2023 What Car? Safety Award contenders revealed

More cars than ever scored five stars in the Euro NCAP safety tests in 2022, but which impressed the judges enough to make it onto the shortlist for the 2023 What Car Safety Award?...

2023 safety award shortlist

The new car models that are in contention to win the 2023 What Car? Safety Award, held in association with Thatcham Research, have been revealed. 

The winner of the Safety Award will be named on 19 January as part of our annual Car of the Year Awards event. The 10 models in with a chance of winning range from a small hatchback to a luxury saloon, giving buyers a good variety of bodystyles and price points to choose from. 

All but one of the contenders are pure electric cars or hybrids, demonstrating that car makers are paying attention to safety for the models that will become their main sellers in the next couple of years, as we transition to the ban on new petrol and diesel car sales in 2030

The panel of expert judges from Euro NCAP, Thatcham Research and What Car? had more vehicles to choose from than ever this year because 80% (50 models) of the cars tested in 2022 achieved the top five-star accolade. In fact, all of the cars tested by Euro NCAP in the past year gained a four or five star rating – a record. 

“It’s been a strong year for the car makers that have launched new vehicles and the results we’ve seen are good news for all road users,” commented Thatcham Research chief research strategy officer, Matthew Avery. “The results are particularly impressive when you consider this year’s Euro NCAP test protocols are the most demanding yet.”

2023 safety award shortlist

However, the judges weren’t simply looking for the safest cars. As well as a five-star rating, the winner of the What Car Safety Award has to have mass-market appeal, top class impact protection and crash avoidance and strong assisted driving technology. 

One important safety feature that’s standard on all 10 cars in the shortlist is a central airbag, which activates between occupants to reduce head injuries in a side impact. 

Another emerging trend is the fitment of driver monitoring systems that notice if the driver is becoming inattentive or sleepy and gives them a warning message to help prevent fatigue from causing accidents. 

“This technology is not a ‘spy in the car’ and doesn’t record or log driver activity. It helps to prevent tiredness from killing people, while ensuring motorists remain engaged with the driving task and undistracted by handheld devices,” states Avery. 

Thatcham Research believes driver monitoring systems are fundamental to the safe and successful deployment of automated driving technology in the future because they help the car to better understand the driver’s intentions and will therefore prevent unnecessary interventions by the technology.

The 10 models in contention for the Safety Award:

1. BMW X1

2023 safety award shortlist

If you have a large or growing family, the BMW X1 is a great option because it's the roomiest SUV in our family class. The 55-mile official pure electric range on offer in the plug-in hybrid versions is impressive, too.

It is the only internal combustion engined vehicle on the list of nominations for this year’s Safety Award. The judges were encouraged that BMW is continuing to develop safe diesel or petrol vehicles, alongside making the shift towards full electric vehicles.

BMW X1 Euro NCAP crash test scores

Adult occupant protection 86%

Child occupant protection 89%

Vulnerable road user protection 76%

Safety Assist 92%

2. Hyundai Ioniq 6

2023 safety award shortlist

This pure electric four-door coupe has a long range and ultra-fast charging. The most powerful twin-motor version delivers a comfortable, rewarding drive and offers a really strong mix of performance and range.

The Ioniq 6 comes from a group of brands that are very good at pushing the safety envelope. The car’s adult occupant protection score is one of the best ever, at 97%.

Hyundai Ioniq 6 Euro NCAP crash test scores

Adult occupant protection 97%

Child occupant protection 87%

Vulnerable road user protection 66%

Safety Assist 90%

3. Lexus NX

2023 safety award shortlist

The Lexus NX 450h plug-in hybrid gets the top five-star rating from What Car? because it has a plush interior, impressive refinement, a substantial pure electric range, low CO2 emissions and a low company car tax rate. If you can't easily plug in your car, the NX 350h hybrid is a good compromise; it's competitively priced and more efficient than non-hybrid rivals, and it should benefit from Lexus’s legendary reliability.

Lexus and its parent company, Toyota, both have a strong track record for safety, and the NX SUV doesn't disappoint. It shares the same platform as the RAV4, and has a high level of passive and active safety that provides strong protection for those inside and outside the car.

Lexus NX Euro NCAP crash test scores

Adult occupant protection 91%

Child occupant protection 87%

Vulnerable road user protection 83%

Safety Assist 91%

4. Mazda CX-60

2023 safety award shortlist

Mazda's first plug-in hybrid, the CX-60, is a well-priced large SUV that’s fun to drive and offers low running costs with a plush interior. The battery range and company car tax costs don't quite match the best in its class, but it's well equipped and has great handling.

