Heavy car vs light car, which is safer? This is one debate that car nuts can have until the cows come home, and then start all over again the next day. Today, we’ll churn things up a little, and come up with a definitive explanation. For we have with us Latin NCAP safety ratings of two India specific cars, the Honda City and the Volkswagen Vento. The City is a very light, yet long and luxurious car that family sedan buyers love buying. The Vento is a heavily built car that’s an enthusiast favourite. And both cars have scored five stars in the Latin NCAP tests. So, what gives?
Light doesn’t necessarily mean unsafe
And the Honda City is a classic example of this. Let’s consider the SV (DX in Brazil) petrol variant, which is equipped with ABS, twin airbags and 3 point seatbelts. At 1,076 kilograms, it’s nearly 60 Kgs lighter than the similarly specified Vento Petrol Comfortline variant, which weighs 1,137 Kgs. And the City is much longer and wider, and nearly as tall as the Vento. What this means is Honda has gone big on weight reduction by using lighter materials to build the car.
Many car enthusiasts, after sampling the new City sedan, came back saying how light the car felt. Some even questioned whether the car’s safe, given the extensive weight reduction. Others even went to the extent of saying that the new City felt flimsy compared to say the Vento/Linea. But “feel” doesn’t have to mean unsafe. And this is what the 5 Star rating for the Honda City sedan clearly brings out.
Engineers who work very hard to make a car lighter also have a strict mandate to make them safer. They achieve such exacting safety standards by using high strength steel that’s thinner and lighter, crumple zones that take the stress off the passenger compartment and other design tweaks that maximizes occupant and pedestrian safety. This explains why a car such as the Honda City manages to score 5 stars despite being much lighter, and much larger.
Heavy doesn’t necessarily mean safe
For instance, if the folks at Latin NCAP were to put a heavily built vehicle such as the Mahindra Thar through a safety test, the results could turn out to be very scary indeed. The Thar, built with dies that are a few decades old has no crumple zone to speak of. Airbags? Missing. ABS? Missing. The only allowance towards safety on the Thar is the three point seat belt. While the Thar may destroy a Honda City if it meets the sedan in a frontal collision, the passengers in the Thar may be in deeper trouble than those in the City.
Now, where does the Vento come in?
The India-made Vento feels solidly built, right from the way the doors shut with a reassuring thud, to the way the car rides. The car’s body has a heft to it that even non-enthusiasts can feel. And it’s very safe too, as the Latin NCAP’s 5 star rating has shown. But why does the car have to be so much more heavier, slower and less fuel efficient as the result of all that weight? Surely, Volkswagen can make the Vento lighter and maintain safety standards.
Well, lots of buyers love the way cars feel, and we’re glad that the Vento feels as solid as it does. It boils down to the attributes that a brand wants to give its customers. Volkswagen is very proud of the solidity its cars exude, and this kind of differentiation between brands makes the car market diverse, and adds a lot of variety. And variety is the spice of life.
If there are two cars with the same safety ratings, one heavy, and the other light, buy the one that appeals to you. The “lighter car is unsafe” and the “heavier car is safe”, argument doesn’t really hold water anymore, especially while comparing cars of the same segment. Now, can we have the BNVSAP implemented ASAP, Mr. Gadkari?. But, what about the “5 star safety rated 1 ton car vs 5 star rated 2.5 ton SUV” argument? That’s another story, for another day.