It is well known that modern cars, with a few exceptions, tend to be far safer than their forebears were in the days before independent crash testing authorities such as Euro NCAP started gaining traction in the late 1990s.

For evidence you need only look at most of the crash tests that were performed on cars built before the turn of the millennium. Yet it's not often that we see a new model actually go head-to-head, excuse the pun, with one of its forebears in a crash test.

Now the US-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has pitched the latest Nissan Versa (sold as an Almera in South Africa) against the 1990s Nissan Tsuru, which is still produced in Mexico, but which is set to be discontinued in May next year.

The video below shows the newer car with its more modern safety cell and crumple zones, practically obliterate the front passenger compartment of the old-fashioned Tsuru.

The destruction taking place inside the Tsuru is particularly hair-raising, while the view inside the Versa/Almera demonstrates the protection offered by modern structural design and airbags.

The "50 percent overlap" test, as the IIHS calls it, was conducted at 129km/h, although in fairness we believe that a full head-on collision test could have perhaps been more relevant and telling, although the difference between the two cars is still clear as day.

"The test highlights the significant differences in safety standards between these two baseline models sold by the same manufacturer in different markets," the IIHS said. The Versa is the cheapest Nissan sold in the US, while the Tsuru serves as the base model to the south in Mexico.

Extended production cars

The Tsuru is a continuation of the early 1990s North American market Nissan Sentra, which is not to be confused with the Sentra that was sold in South Africa at that time as ours was actually based on the Nissan Pulsar that was designed for Europe and parts of Australasia. Not that we'd imagine our version being much safer though.

The Tsuru is the archetypal Mexico City taxi cab, but its fans will have to look elsewhere for their cheap space following the news that Nissan will discontinue it in May next year. The sedan has been widely criticised for its poor safety standards and lack of airbags, with Global NCAP having given it a zero-star safety rating after crash testing it.

The Tsuru currently costs $142 600 Mexican pesos (R102 000) and the next-cheapest sedans on offer in that market are the previous-generation Tiida at $173 000 MXN (R123 800) and the Versa you see in this crash test at $178 900 (R128 000).

South Africans are no strangers to extended-shelf-life cars, with the 1987 Toyota Conquest having lived on as the Tazz until 2006 and VW's first-generation Golf having survived until 2009 as the beloved CitiGolf. The 1985 Mazda 323 also lived on into the current century.

In fact two of South Africa's most popular cars currently are previous-generation models, VW's Polo Vivo having started life as the N9 Polo in 2002 and Toyota's Corolla quest dating back to 2007.

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