Safest small cars

The safest small cars prove that small dimensions are no barrier to safety. These are the safest of the safe

John Evans
Aug 31, 2018

Given how compact they are and what a precious cargo they carry, the priority when choosing a supermini such as a VW Polo or Ford Fiesta has to be safety.

Of course, it’s no less a priority when choosing a larger car, but smaller models appear to be so much more vulnerable.

So three cheers for safety organisation Euro NCAP. It crash tests cars to find out how well they protect their occupants, and publishes the results for all to see. The best performers are given an overall score of five stars based on the protection they offer to adult and child passengers, as well as to pedestrians, and what type of active safety kit they have and how effective it is. The scores in these four areas are expressed as percentages so you can see how well they did in detail.

Each year Euro NCAP raises the bar by introducing new and tougher tests. This makes it difficult to compare the performances of cars from different years. This matters when you’re trying to compare new and used cars, where the older one may have five stars but the newer one, tested under tougher conditions, only four.

Below, we’ve chosen the safest superminis as tested in 2017. They’re all current models so available either as new or relatively youthful used cars. If you want to check the safety rating of older versions, visit Euro NCAP and use its search fields to identify your chosen model, making sure you select all test years.

For example, the VW Polo was tested in 2017, 2009, 2002, 2000 and 1997, so most used versions are covered and you can find out how well they did.

Back to the 2017 tests: you’ll note that some cars, such as the Kia Rio, are marked as having a safety pack. Euro NCAP has started distinguishing between standard models and those fitted with optional safety packs. Those with the packs perform better than their standard equivalents.

Nissan Micra

Overall Euro NCAP rating ★★★★★ (2017)

Adult occupant rating 91%
Child occupant rating 79%
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Lower body protection for driver and front passenger was judged to be good, but less so for rear seat passengers, where the dummy’s pelvis slipped beneath the seatbelt. The model scored maximum points in the side impact test though.

The front seat head restraints gave good whiplash protection but the rears less so. The Micra has a standard-fit autonomous emergency braking system that performed well. The test car had the optional enhanced safety package that boosted its pedestrian and safety assist scores. In standard trim and without the optional features, the Micra earned an overall rating of four stars.
Nissan Micra buying guide

VW Polo

Overall Euro NCAP rating ★★★★★ (2017)

Adult occupant rating 96%
Child occupant rating 85%
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In all impact tests the Polo offered good protection for occupants of different sizes and sitting in different positions. It performed especially well in the side pole impact test, when it scored maximum points. Whiplash performance for those in the front and rear seats was good, too. It wasn’t all champagne and chocolates though. The Polo’s driver assist systems scored a low 59%.

Back to the good news, and the Polo’s standard-fit autonomous emergency braking system prevented all impacts at low speeds.

Seat Ibiza

Overall Euro NCAP rating ★★★★★ (2017)

Adult occupant rating 95%
Child occupant rating 77%
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The Ibiza provided good or adequate occupant protection in all impact tests.

Whiplash protection was good, too. The Ibiza has a standard-fit autonomous emergency braking system which, said the testers, performed well at all speeds.
Seat Ibiza buying guide

Kia Rio

Overall Euro NCAP rating ★★★★★ (2017)

Adult occupant rating 93%
Child occupant rating 84%
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Although the Kia Rio dropped points for a below-par driver’s airbag, it recovered ground with good protection elsewhere for driver and front passenger, while gaining maximum points in side impact tests for all occupants.

Its head restraints provided good protection from whiplash. The autonomous emergency braking system that comes as part of the Rio’s £350 optional safety pack performed well. It should be pointed out that without it, the Rio achieved an overall rating of only three stars.
Kia Rio buying guide

Ford Fiesta

Overall Euro NCAP rating ★★★★★ (2017)

Adult occupant rating 87%
Child occupant rating 84%
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The Fiesta demonstrated good lower body protection for driver and front passenger, and good side protection for all occupants in side impacts. The front and rear head restraints provided good whiplash protection in the event of a rear-end collision.

Surprisingly, autonomous emergency braking is an option on all versions of the Fiesta, and a model fitted with it was not tested by NCAP. However, lane-keeping assist and Ford’s My-Key system, that can limit the car’s top speed, mute the sound system and prevent the stability control system from being turned off, are both standard and helped the Fiesta to its five-star rating.
Ford Fiesta buying guide

Toyota Yaris

Overall Euro NCAP rating ★★★★★ (2017)

Adult occupant rating 83%
Child occupant rating 80%
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While the Yaris provided good lower body protection for the driver and front passenger, it was unusual in being singled out for criticism of its dashboard, parts of which were thought to pose a risk to occupants. As a result, protection of the body was rated as marginal, as was protection of the driver’s chest.

In the side impact test, the pelvis of the rear seat passenger slipped beneath the lap belt and protection was judged to be marginal. In other side impact tests protection of the rear seat passengers was again judged to be marginal. Front and rear headrests provided good whiplash protection. The Yaris has a standard-fit autonomous emergency braking system and this performed well.
Toyota Yaris buying guide

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