By on May 28, 2020

2016 Ford Fiesta ST, Image: Ford

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.

2017 GMC Yukon XL SLT

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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37 Comments on “Ford Fiesta Comes In Dead Last in Industry’s Grimmest Ranking...”

  • avatar

    This is akin to the data juggling going on with COVID-19 deaths.

    Ford, I’m sure would argue that the Fiesta death rate is more a reflection of it’s ubiquity than it’s inherent design faults.
    And the batch of high end “zero” ratings reflect older, richer, more careful drivers averse to risk.

    • 0 avatar

      You might have mentioned drivers of Fiestas are younger and less experienced drivers as well. It’s not just the number of Fiestas on the road, but the profile of their typical drivers. The study is age-adjusted, but does that translate perfectly to experience?

    • 0 avatar

      “ This is akin to the data juggling going on with COVID-19 deaths.”

      Nooooo!! Every death since January has been the Corona Cold that’s the facts. You can’t argue that! If you do you’re a racist and a Nazi and a flat earther.

  • avatar

    Yes, small vehicles don’t fare as well in crashes. Generally.

    So, from the study we can infer that VW Golf drivers are smarter or better, as are GMC Yukon drivers. Makes sense.

    Toyota Camry drivers are smart too, but perhaps too many to ensure ZERO fatalities.

    I think the VW Golf, especially in GTI form, is an excellent car. And I think for those that like BIG, the GM SUVs are the best value–best American car, the modern Country Squire or Estate Wagon! So there.

    And, if I understand correctly, not a SINGLE PERSON in a Yukon or Golf lost their life while riding in or driving these vehicles during 2015-2018. That’s quite a fact…

  • avatar

    The first thing I checked to see if the data was age adjusted, and according to IIHS it is. Some non-scientific observations, demographics surely must be at play here

    GTi at 11 d/mil and WRX at 54. Both platforms crash test well, are from roughly the same era and are priced in the same bracket. Except one is driven by accountants and the other is driven by vape dudes.

    Again, ILX at 26 d/mil and Civic at 46. If anything the ILX is on an older platform and comes in a higher power trim. Difference likely to be the average age difference between the two sets of buyers.

    Mazda3 hatchback at 27 d/mil, below the average. The way car reviewers talk about the sportiness of the previous gen Mazda3 you’d expect everybody to be hooning these things and getting into shenanigans.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike Beranek

      I think you’re right, stuntmonkey. Look at the vehicles on the high end of this metric, they’re all “20-something” specials driven by younger, inexperienced drivers.
      I would posit that the higher rate for full-size pickups opposed to the compacts is from the same cause. Young locos want the biggest, most attention-getting truck available, and will be more likely to wreck it. The compacts may be purchased by more pragmatic, thoughtful buyers who drive that way too.

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah, the “mini” category is basically “cheap first car for new drivers”:

        Mitsubishi Mirage
        Kia Rio
        Hyundai Accent
        Ford Fiesta

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think another thing that ties these four cars together is that they all were older in their life cycles. If you compare these to a modern subcompact, my guess is that they use proportionally less high-strength steel.

        Another thing is that the list doesn’t include the Honda Fit, which would be interesting to compare. The 3rd gen would have fallen within the IIHS list criteria and was newer than the other cars in the mini category. The Fit might also attract an older demographic than these, but it’s hard to say.

      • 0 avatar

        Also, the full-size SUVs are more likely to be purchased by families than other vehicles, and affluent families. Both demographics are likely to be better drivers.

        Automakers are more likely to offer their ‘safety’ features on these expensive vehicles–24 airbag, a 6-star IIHS rating, automatic braking, blind-spot sensors–any one of those could avoid a fatality, so that gives the big SUVs and edge.

        And of course, there is the BIG factor….a vehicle weighing 5500 to 6000 pounds is just going be a better place to be than one weighing 3500…if they meet each other, or a big tree…

        Still, the Golf statistic is remarkable. I was half-kidding about the ‘smarter drivers’, because I like GTIs. It’s also possible that due to dieselgate, the Golfs TDIs were parked. Parked cars typically have low fatality rates… Even so, good for the Golf. VW should treasure this little factoid…

        • 0 avatar

          @tomLU86: Not necessarily “better drivers” but rather, ‘safer’ drivers, choosing to drive more slowly and carefully because of their precious load. Even so, they also tend to be the more distracted drivers… for obvious reasons.

  • avatar

    If you really read what the article said, it really came down to how the vehicles were driven. Full-sized pickup trucks and sub-compact cars tend to be driven in a more ‘sporty’ manner than many of their larger/smaller brethren and tend to come together a lot more often than those others, as the article clearly pointed out. We also see that ANY vehicle driven in a sporty manner–especially those designed for such driving, tend to be involved in crashes more often than the others.

    • 0 avatar

      @Vulpine – I tend to agree. Younger more aggressive individuals are more likely to favour more economical vehicles especially if they have a sporty look or features. The same can be said for pickups. I don’t tend to see brodozers driven by your typical middle-aged or older driver. Beater 4×4 trucks are also the domain of younger and/or more aggressive drivers. Another aspect of full sized pickups is that many are more likely to be fleet vehicles which tend to get beat upon.

