Safest cars for children

Cars have never been safer, helping keep you and your children protected in the event of a crash. Here are the best of the best

James Wilson
Jun 18, 2019

Despite UK roads being among the safest in Europe and cars offering ever greater levels of crash protection - and even collision avoidance abilities - safety is often overlooked during the buying process. This comes as drivers often focus more on alloy wheel designs, trim levels and economy than whether autonomous emergency braking (AEB) is available, or the levels of protection the car provides for children.

Even today, the differences between cars' safety ratings can be significant and carmakers take them very seriously. Take the latest Ford Mustang, for example. When it was first tested by Euro NCAP – the organisation responsible for assessing how vehicles perform in various types of crash – the Mustang received a two-star safety rating. So unusual was it for a modern car to receive such a low rating that Ford acted rapidly, fitting pedestrian detection, AEB and lane-keep assist, while the firm also reconfigured the airbags, which had been partly responsible for its low score. The Mustang received a more reasonable three-star rating when retested after these improvements.

And crash tests can be even more impactful than that, with Fiat withdrawing the Punto – admittedly a fairly elderly car – from sale after it was awarded NCAP’s first-ever zero-star rating. The fact that the Punto scored five stars for its adult protection back in 2005 shows just how far car safety standards have moved on in recent years.

The Punto and the Mustang may be unusual, but they serve as examples of the variability that can exist between different cars’ protective qualities, even well into the 21st century.

To select our 10 safest cars, we consulted Euro NCAP’s test directory for 2019 and 2018 - cars that have been assessed with the most stringent tests to date - taking the top 10 results in the child occupant protection category. All of the vehicles in the rundown scored five stars overall – the maximum rating Euro NCAP awards – but the individual category scores, not to mention the crash experts’ comments in the full reports – make for interesting reading nonetheless.

Note: these cars were tested in 2019 and 2018, with the highest-rated cars from these two years selected. Test criteria were unchanged during this period, featuring the toughest tests to date, but results from previous years cannot be compared directly as the tests weren't as challenging.

   

 

Safest cars

    

1. Mazda 6

The Mazda 6 - along with the Mercedes A-Class - claims the highest child occupant protection rating (91%) of any new car.

On the inside, you will find the same number of Isofix points as the Mercedes (two) and a good number of airbags too. It is important to note that if your kids are very young, airbags can be dangerous for them, so make sure you follow the car makers’ instructions to disable them properly if you do fit a child seat in the front. Mazda also scores very well in ownership surveys, so there shouldn’t be much to worry about on the reliability front.
Mazda 6 buying guide

Child occupant rating 91%
Overall rating Five stars
Year of test 2018

2. Mercedes A-Class

The fact the Mercedes A-Class is available with one of the most sophisticated voice controls systems available is excellent, but the 91% child occupant protection rating is what makes it outstanding here.

Inside you will find two Isofix mounts on the outer rear seats, which are useful for younger kids. There is also a healthy amount of airbags as standard should your kids be old enough, helping to keep children of all ages safe.
Mercedes A-Class buying guide

Child occupant rating 91%
Overall rating Five stars
Year of test 2018

3. Renault Clio

With a child occupant protection rating of 89% you can’t get any safer when it comes to superminis – the popular Ford Fiesta trails the Clio by 3%.

The previous generation Clio (which also scored five stars, but back in 2012) is only just being replaced, so make sure you are looking at the right Clio when buying one.

Child occupant rating 89%
Overall rating Five stars
Year of test 2019

 4. Hyundai Santa Fe

If you fall into the ‘at it like rabbits’ category of parents and need seven seats plus top levels of safety, then the Hyundai Santa Fe is as good as it gets. According to Euro NCAP, it is quite literally the safest SUV on the road for child occupant protection. Those turned away by the Hyundai badge need not be, as in recent years the Korean manufacturer has really stepped up its game with regards to desirability and quality – its standard five-year, unlimited mileage warranty is a testament to this.

