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Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf ace their crash tests

The cars are small, but the weight of their battery packs helps the Volt and the Leaf in the first-ever test of electric cars by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

How the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf fared in their crash tests.
How the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf fared in their crash tests. IIHS

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said today that the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf performed quite well in its first-ever crash tests on "mainstream" electric cars.

According to the IIHS, the Volt and Leaf earned the highest rating of "good" for front, side, rear, and rollover crashes. Both vehicles qualified for the organization's Top Safety Pick award, given to vehicles that deliver "state-of-the-art crash protection."

"The milestone demonstrates that automakers are using the same safety engineering in new electric cars as they do in gasoline-powered vehicles," the IIHS said in a statement.

As small cars by length, width, and passenger capacity, the Volt and the Leaf might seem at a glance to be at greater risk in an accident. But there's one key thing that sets them apart from other small cars: their battery packs are extremely heavy. In fact, the Leaf and Volt tip the scales at 3,370 pounds and 3,760 pounds, respectively, which the IIHS says puts them on an even playing field with midsize and larger sedans like the Nissan Altima and Chevrolet Impala, which weigh 3,200 pounds and 3,580 pounds, respectively.

"The Leaf and Volt's extra mass gives them a safety advantage over other small cars," IIHS chief administrative officer Joe Nolan said in a statement. "These electric models are a win-win for fuel economy and safety."

A key selling point for electric cars, of course, is that they can help folks save cash as gas prices continue to soar. The Volt, for example, delivers about 35 miles on a single charge before its gasoline engine kicks into gear. The fully electric Nissan Leaf can ride for 73 miles on a single charge.

Including the Volt and Leaf, 80 vehicles have earned the Top Safety Pick Award this year, the IIHS said.