Safest cars

Last updated: May 25, 2016

One of the most fundamentally important aspects of a car to bear in mind when buying a new one is how safe it is. For most people, but particularly those with families, how well a car protects its occupants in the event of an accident and what technology it's equipped with to avoid them in the first place is very important. If you’re trying to find out which cars on the market are the safest, then scroll down to see our top 10 list.

Our list is based on the scores cars have received from Euro NCAP, the independent body that crash tests car to give them a safety rating.

Euro NCAP assesses cars in four main areas; adult occupant protection, child occupant protection, pedestrian protection and safety assistance. Over the years, the tests have become increasingly stringent as construction techniques, safety standards and safety technology have developed and improved.

The first three of the four categories mentioned above are concerned with assessing the way the car is built and what that means for its occupants in a collision. These three areas also take into account how safety equipment, such as airbags, performs in protecting both occupants and pedestrians in the event of an accident.

The safety assistance category looks at the level and efficiency of safety technology that's fitted to the car to help prevent a crash from happening in the first place. This includes electronic stability control, lane-departure warning systems and systems that can automatically apply the brakes if they sense you’re going to hit a car in front. For more information on the tests, check out Carbuyer's Euro NCAP: How safe is my car? article.

Euro NCAP gives every car it tests a score in percent for each of the four categories. From those scores, it derives an overall headline score given in stars out of five. Every car in our top ten below achieved a five-star rating within the last two years, apart from the Volvo V40, which recorded scores yet to be beaten in 2012 (though it's worth remembering the tests have become more stringent since then).

Volvo XC90 SUV

Volvo is most famous for the safety of its cars and the innovative features it develops to keep occupants as safe as possible. All that expertise and ingenuity has been put to excellent use in the development of the new Volvo XC90, which is the safest car on the road today. It scored 97% in the adult occupant category, 87% in the child occupant category and 100% for its safety assist systems. Other cars have beaten its 72% score for pedestrian safety, but the large SUV bodystyle is one of the most challenging for designers, as it's inherently more difficult to make the shape safe for pedestrians involved in accidents compared to smaller, lower cars. Read more.

Key points

4.6 / 5
Price 
£46,850 - £64,555

Volvo V40 hatchback

The Volvo V40 matches the larger XC90 in every category but it’s bumped into second because it wasn’t tested under the latest and strictest Euro NCAP regulations. Despite that, it’s very hard to ignore that the V40 scored extremely highly in all four categories. It got a 98% rating for adult occupant protection, scored 100% in the safety assist category and an innovative external pedestrian airbag helped it score a record 88% for pedestrian protection. Although the V40 is the only car in this list not to have been tested over the last 12 months, its incredible score means it still takes second place. Read more.

Key points

3.7 / 5
Price 
£20,255 - £32,015

Land Rover Discovery Sport SUV

The Land Rover Discovery Sport is certainly an improvement on the Freelander model it replaced, managing to beat its predecessor in several departments including safety. The Discovery Sport’s best score was 93% for adult occupant protection but child occupant protection was only marginally behind (as it usually is) and an 82% score for safety assist was won because of the car’s very effective autonomous braking system, which reduces the likelihood and severity of a low-speed accident. Read more.

Key points

4.5 / 5
Price 
£31,095 - £46,510

Mercedes C-Class saloon

The Mercedes C-Class features a raft of cutting-edge electronic safety systems to ensure that you aren’t just well protected in an accident but you’re also more likely to avoid getting into one. Euro NCAP applauded Mercedes' PRE-SAFE system, which tightens the seatbelts and alters the position of the front seats to offer occupants the best protection. Another of the C-Class’s systems alerts you if it detects you’re getting drowsy behind the wheel. Safety electronics aside, the C-Class is strongly built, leading it to achieve scores of 92% for adult occupant protection and 84% for child occupant protection. Read more.

Key points

4.1 / 5
Price 
£28,295 - £70,045

Mercedes GLA-Class SUV

Despite being very similar to the Mercedes A-Class under the skin, the Mercedes GLA achieved a better score from Euro NCAP despite newer, more stringent test conditions. It scored top marks in tests designed to simulate a side impact collision, as well as high scores in all other parts of the adult occupant protection test, gaining a 96% score as a result. The GLA also scored 88% for child occupant protection. In this category, it benefitted from two rear ISOFIX child-seat mounting points and automatic deactivation of the front passenger airbag when a child seat is fixed to a further ISOFIX mount. A 70% safety assistance score was slightly below par, though. Read more.

Key points

3.8 / 5
Price 
£27,730 - £36,450

Nissan Qashqai SUV

Few cars offer such comprehensive protection for the driver as the Nissan Qashqai. The current model scored full marks for driver protection, while adult passengers are protected almost as well, earning it a respectable 88% score in this area. The Qashqai also scored full marks for its protection of an 18-month-old child, helping it to an 83% overall score for child safety. The Qashqai features ISOFIX child-seat mounting points on the two outermost rear seats and if a child seat is fitted in the front passenger seat, the corresponding airbag can be deactivated. Read more.

Key points

4.7 / 5
Price 
£18,545 - £28,990

Nissan X-Trail SUV

The second Nissan in the list is the seven-seat Nissan X-Trail SUV and its scores are strikingly similar to those achieved by the Qashqai. It scored 88% for adult occupant protection, and was rated impressively for its protection from a side impact. The X-Trail’s 83% score for child occupant protection matches the Qashqai’s, while this model also has ISOFIX mounting points on the two outer seats in the rear, as well as the front passenger seat. Although the X-Trail scored well for its electronic safety equipment, the lack of seatbelt reminder buzzers for the third row of seats counted against it. Read more.

Key points

4.2 / 5
Price 
£21,995 - £32,780

Subaru Outback estate

The Subaru Outback has a reputation as a reliable, tough and comfortable workhorse, but its inclusion in a list of our safest cars is a bit of a surprise. Nevertheless, its 85% score for adult protection and 87% score for child safety is very good. The Outback provides good protection in a front-end crash, but it performs even better in a side impact. Its child protection score impressed even more, thanks in part to a passenger airbag that automatically activates only when a passenger of the correct size is in the seat. Subaru’s EyeSight automatic Read more.

Key points

4 / 5
Price 
£30,995 - £32,995

Volkswagen Passat saloon

The current Volkswagen Passat comprehensively beat the already brilliant score achieved by the previous model – and there isn’t a single area where it doesn’t impress. Once again, adult occupants are well protected from front and side impacts, while the Passat’s headrests do a good job of reducing whiplash injuries. Tthe car’s 87% score for child protection is very respectable, giving family buyers peace of mind that the Passat is a very safe car for children. Read more.

Key points

4.5 / 5
Price 
£22,680 - £40,150

Jeep Renegade SUV

Despite the all-American name, which conjures up images of big 4x4s, the Jeep Renegade is actually a Fiat 500X under the metal. And Fiat tends to score more five-star results with Euro NCAP than Jeep. The Renegade was rated 87% for adult protection, but was marked down due to “marginal” protection for whiplash. As in the rest of the cars on this list, you can disable the front passenger airbag to safely install a rearward-facing child seat, plus there’s a pair of ISOFIX mounting points in the rear seats. That resulted in an 85% child protection score. A speed limiter and automatic emergency braking system secured the Renegade a 74% score for safety assistance. Read more.

Key points

3 / 5
Price 
£17,495 - £29,000