Kia Spectra Faulted in Crash Test

The Kia Spectra (search) is the first vehicle since 2001 to get the insurance industry's worst safety rating in a frontal crash test, according to results released Sunday.

The Spectra, a small, four-door sedan that starts at $13,240, got the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's lowest rating of poor after a crash test dummy's head, chest and legs were injured in the 40 mph crash test. The last car to get that rating was the Chevrolet Cavalier (search) in 2001.

"Most manufacturers have figured out how to design vehicles to do a good job protecting people in frontal crashes," said Adrian Lund, the institute's chief operating officer. "Kia lags behind its competitors."

Kia Motors America Inc. said it has met with institute officials to determine how to improve the vehicle's performance. The company also said it was comfortable with the level of safety the Spectra provides.

"Occupant safety is a priority for Kia," the company said in a statement. "In the development of this product the Spectra has undergone a battery of tests, and we continue to have a high degree of confidence in the real-world protection offered by this vehicle."

Only two small cars — the Mazda 3 (search) and the Hyundai Elantra — earned the institute's highest rating of good in this round of testing. The Suzuki Forenza and the Saturn ION were rated acceptable, the institute's second-highest rating.

The institute tests vehicles in a 40 mph crash and rates them based on three criteria: the amount the vehicle crumples into the driver's space, injuries to the crash test dummy and a slow-motion analysis of how well the seat belt worked.

A good rating means a driver wearing a seat belt probably would suffer only minor injuries in a similar crash. A poor rating means a risk of severe injury exists.

Lund said he was surprised the Spectra performed so poorly. The institute has conducted this test for a decade and most manufacturers have built vehicles that can withstand it, he said.

Lund said 11 small cars have good ratings. Besides the Mazda 3 and the Hyundai Elantra, they are the Volkswagen New Beetle and Jetta, the Subaru Impreza, the Suzuki Aerio, the Mini Cooper, the Toyota Corolla, the Ford Focus, the Mitsubishi Lancer and the Honda Civic. Most of those cars were tested earlier by the insurance institute, which tests vehicles as they are redesigned.