Which are the safest new cars in the UK?

These vehicles achieved the best scores in the Euro NCAP testing

Which are the safest new cars in the UK?

Insurance News

By Mark Rosanes

Affordable vehicles that bring the biggest safety benefits to the greatest number of drivers – this was what a panel of car experts focused on when they handpicked the safest newly released car models in the UK in 2021.

Of particular importance, according to the judges, were “robust ‘active’ crash-avoidance systems and ‘passive’ safety features, well-delivered driver interface technology, and a commitment to standard fitment across the range.”

Fully electric and hybrid models dominated the shortlist chosen by the panel of industry experts, consisting of: Matthew Avery, chief research strategy officer at Thatcham Research; Claire Evans, consumer editor at What Car? magazine; Michiel van Ratingen, secretary general at Euro NCAP; and Pete Thomas, emeritus professor in road and vehicle safety at Loughborough University.

The judges agreed that all models demonstrated “impressive safety advancements” ahead of the 2030 ban on sales of new vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICE).

“It is fantastic to see carmakers continuing to prioritise safety, with all but four vehicles tested by Euro NCAP in 2021 achieving a four or five-star rating,” said Avery. “Most are rising to the safety challenge and it’s encouraging to note EVs are performing very well.”

“As well as the development of active safety technology to help avoid crashes and protect vulnerable road users, we also welcome the continued introduction of passive safety innovations such as centre-airbags, which prevent occupants from colliding into one another during side impacts,” he added.

Bannering the list are the EQS from Mercedes-EQ, Nissan’s Qashqai, the all-electric Enyaq by Škoda, the Volvo-derived Polestar 2, and the hybrid-electric Toyota Yaris Cross.

“The great news for consumers is that the shortlisted models demonstrate that cars don’t have to be hugely expensive to be kitted out with the latest safety equipment,” said Evans. “The Qashqai and Yaris are affordable, popular models that will sell in large numbers and so enhancing road safety for their buyers and other road users. It’s also reassuring to see that specifically designed pure electric models, such as the Enyaq and Polestar 2, have impressive all-round safety credentials.”

The UK’s safest new cars of 2021

Below is the list of the country’s top five safest new cars, according to the judges, along with the vehicles’ results in the Euro New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP) testing and expert analysis from Thatcham Research’s Avery. The list is arranged alphabetically.

1. Mercedes- EQS

  • Type: Electric vehicle (EV)
  • Adult occupant protection rating: 96%
  • Child occupant protection rating: 91%
  • Vulnerable road user protection rating: 76%
  • Safety assist rating: 80%

The EQS was among the best performers in the Euro NCAP test, impressing the judges with its improved safety assist technology and occupant protection, which includes a centre console-mounted airbag to contain occupants during side impacts.

“This is an extremely safe vehicle, which achieved impressive Euro NCAP test scores,” Avery said. “As you would expect from Mercedes-Benz, the EQS is a great safety performer with its adult occupant protection score of 96% and its child occupant protection score of 91% being the joint highest in those categories during testing. But a price point of just under £100,000 means the EQS won’t be a common sight on the roads.”

2. Nissan Qashqai

  • Type: ICE
  • Adult occupant protection rating: 91%
  • Child occupant protection rating: 91%
  • Vulnerable road user protection rating: 70%
  • Safety assist rating: 95%

The Qashqai achieved a rating of more than 90% in three out of four safety categories in the Euro NCAP tests. The judges liked its reverse automatic braking, lane support, and emergency lane keeping functions. The Qashqai’s popularity and price point offset the current absence of all-electric or hybrid versions from its range, according to the panel, adding that the model is “tipped to make a big impact on road safety due to its mass-market appeal and Nissan’s commitment to rolling out safety features across its range.”

“This was a difficult choice and sparked long debate among the judges because we’re aware it’s an ICE vehicle,” Avery explained. “But it’s well-priced at around £25,000 and safety is the fundamental criteria above all else. It’s one of the best vehicles we’ve tested in terms of safety scores across the board and when you add in the price point, along with the fact it’s produced in the UK, we feel it really deserves its place. It’s also an established and popular family car, which can’t yet be said of typically more expensive EV models.”

3. Polestar 2

  • Type: EV
  • Adult occupant protection rating: 92%
  • Child occupant protection rating: 89%
  • Vulnerable road user protection rating: 80%
  • Safety assist rating: 86%

This is the first model from the new electric-car brand to be tested against Euro NCAP protocols, according to the panel, adding that it has all the safety features drivers would expect from a Volvo-derived full EV. The judges commended the Polestar 2 for its “impressive passive safety performance, due to its excellent body structure and very effective restraint systems.”

“Scoring highly across all categories the Polestar 2 is a vehicle fit for the future, with over-the-air updates offering potentially improved performance over the car’s lifetime,” Avery said. “It also boasts very good lane support functions, which are threat sensitive and don’t nag the driver. As a new brand, Polestar should be applauded for keeping safety so high on the agenda.”

4. Škoda Enyaq

  • Type: EV
  • Adult occupant protection rating: 94%
  • Child occupant protection rating: 89%
  • Vulnerable road user protection rating: 71%
  • Safety assist rating: 82%

This entry-level compact crossover SUV scored well in frontal offset testing, with the car engineered to minimise damage to other vehicles in a collision. The car’s adult occupant protection rating of 94% was the second highest of all vehicles tested. Škoda has plans to improve the Enyaq’s lane assistance technology, which judges felt was a little “overzealous.”

“Škoda’s Enyaq is a family car with lots of room which was only bettered in safety performance by much more expensive vehicles,” Avery said. “It’s satisfying to see the Enyaq feature in our top five safest cars list, as it represents the future of all-electric motoring and will account for many sales in the EV crossover segment. Impressive results show the VW Group hasn’t compromised safety in the transition to electric propulsion.”

5. Toyota Yaris Cross

  • Type: Hybrid
  • Adult occupant protection rating: 86%
  • Child occupant protection rating: 84%
  • Vulnerable road user protection rating: 78%
  • Safety assist rating: 81%

The experts commended the Yaris Cross for its “encouraging overall performance in safety tests and its affordability.” Judges felt the car’s popularity will help “democratise” safety technology, allowing many motorists to access and benefit from recent innovations.

“Other cars performed similarly well in testing but few, if any, came in anywhere near the Yaris Cross’s low-entry price,” Avery explained. “It’s reassuring to see Toyota are demonstrating that lower-cost models can still offer high-end safety systems, and that a focus on overall price need not be at the expense of driver safety.”

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