Crash tests are not something we normally focus on at this show, but this week’s subcompact crash tests bear discussion.

Here’s the deal: The International Institute for Highway Safety takes a group of cars from the auto manufacturers and slams them against a bunch of walls. Kind of like little boys with Hot Wheels.

Then the smoke clears, and they inspect the damage. Depending on a whole bunch of mathematical formulas that I honestly can’t explain, the engineers give the cars a score. Safe to say, though, if the crash tests show that you’d have a door mirror lodged in your forehead, the car’s gonna get a poor score.

mini safety rating The latest IIHS subcompact crash testing. Photo: IIHS

Tiny cars generally don’t do that well in these tests. They’ve come a long way, for sure, but the fact is that there’s not much mass to throw around here. The improvements to crumple zones have helped, of course, but a Honda Fit is still going to be completely defeated by a concrete barrier.

Which is the problem, it seems. Only one of the 11 subcompacts tested by the IIHS received an overall rating of “Acceptable,” the Chevy...Spark? I forgot they made those. Apparently 2013 saw far higher sales than GM predicted, but the bar’s pretty low for the Spark in the U.S.

Strangely, there’s no mention of the Sonic, which is the main GM entry in the subcompact class. It’s worth noting that in its own test, the Sonic received an overall score of “Marginal,” which is the best overall score any of the other cars achieved. But the Spark’s test allows GM to say they’ve got the top safety pick in the class.

Also worth noting, Toyota has two cars in the segment as well. The Yaris is the better of the two, with an overall “Marginal" rating. The Prius C gets a “Poor” designation, which is even more reason to never buy a Prius.

This round of testing also featured the Mazda 2 (which, yes, is actually still for sale), the Fiat 500, the Hyundai Accent and its sister car the Kia Rio (the Rio did much better than the Accent for some reason), the Nissan Versa, the Ford Fiesta, and the oh-no-they’re-actually-making-that Mitsubishi Mirage.

What does this all mean for buyers? The best you’ll really get in this segment is a “Marginal” overall rating, but it’s important to remember: There’s always a compromise, no matter what you wind up buying.