The Kia Spectra sedan - known in Europe as the Cerato - is the first vehicle since 2001 to get the US insurance industry's worst safety rating in a frontal crash test, according to results cited by the Associated Press (AP).

The Spectra, that starts at $13,240, got the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's lowest rating of poor after a crash test dummy's head, chest and legs were injured in the 40 mph crash test. The last car to get that rating was the Chevrolet Cavalier in 2001, AP noted.

"Most manufacturers have figured out how to design vehicles to do a good job protecting people in frontal crashes," Adrian Lund, the institute's chief operating officer told the Associated Press. "Kia lags behind its competitors."

Kia Motors America reportedly said it has met with institute officials to determine how to improve the vehicle's performance. The company also said it was comfortable with the level of safety the Spectra provides.

"Occupant safety is a priority for Kia," the company said in a statement cited by AP. "In the development of this product the Spectra has undergone a battery of tests, and we continue to have a high degree of confidence in the real-world protection offered by this vehicle."

AP noted that only two small cars - the Mazda 3 and the Hyundai Elantra - earned the institute's highest rating of good in this round of testing. The Suzuki Forenza (aka Daewoo Lacetti) and the Saturn ION were rated acceptable, the institute's second-highest rating.

The Associated Press said the institute tests vehicles in a 40 mph crash and rates them based on three criteria: the amount the vehicle crumples into the driver's space, injuries to the crash test dummy and a slow-motion analysis of how well the seat belt worked. A good rating means a driver wearing a seat belt probably would suffer only minor injuries in a similar crash. A poor rating means a risk of severe injury exists.

Lund told AP he was surprised the Spectra performed so poorly. The institute has conducted this test for a decade and most manufacturers have built vehicles that can withstand it, he said.