2021 What Car? safety and technology awards: the shortlists

Five new car models go head-to-head for the safety award and five new technologies vie for the tech crown...

Mazda MX-30 Euro NCAP crash test

The cars and pieces of technology that are in contention to win the 2021 What Car? safety and technology awards have been revealed. 

The winner of the technology award will be named on 11 January, and the safety award on 14 January, as part of a week-long, entirely digital event, after judging has been carried out by What Car? and automotive research organisation Thatcham Research. 

Who is in contention for the safety award? 

The models shortlisted for the What Car? safety award have faced more scrutiny than ever before, thanks to stricter Euro NCAP testing protocols that came into force during 2020.

Toyota Yaris crash test

A new offset crash test has been introduced to encourage manufacturers of bigger vehicles to share the burden of impacts with smaller vehicles, and new side impact crash tests assess injuries to occupants on the far side of the impact as well as those next to it.  

There are also two new ‘active’ safety tests that assess the ability of automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems to prevent 'turn across path’ collisions at junctions and reversing accidents.

Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham, provides his expert insight into the five cars that are bidding to scoop the coveted safety award in 2021: 

Honda Jazz: “The Jazz is a solid performer across all test categories and topped the 2020 chart for the protection it offers to vulnerable road users with a score of 80%. The introduction of a centre-mounted airbag to limit front seat occupant interaction in far side collisions also helped this hybrid achieve an impressive 87% in the adult occupant protection category.” 

Mazda MX-30 crash test

Mazda MX-30: “This is Mazda’s debut electric vehicle and is expected to appeal to buyers who want to embrace an affordable electric future. Its high score for adult occupant protection and impressive passive safety credentials were strengthened by its 87% score in the child occupant protection tests."

Seat Leon: “This affordable small family car offers sound levels of capability and protection across the board. Its 92% score for adult occupant protection was the best in 2020 and the introduction of a centre airbag to prevent occupant-to-occupant interaction in a side impact supported that result. The presence of a multi-collision braking system is also a useful addition as standard.”

Toyota Yaris crash test

Toyota Yaris: “This value-for-money small car has a solid level of active and passive safety technology. This means it's good at preventing accidents, having scored 85% for safety assist, and its score of 78% in the vulnerable road user category means it also offers strong protection to those it shares the road with.” 

Volkswagen ID.3: “VW’s first fully electric car has been designed from the ground up and has been impressive straight out of the box. It gained the top scores in both the safety assist and child occupant protection categories, and its innovative side airbags protect far-side occupants in side impacts.”

What’s on the shortlist for the technology award? 

The five innovations shortlisted for the What Car? technology award all have the potential to improve both vehicle and driver safety now and in the future. Matthew Avery gives his insight on each:

Android Auto operating system

This new breed of infotainment platform built into cars by car makers removes the reliance on potentially distracting touchscreens because the voice-activated Google Assistant is built into the car. It can also be upgraded via over-the-air updates.

Ford Kuga 2020 RHD front left tracking

Ford Kuga Lane-Keeping System with Blind Spot Assist

This new system monitors the driver’s blind spot for vehicles approaching from behind, and can apply gentle counter-steering force to warn the driver and discourage a lane change manoeuvre if a potential collision is detected.

Kia Blind Spot View Monitor

This advanced driver assistance system enhances safety on the Kia Sorento by eliminating a driver’s left and right-side blind spots. It displays a high-resolution video feed onto the instrument panel when the driver indicates to change lane and there is another vehicle in its blind spot. The video feed is generated by discreet wide-angle cameras in each of the door mirrors.

Tesla Model 3 front action

Tesla over-the-air updates

This technology wirelessly sends new features to Tesla vehicles that improve functionality, performance and safety. Tesla, which has faced criticism from Thatcham Research about the misuse of its Autopilot technology, has used OTA updates to make a raft of notable improvements to its vehicles during 2020, including the addition of vision-based speed assist capability, an interior camera to capture video clips prior to a collision or safety event, dash-cam viewer improvements and traffic light warnings.

Volvo Advanced Interior Air Cleaner

This air purification system removes harmful particulates from the Volvo’s interior to ensure occupants breathe clean air. Incoming air passes through an ioniser that pre-charges microscopic particles, which stick to a fibre-based filter that carries an opposite charge.

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Next: Find out which cars and technologies were winners in the 2020 What Car? Awards >