For child occupant protection the Santa Fe scored 88% which helped it on its way to a full five stars. Like the Nissan Leaf further down, there is an extra Isofix mount on the front passenger seat, should you wish to strap a baby in next to the driver, plus the Isofix points on the outer rear seats.
Hyundai Santa Fe buying guide

Child occupant rating 88%
Overall rating Five stars
Year of testing 2018

5. Ford Focus

The Ford Focus has been a great family car for many years, offering a compelling blend of practicality, affordability and reliability. Even so, the latest generation has really stepped up its game and part of that is its impressive 87% child occupant safety rating. As for Isofix points, it has two (the outer rear seats) which is the industry standard for five-seat cars.

One dent in the Focus’s armour is that Ford has room to improve when it comes to ownership surveys, often finishing surprisingly low in the results. That said, in the latest Auto Express Driver Power Survey, Ford scored better than both BMW and Mercedes.
Ford Focus buying guide

Child occupant rating 87%
Overall rating Five stars
Year of test 2018

                

6. Toyota RAV4

The Toyota RAV4 started as a small, slightly dumpy SUV. The latest generation is almost unrecognisable in that not only is it much larger, but it packs the kind of safety equipment the first generation could only dream of – automatic emergency braking to name one such piece of kit.

The Euro NCAP test results confirm the technology works well, as the latest RAV4 received a full five stars when tested and an impressive 87% for child protection. It should come as no surprise therefore, that there are two Isofix points on the outer rear seats, as well as a collection of airbags.
Toyota RAV4 buying guide

Child occupant rating 87%
Overall rating Five stars
Year of test 2019

7. Volvo XC40

Volvo has been at the forefront of vehicle safety for years. In fact, you have to go back all the way to 2001 to find a Volvo which didn’t score a full five stars for safety, and even then you won’t find anything with less than four.

The XC40 claims an excellent 87% for child occupant safety rating and offers two Isofix points on the outer rear seats. Safety aside, the XC40 is one of the most stylish small SUVs on sale both inside and out.
Volvo XC40 buying guide

Child occupant rating 87%
Overall rating Five stars
Year of testing 2018

8. Range Rover Evoque

Range Rover updated the Evoque in 2019, and with it brought a new, strong crash test rating. It scored an reassuring 87% for child protection – up 12% on the previous model. When it comes to Isofix locations, you have the standard two on the outer rear seats.

Naturally, being a Range Rover, the Evoque wears its safety badge with an air of opulence. The interior is luxurious and the tech on offer is excellent. Not all of the electronics are merely for entertainment though, as the Evoque (much like many on this list) comes with lane keep assist (to prevent you wandering out of your lane) and automatic emergency braking.
Range Rover Evoque buying guide

Child occupant rating 87%
Overall rating Five stars
Year of test 2019

9. Citroen C5 Aircross

The Citroen C5 Aircross is the big brother to the funky C3 Aircross, and while it's not proving as popular with the public, it is impressively safe.

Euro NCAP awarded the Citroen C5 Aircross a five-star safety rating when equipped with automatic emergency braking (AEB) with cyclist detection – a system which helps prevent crashes by automatically applying the brakes when it detects a potential collision with a bike or car. Even though models without AEB only receive four stars, they have the same excellent child occupant safety rating.
Citroen C5 Aircross buying guide

Child occupant rating 86%
Overall rating Five stars
Year of test 2019

10. Nissan Leaf

Here it is - the safest car for children that’s also electric. A child protection rating of 86% is excellent, while a long list of tech makes it a compelling case for many motorists, not just those after safety for their kids.

Oh, and with a range of between 168 and 239 miles (depending which model you go for) the Leaf offers a good enough real-world range that many motorists could easily use it as their only car.
Nissan Leaf buying guide

Child occupant rating 86%
Overall rating Five stars 
Year of test 2018

           

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