Testing done recently in the UK shows that the cheap seats used in many small cars are compromising occupant safety by increasing the likelihood of whiplash. Unfortunately, the most likely vehicles to suffer accidents likely to cause whiplash - low-speed traffic collisions - are the vehicles intended to be used most in major cities.

Thatcham is a group established by British insurers to test ways to reduce the cost of insurance repairs without compromising safety. The results of their study show that only two city cars achieved ratings of 'Acceptable' or better - Renault's TwinGo and Smart's ForTwo. Fiat's 500 received a 'Marginal' rating, while the Ford Ka and Fiat Panda ranked 'Poor'.

Superminis, just slightly larger than the diminutive city cars, ranked only a little better - two thirds of the class tested rated 'Marginal' or 'Poor'. Once again Renault was at the top of the heap, with its Clio and Modus rated among the 'Good'.

Larger cars performed better, primarily because the seat quality is significantly higher in the more expensive cars in these segments. The good news is that all segments are improving with time, as older designs are replaced by newer seats that take safety requirements into account.

Since 2005, the percentage of new car seats scoring 'Poor' or 'Marginal' has dropped by half, from 60% of all seats in 2005 to just 40% of seats tested in 2008.