      • 0 avatar

        I think mid-size trucks probably draw an older, more mature crowd too, which explains their better results. More useful tool, less codpiece. Baby brodozers driven by douchebags don’t seem to be a thing.

    • 0 avatar

      Good writeup and some thoughtful comments here (thanks stuntmonkey).

      On the topic of full-size pickups, will add that some of these vehicles have been modified [e.g., suspension, wheels/tires] in ways that directly affect their pre-crash handling and behavior (and tend to support on-road ego wars which do not generally result in lower rates of collision).

      Genuinely curious as to why 2WD full-size pickup death rates (38/MVY) are higher than 4WD full-size pickup death rates (26/MVY). Working theory: There are a *lot* of 4WD (‘top of the range’) full-size pickups sold where the buyer base is more like the low-collision full-size SUV crowd. Then the lifted rambunctious crowd skews even higher on the death index, but the overall average works out between a Yukon and a Mustang.

      (bobbysirhan’s ‘skin in the game’ theory is interesting here too, since many fleet pickups are 2WD.)

  • avatar

    Based on the initial high praise on TTAC pages for the FiST, the desire to have a toy to row my own, and super attractive lease deals, I ALMOST leased one.

    The local Ford dealer was a nightmare to work with, old school, no straight numbers, game playing, and I walked. I told the sales rep upfront that this was a “want,” not a “need” and I had no time for games. Give me the clear numbers or I walk.

    In hindsight lease or not, I feel like I missed a huge bullet as the initial, “this car is so amazing,” quickly dropped into the trough of total disillusionment.

    • 0 avatar

      This is where we need to hear from Bark – I saw killer deals on the FiST when I was shopping back at the end of ’18. Did you shop any other dealers? With Ford dealers being so common, SOMEONE’s gonna give you a deal, even if you have to take a short road trip, you know?

      But I feel your pain – at that time, I was looking to lease a GTI. Got absolutely zero straight answers from the three dealers I priced them out with, despite being a current VW owner at the time. Had one that actually tried to sell me the car for *over* sticker when the numbers were crunched. I bought a used Audi instead.

      But that’s par for the course for VW dealers, there aren’t all that many of them here in Denver, so the shenanigans feel like collusion.

      • 0 avatar

        As it was a “want” and not a “need,” I was cured after the conversation with the local dealer. I ended up getting a JR Impulse and a Gen I Vulcan powered Ford Probe instead, but that’s another story.

  • avatar

    Do people who drive Fords really want to live?

  • avatar

    The poor showing of the Fiesta makes sense…

    1) Tiny car
    2) Old design
    3) It’s a cheap car that lots of young, inexperienced drivers buy
    4) And let’s not forget a substantial slice of Fiesta sales were for the ST, so you get the hooners mixed in there.

    But…NO ONE died in a Yukon from 2015 to 2018? I call bulls**t.

  • avatar

    My theory is that there is a correlation between fatality rates and the percentage of vehicles not operated by their owners. Why are full-sized pickups so much more dangerous than mid-size pickups? Lots of full-sized pickups are owned by companies and driven by employees. The midsized trucks I see are personal vehicles. It wasn’t always the case, but now that single-cab trucks are as common as side curtains, I don’t see fleets of current Rangers and Colorados delivering auto parts or being driven by security guards. The Fiesta? Many that I’ve seen have been budget rental cars and bottom of the barrel municipal fleet vehicles. People don’t take care of other people’s stuff, and sometimes they end up paying the price.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Physics in action.

    When two bodies of different mass collide, the body with the least mass will accelerate the most.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, that much is hard to argue with; it’s the wide differences between cars in the same class that are interesting:

      Mazda3 Sedan – 39
      Honda Civic – 46
      Toyota Corolla – 54
      Hyundai Elantra – 89

      Subaru Legacy – 14
      Honda Accord – 34
      Mazda 6 – 31
      Nissan Altima – 59
      Buick Verano – 68

  • avatar

    I wonder if anyone died due to the horribly designed transmissions Ford used in these.

    Larger the vehicle, more cautious the driver, and staying out of traffic is the best solution to vehicular safety, also the easiest ones that can be made on a daily basis.

  • avatar

    Safety costs money. It also eats into profit.

    Ford chooses profits over safety and quality.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I thought the Fiesta might be among one of the safest vehicles on the road since the double clutch transmissions go out–more time in the repair shop and less time on the road.

  • avatar

    Ask yourself, “Would I rather be in a Fiesta crashing into a Fiesta, or would I rather be in a Yukon crashing into a Yukon?”

    Yukon – 5500 lbs, Fiesta – 2500 lbs

    Two Yukons crashing means your body is amongst 11,000 lbs worth of potential energy being converted into kinetic energy. Two Fiestas reduces that to 5,000 lbs.

    • 0 avatar

      That actually doesn’t really matter. Either way is exactly equivalent of crashing into an immoveable wall. But for sure you don’t want to be in the Fiesta getting hit by the Yukon.

  • avatar

    Auto safety is largely demographic, though there is no getting around the fact that the roads are filled with automotive mastodons stomping on automotive minnows these days.

    Ultimately, fatal crashes are still very, very rare events today. So even 4X better chance of dying in one car vs. another is still a very small chance of dying in a car. And you get to directly influence your chances by paying attention and not driving like an @sshat.

  • avatar

    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!

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      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.

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