The judges liked the fact the CX-60 already features a next-generation driver monitoring system, along with centre airbags to protect occupants in side impacts. It also achieved the highest vulnerable road user protection (89%) and child occupant protection scores (91%) of the shortlisted vehicles. 

Mazda CX-60 Euro NCAP crash test scores

Adult occupant protection 88%

Child occupant protection 91%

Vulnerable road user protection 89%

Safety Assist 76%

5. Mercedes EQE

2023 safety award shortlist

If you’re looking for a refined and comfortable luxury electric saloon that has a very long range, the Mercedes EQE is well worth a look. The EQE 300 and EQE 350 both have a big 89kWh battery that provides up to 384 miles of range, which is more than the BMW i4 eDrive40 and the Tesla Model 3.  

The EQE is also everything you’d expect from a car maker that excels in vehicle safety. Its assisted driving system was rated ‘very good’ during tests, and the judges liked the car’s unique ability (in assisted mode) to automatically move into the slowest lane and perform a controlled stop if it detects that the driver is unresponsive. 

Mercedes EQE Euro NCAP crash test scores

Adult occupant protection 95%

Child occupant protection 91%

Vulnerable road user protection 83%

Safety Assist 81%

6. Nissan Ariya

2023 safety award shortlist

As Nissan’s first electric SUV, the Ariya is a solid effort. It’s easy to drive, the interior is spacious and the quality impressive, and the strong residual values should make it a tempting choice on PCP finance. 

It is Nissan’s second fully electric car after the Leaf, and it has been hailed as an electric version of the Qashqai – last year’s Safety Award winner. The judges felt the Ariya’s autonomous emergency braking system, which works in reverse as well as when driving forwards and can detect pedestrians behind the vehicle, is a particularly good idea on a family-focused SUV.

Nissan Ariya Euro NCAP crash test scores

Adult occupant protection 86%

Child occupant protection 89%

Vulnerable road user protection 74%

Safety Assist 93%

7. ORA Funky Cat

2023 safety award shortlist

This new electric hatchback aims to take on the best small electric cars out there, and it has a name that's far more bizarre than any other. It's made by ORA, a sub-brand of Chinese automotive giant Great Wall Motors (GWM) that specialises in electric vehicles. It's not the best small electric car to drive, but it has a good warranty and commendable safety credentials.  

The Funky Cat has good passive safety performance, as well as impressive active safety technology for an affordable small car. 

ORA Funky Cat Euro NCAP crash test scores

Adult occupant protection 92%

Child occupant protection 83%

Vulnerable road user protection 74%

Safety Assist 93%

8. Smart #1

2023 safety award shortlist

The all-new model from Smart is the product of a partnership with Chinese car maker Geely. The Smart #1 is an impressive electric SUV with a nice interior, good rear seat space and, in the Brabus version, outrageously quick acceleration. 

It's also a high-performing SUV in the safety stakes, achieving one of the year’s highest scores (96%) for adult occupant protection – that's as good as the results of larger vehicles with bigger crumple zones.

Smart #1 Euro NCAP crash test scores

Adult occupant protection 96%

Child occupant protection 89%

Vulnerable road user protection 71%

Safety Assist 88%

9. Tesla Model Y

2023 safety award shortlist

The Model Y is a good alternative for those who need more space than you get in a Model 3. It has rapid acceleration and a great range between charges, and you get the back-up of Tesla's impressive public charging network. 

In terms of safety, the Model Y sets the standard for emergency safety system performance across both active and passive safety. Its adult occupant protection score of 97% is the highest of the year, while its safety assist grading of 98% is the best ever recorded.

Tesla model Y Euro NCAP crash test scores

Adult occupant protection 97%

Child occupant protection 87%

Vulnerable road user protection 82%

Safety Assist 98%

10. Toyota bZ4X

2023 safety award shortlist

Toyota's first modern pure electric model, the bZ4X is a fine all-rounder – especially in front-wheel-drive form and in mid-range Motion trim. It's good to drive, roomy in the back and reasonably priced, plus you get a 10-year warranty on the battery if you take your car to a Toyota dealer for an annual electric vehicle health check.

The judges found it to be a solid-performing car during safety tests and were pleased to note that the Toyota group has filtered safety technology and expertise from the premium Lexus brand down to more affordable models like the bZ4X. 

Toyota bZ4X Euro NCAP crash test scores

Adult occupant protection 88%

Child occupant protection 87%

Vulnerable road user protection 79%

Safety Assist 91%

For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here

Read more: 2023 What Car? Car of the Year Awards contenders revealed >>

Also consider