Euro NCAP makes biggest changes to crash tests in a decade

New impact tests encourage makers of big vehicles to think about the safety of people in smaller ones...

Euro NCAP test

Crash safety body Euro NCAP is introducing a series of new tests for vehicles it assesses in 2020. The alterations are designed to “address long-standing needs in occupant protection, improve post-crash protection and promote the latest advanced driver assistance technology,” according to the organisation. 

The most significant change is to the offset head-on collision test, which has been the same for the past 23 years. Instead of a car crashing into a static barrier, it will now involve another vehicle and hitting a moving barrier. The crash testers will examine the impact on both the vehicle and the barrier. The objective of this amended test is to encourage makers of larger vehicles to share some of the burden of the impact with smaller vehicles.

Volvo XC40 Euro NCAP crash test

“Historically SUVs and other big cars have offered very good protection to their occupants, but the smaller vehicles they sometimes crash into can fare less well,” explains Matthew Avery, a Euro NCAP board member and director of research at Thatcham Research. “In the new compatibility test, if the larger vehicle is too stiff in an impact scenario, it will be penalised accordingly. This levels the playing field for vehicles of all sizes, which is a win-win for road safety.”

Side impact crashes have the second-highest rate of death or serious injuries among car occupants, so the side-impact crash test is being improved. The speed of the impact is being increased and measurements are being introduced to assess how severe the impact is on both the driver and the front-seat passenger, rather than just the passenger. 

“In side-impact scenarios, occupants can be knocked around dramatically – not only into one another but also into the vehicle structures,” comments Avery. “The performance of airbags installed into centre compartments to mitigate this effect will now be assessed within the programme.” 

Turn across path

Two new active safety systems will be tested and ratings for them included in each car model’s overall safety score. The turn across path test will test the capability of automatic emergency braking systems that apply a car’s brakes if it is about to pull out of a junction and be struck by a vehicle coming towards it or if there is a vulnerable road user, such as a cyclist, in the driver’s blind spot.  

The second system to be added to the test protocol is reversing automatic emergency braking systems that are designed to stop the car from hitting another vehicle or a vulnerable road user in a car park. 

Another addition to the test regime is the assessment of driver fatigue and distraction systems that send alerts if a driver isn’t looking at the road ahead for a certain period of time. 

Distracted driving

“We believe driver monitoring is the next big thing in active safety technology. In the short term it has a key role in detecting fatigue and distraction. However, these ‘Guardian Angel’ systems will also be fundamental to the safe introduction of the first automated driving systems, by ensuring that the driver is ready to take back control of the vehicle when it is no longer in automated driving mode,” says Avery.  

The final change is the introduction of Euro NCAP ratings for how good the rescue information car makers provide to emergency services is to encourage them to provide the best assistance for those trying to rescue occupants from vehicles involved in crashes. 

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The safest cars on sale today

Of the 69 models that Euro NCAP has tested since 2018, 52 have earned the full five-star safety rating. Among them are such diverse vehicles as the Audi A1 Sportback small hatchback, BMW Z4 sports car and Skoda Kamiq small SUV.

There are big differences between the very best and worst performers. So, below we count down the cars with the best scores – and reveal the models that received one star or less.

The top 10:

=10. Audi Q3

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Audi Q3

Adult occupant protection 95% Child occupant protection 86% Pedestrian protection 66% Safety Assist 85%

Total Euro NCAP score 342/400

Until recently, the Audi Q3 had the highest Safety Assist score of any car tested under Euro NCAP's latest criteria. The list of systems that are standard includes blindspot monitoring and a lane-keeping system that can steer the car back into its original lane to prevent a head-on collision.

Mazda CX-30 2019 front cornering

Adult occupant protection 99% Child occupant protection 86% Pedestrian protection 80% Safety Assist 77%

Total Euro NCAP score 342/400

The CX-30 fits neatly between Mazda's other two SUVs, the small CX-3 and larger CX-5. It feels as luxurious as rivals from premium brands, but costs significantly less. It comes with an impressive array of safety kit as standard, including automatic emergency braking (AEB), blindspot monitoring, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assistance, a rear cross-traffic alert system (to warn of traffic in your path when reversing into a road) and a driver attention alert system.

Read our full Mazda CX-30 review >>

=10. Toyota RAV4

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Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Adult occupant protection 93% Child occupant protection 87% Pedestrian protection 85% Safety Assist 77%

Total Euro NCAP score 342/400

Large SUVs are all gas-guzzling planet polluters, right? Well, not the Toyota RAV4, because thanks to hybrid power, it pumps out less CO2 than a 1.0-litre Ford Fiesta. The RAV4 comes with automatic emergency braking, including pedestrian and cyclist detection, as standard, as well as lane-keeping assistance.

Read our full Toyota RAV4 review >>

=10. Toyota Corolla

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Toyota Corolla

Adult occupant protection 95% Child occupant protection 84% Pedestrian protection 86% Safety Assist 77%

Total Euro NCAP score 342/400

As good as the latest RAV4 is, we reckon it's Toyota's family hatchback, the Corolla, that's the best hybrid currently on sale. Although the Corolla matches the RAV4 on its overall score, it betters its larger sibling in terms of adult occupant protection and pedestrian protection.

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