Safest new cars 2021

Crash tested to destruction: see the safest cars of 2021

BuyaCar team
Feb 12, 2021

UK roads are among the safest in Europe, and cars are offering greater and greater levels of collision protection. This has made the idea of road safety something that is often taken for granted or even overlooked entirely by motorists.

People interested in a new car will often focus more on alloy wheel designs, trim levels and fuel economy than they do on whether autonomous emergency braking (AEB) is available, or how much protection a particular model provides for their children.

Even in an age where technology is so advanced and safety is considered a foregone conclusion, the differences between one car’s safety rating and another’s can be significant, and it's a figure that manufacturers take very seriously indeed.

Take the latest Ford Mustang, for example. When it was first tested by Euro NCAP – the organisation responsible for setting crash-test criteria and assessing how vehicles perform in various types of impact – 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.

Crash tests can be even more impactful than that, though. Fiat withdrew the Punto – originally launched in 2005 – from sale after it was awarded NCAP’s first-ever zero-star rating in 2017. The fact that the Punto scored five stars for its adult protection back in 2005 shows just how far car safety progressed.

Safest new cars

To select our 10 safest cars, we consulted Euro NCAP’s test directory for 2019 and 2018, taking the top 10 results in the adult 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 cars’ 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, but results from previous years cannot be compared directly due to changes in assessment procedures during earlier years.

1. Mazda 3

  • Adult occupant rating 98%
  • Child occupant rating 87%
  • Vulnerable road user rating 81%
  • Safety assist rating 73%

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The Mazda 3 may be one of the most striking family hatchbacks on sale today, but it’s also one of the safest. With an adult occupant score of 98%, the 3 joins the elite ranks of cars to have scored so highly in this area – only the Volvo V40, Alfa Romeo Giulia and Volvo XC60 achieved a 98% score between 2015 and 2019.

Helping the Mazda towards this lofty perch was the fact it scored maximum points for the protection it affords the driver and rear-seat passengers in the full-width, rigid barrier test, while its autonomous emergency braking system stopped for all obstacles during urban driving simulations. The 3 also provides, says NCAP, “good protection” for six and 10-year old children, and scored maximum points for the child protection it offered in dynamic impact tests.


2. Seat Tarraco

  • Adult occupant rating 97%
  • Child occupant rating 84%
  • Vulnerable road user rating 79%
  • Safety assist rating 79%

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Seat’s largest SUV put in a strong performance during its NCAP assessments, with the testers noting that in the tough side barrier and pole impact tests “protection of all critical body areas was good and the Tarraco scored maximum points.”

Maximum points were also awarded during the side barrier test for children, while the testers noted child seats could be easily and safely installed in the middle row of seats but, as with many seven-seater SUVs, “the optional third row seats were too small to accommodate universal child restraints properly.” The Tarraco’s AEB system worked well, though, detecting both pedestrians and cyclists. That’s reassuring, as AEB is said to be one of the most important safety developments in recent years, with experts estimating it reduces rear-end collisions by 38%.


3. Volkswagen T-Cross

  • Adult occupant rating 97%
  • Child occupant rating 86%
  • Vulnerable road user rating 81%
  • Safety assist rating 80%

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The T-Cross’ diminutive dimensions didn’t stop it gaining an impressive score from NCAP, with a top-drawer 97% adult occupant rating.

The testers report the T-Cross’ passenger compartment remained stable during impact assessments, offering good leg protection to occupants of differing sizes. Whiplash protection was rated as good in both the front and rear seats, while the AEB system worked as designed at urban speeds. Child occupants, meanwhile, were shown to be given “ good” protection for all “critical parts of the body” in the side barrier test.


4. Volvo XC40

  • Adult occupant rating 97%
  • Child occupant rating 87%
  • Vulnerable road user rating 71%
  • Safety assist rating 76%

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It’s a cliché to say that Volvo is synonymous with safety, but clichés exist for a reason, as evidenced by the fact the XC40 SUV is one of two Volvos on this list.

The Swedish company’s smallest SUV scored the same 97% adult occupant rating as many of the other cars on this list, with a strong 87% performance for child occupant protection, with good results for child passengers demonstrated in both the frontal and offset side barrier tests.

Volvo’s standard-fit AEB system also performed well, working as designed in the urban driving simulations in which so many collisions occur.


5. Lexus UX

  • Adult occupant rating 96%
  • Child occupant rating 85%
  • Vulnerable road user rating 82%
  • Safety assist rating 77%

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A Japanese rival to upmarket SUVs like the Audi Q3 and BMW X1, the Lexus UX was well-regarded by Euro NCAP testers. Leg protection for front-seat passengers was judged to be good, while the passenger compartment remained stable during impact assessments.

