registration years, with full-size luxo-barges came in at just 19. Sports cars? A significantly higher 51. A wide variation in terms of safety, for sure, but between these segments there’s great variations in standard and available safety equipment, product intent, and mass. Not surprisingly, going bigger in mainstream segments appears to have an immediate impact on the likelihood of staying alive during a collision.

Similarly, moving from mainstream to premium also lowered the death burden, which says as much about a model’s construction as it does about the type of person most likely to be found behind the wheel.

“Very large” four-wheel drive SUVs returned a death rate of 7, with premium 4WD full-sizers pegged at 5. The ubiquitous full-size pickup, now popular as a family sedan replacement, saw a death rate per million registered vehicle years of 26 in 4WD guise. Two-wheel drive models ranked worse at 38. Interestingly, midsize pickups (classified as “small” in the IIHS ranking) showed a death rate of 24, lower than that of the safest full-sizers.

While many small cars are safe in their own right, things change when it isn’t a fair fight. Given the number of large trucks and SUVs on the road, the chance of colliding with a much larger vehicle — and a high-riding one, at that — are greater than ever.

The vehicle you’ll want to be in regardless of collision type seems to the the GMC Yukon XL 1500 4WD, which returned a death rate of zero. It wasn’t alone in that regard, either. Joining it are the likes of the Infiniti QX60 2WD, Range Rover Evoque, Porsche Cayenne, and Lexus NX 200t.

How many fatal collisions a model racks up often depends heavily on the number of miles driven, where those miles are driven, who’s likely to be doing the driving, and under what conditions, rather than the actual vehicle structure and presence of on-board safety aids. This explains why the short-ranged, previous-generation Nissan Leaf ranked near the top of the list (5 deaths per million vehicle years) for the 2015-2018 time frame. The Leaf was less likely to be found on high-speed inter-urban routes or in wintry weather.

Interestingly, the Volkswagen Golf ranked even higher, despite its usage in all regions of the U.S. and in all weather conditions. It returned a death rate of zero.

“The Golf’s results are particularly remarkable, considering that the 2014 version was among the worst performers, with a death rate of 63 per million vehicle years, prior to a redesign for the 2015 model year,” the IIHS stated.

As for the defunct Ford Fiesta, no one did it worse. The popular subcompact — which, it’s worth noting, boasted more youthful and sporting appeal than its rivals — ranked last with a death rate of 141, with the Hyundai Accent (since revamped) in the runner-up spot at 116. Rounding up the bottom 5 on the mortality ranking are the Chevrolet Sonic (98), the now discontinued Nissan Versa Note (96), and equally ousted Fiat 500 (95).

Like the cream of the crop, the bottom of the pile also contains surprises. For instance, the lowly, joke-riddled Mitsubishi Mirage came out on top of the front-drive Chevy Trax (72 vs 73), and was only narrowly beat by the popular, well-regarded Kia Soul (70). And should anyone who’s ever logged on to the internet be surprised that the Ford Mustang GT coupe returned a ranking of 81, placing it in a worse position than the previous-gen Hyundai Elantra and Nissan Sentra?

[Image: Ford, General Motors]

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4 of 37 comments
  • Stumpaster Stumpaster on May 29, 2020

    This one is simple. What would an Eminem song hero drive? That's right, Fiesta, Versa, Altima. That's your high death rate from the life lived on a strung out edge. Rich people driving large luxury SUV's with nagging wife next to you are going to drive differently. Not surprised at the full size trucks - macho factor through the roof, beer on the lap, watch this!

    • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Jun 01, 2020

      They wouldn't drive anything that new. Think ratty Cobalt that smells like Meth.

  • Carlisimo Carlisimo on May 29, 2020

    I remember 15 years ago, SUVs and pickups didn't do terribly well. We had still had crumply F-150s on the road, but it was mostly due to single-vehicle accidents. I assume stability control has reduced those to the point that multi-vehicle accidents matter more now, and therefore mass. Screw all you big people in big trucks. I'm keeping it lightweight until it kills me.

    • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Jun 01, 2020

      I mean, that may be sooner rather than later...And I daily a Fiesta ST. Guess I need to hoon it harder. The low ranking of a car like the Mustang leads me to think that the drivers are factoring into this equation a fair amount. Still, I mean I can look at the size of my Fiesta and realize I don't want to get T-Boned in it. A friend of mine also with an ST changed his seats and in doing so got rid of the side airbags. This would not be something I would do in mine.

  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion:
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?