Lexus’s standard-fit AEB system was awarded maximum points for its urban-speed assessments, stopping for all obstacles, including pedestrians. The testers noted, however, that the UX’s lane-keep assist system helps prevent “inadvertent drifting out of lane, but does not intervene in more critical situations, as do the systems of some other vehicles.”

6. Renault Clio

  • Adult occupant rating 96%
  • Child occupant rating 89%
  • Vulnerable road user rating 72%
  • Safety assist rating 75%

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The fact the new Renault Clio scores so well is all the more impressive given its size. Because while Euro NCAP’s tests take into account a vehicle’s dimensions when putting it through collision assessments, a 96% adult occupant score is still impressively high for a supermini.

Helping the Clio towards this ranking are a number of impressive characteristics. An 89% child occupant score is strong, not least because it’s easier to design a car to better-protect adults than children.

Also, the Clio’s AEB system worked well during assessments at urban speeds, while the car’s passenger compartment remained stable during impact, and maximum points were awarded for the Clio’s performance in its side barrier test.


7. Mercedes A-Class

  • Adult occupant rating 96%
  • Child occupant rating 84%
  • Vulnerable road user rating 74%
  • Safety assist rating 76%

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If the Clio’s performance is strong, the Mercedes A-Class’ is, quite frankly, stellar. Because as well as an impressive 96% adult occupant score, the A-Class garnered a 91% child occupant score – the highest in this area of any other car on this list - and a result potential family buyers may be keen to know. Helping it towards this mark is a system that automatically detects when a child seat has been placed in the front seat, and deactivates the passenger airbag.

Another area where the A-Class impresses is the vulnerable road user category. Here, again, it outperformed the other cars on our rundown, partly thanks to a strong AEB system, and partly thanks to an ‘active’ bonnet, which rises up in a collision to prevent cyclists and pedestrians from impacting onto hard engine components.


8. Volvo V60/S60

  • Adult occupant rating 96%
  • Child occupant rating 86%
  • Vulnerable road user rating 71%
  • Safety assist rating 79%
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With a cabin that remains stable in frontal offset impact tests, good protection of the knees and femurs for driver and passenger, and good whiplash protection in all five seats, the S60 and V60 are undoubtedly safe cars.

Children are also well cared for in the V60, with good protection being afforded to kids’ critical body areas in the frontal offset and side barrier tests, and maximum points awarded in the dynamic tests.

As with the A-Class, the V60 and S60 have active bonnets, but in Volvo’s case this wasn’t enough to elevate the car to a similar rank to the Mercedes, partly as the V60 provided ‘mixed’ protection the pelvises of vulnerable road users.

9. Peugeot 508

  • Adult occupant rating 96%
  • Child occupant rating 86%
  • Vulnerable road user rating 71%
  • Safety assist rating 79%

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The Peugeot 508 saloon certainly has the wow factor in the looks department, but this is backed up by the robust scores it generated in its Euro NCAP crash tests.

With good levels of whiplash protection, effective autonomous emergency braking, as well as good protection of driver and passenger legs, the 508 would seem to look after its adult occupants, while young passengers are also taken care of, with the testers noting six and 10-year-old dummies are protected to good or adequate levels in the frontal offset and side barrier tests.

Another car with an active bonnet, the 508 also helps protect vulnerable road users, though the testers noted “poor results [were] seen along the base of the windscreen and on the stiff windscreen pillars."


10. Toyota Corolla

  • Adult occupant rating 95%
  • Child occupant rating 84%
  • Vulnerable road user rating 86%
  • Safety assist rating 77%

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The Toyota Corolla impressed testers when it was put through its crash-test assessments this year, with Japan’s answer to the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus getting the full five-star treatment thanks to impressively strong adult, child and vulnerable road user scores.

NCAP said the Corolla’s occupant cabin remained stable in the frontal offset test, though noted there was “insufficient pressure in the driver's airbag to prevent the dummy's head from 'bottoming out' the airbag and contacting the steering wheel through the airbag material.”

While NCAP said dummy readings indicated this “did not indicate a hazard”, the Corolla was marked down slightly in this area, which may partly explain its 95% adult occupant score.

Elsewhere, whiplash protection was judged to be good, the standard-fit AEB system worked well, while maximum points were awarded child occupants for the Corolla’s performance in the side barrier test.


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