Safest cars

Last updated: Aug 19, 2016

It’s not something we like to dwell on, but the forces at play during even the shortest of car journeys are high. Reassuringly, modern cars come with safety systems to protect us in the event of a collision. Some of these – like electronic stability programmes (ESP), ISOFIX child-seat mounts and anti-lock brakes (ABS) – are mandatory, while others – such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and lane-departure warning systems – don’t have to be fitted by law, but are becoming increasingly common.

Most people want to drive a safe car and the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) evaluates the vast majority of models sold in the UK and Europe. An independent body, Euro NCAP assesses each car it tests in four key areas: adult occupant protection, child occupant protection, pedestrian protection and safety assistance, with the last of those categories covering technology such as AEB and lane-departure warning.

Those four categories are assigned a percentage score and, taken in conjunction, dictate how many stars (out of five) the car is assigned. All the models featured in our list scored the full five stars, but we’ve judged their overall safety provision by looking at the adult occupant percentage score each was awarded. This gives the truest indication of how safe a car is, because it comprehensively assesses the way the car is built and how it’s likely to behave in a collision.

It’s also worth pointing out that because Euro NCAP periodically makes its tests more stringent, we’re only looking at cars assessed in 2015 and 2016. If you’d like to know more about Euro NCAP, our detailed article on the subject has all the information you’ll need.

Alfa Romeo Giulia saloon

The Alfa Romeo Giulia managed to get the highest adult occupant protection score of any car tested by Euro NCAP over 2015/16, with a 98% result in this area. Testers praised the Giulia’s side-impact protection, its whiplash-minimising seats and the rigidity of its passenger compartment. The Giulia also performed well in the child occupant category, where it scored 81%. A 69% pedestrian protection score and a 60% safety assist result may seem to let the Giulia down slightly, but Euro NCAP’s testers were impressed with the car’s standard autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and lane-departure warning systems, with the latter recognising and braking for pedestrians effectively. Aside from having the highest adult occupant safety rating of all the cars here, the Giulia is also stylish, enjoyable to drive and a genuine rival to the BMW 3 Series. Read more.

Key points

4.2 / 5

Volvo XC90 SUV

Until the Giulia arrived, the Volvo XC90’s 97% adult occupant protection score was the one to beat, with highly impressive results during side and frontal impacts. An 87% result for child occupant protection is also excellent and, even more impressively, the XC90 scored 100% in the safety assist category. This top result was due to the XC90’s excellent AEB and lane-departure warning systems, its seatbelt reminders on all seven seats and its speed limiter, which uses a camera and digital mapping to determine the speed limit and help you stick to it; the testers felt the Volvo’s system was easier to set and use than the Alfa Romeo’s. While the XC90 is by no means cheap, it’s one of the most practical, relaxing and comfortable cars money can buy. Read more.

Key points

4.6 / 5
Price 
£46,850 - £64,555

New Volkswagen Tiguan SUV

With a 96% adult occupant score and an 84% child occupant score, the new Volkswagen Tiguan undoubtedly has the family-friendly credentials its buyers are likely to be looking for. The Euro NCAP testers were impressed with the way the Tiguan performed in frontal and side impacts and, although they assessed the protection offered to adult rear-seat passengers’ chests as being marginal in an extreme side impact, this wasn’t enough to stop them praising the protection the Tiguan offers. Children sitting in the back of the Tiguan are well protected, and fitting child seats is a simple procedure. The Tiguan’s ‘active’ bonnet (which rises up to protect pedestrians from stiff engine components) helped it achieve a 72% score in this area, while the standard-fit AEB and lane-departure warning systems came in for praise. The Tiguan feels very well built inside, offers a decent driving experience and has a range of efficient petrol and diesel engines. Family buyers could do far worse. Read more.

Key points

4.2 / 5
Price 
£22,510 - £36,375

Mercedes GLC SUV

The Mercedes GLC is a mid-sized SUV that competes with the BMW X3 and the Audi Q5. While all three cars got the full five stars from Euro NCAP, the GLC’s more modern design is evident in the high 95% adult occupant rating it received, as well as the impressive 89% child occupant and 82% pedestrian protection scores it garnered – all of which are higher scores than the X3 or Q5 managed in these areas. The GLC’s pedestrian protection score is particularly impressive, as this is an area in which SUVs are often found wanting due to their high bonnets. The testers were impressed with the overall structural rigidity the GLC displayed during testing, with maximum points awarded for front passenger protection in the frontal tests and full marks given for the protection offered to the driver during side-impact testing. Maximum points were also awarded to the GLC for the protection afforded to the one-and-a-half-year-old crash-test dummy in both side and frontal impacts. The GLC’s standard AEB system was also judged to be effective, although testers noted the lane-departure warning system is an optional extra. Still, a 71% safety assist result is reasonably strong. While the GLC is expensive, its handsome and sleek interior holds strong appeal, as does its comfortable and hushed driving experience. Read more.

Key points

3.9 / 5
Price 
£35,580 - £50,870

Audi Q7 SUV

With strong scores across the board, the Audi Q7 impressed Euro NCAP’s testers with the stiffness and integrity its structure displayed during testing, earning a 94% adult occupant score. An 88% result for child occupant protection is also one of the highest results here, while an effective and standard AEB system helped it gain a respectable 76% in its safety assist assessment. Despite its size, height and weight, the Q7 also scored a pretty decent 70% in the pedestrian impact category. The Audi Q7, like the Volvo XC90 above, is enormously practical (as well as being generally enormous), pretty decent to drive and – while costing a couple of thousand pounds more than the big Volvo – offers better performance, together with comparable economy. Read more.

Key points

4.3 / 5
Price 
£48,455 - £70,970

Toyota Avensis saloon

The Toyota Avensis may have a slightly dull image, but with a 93% adult occupant rating from Euro NCAP, being sensible to the core clearly has its advantages. In fact, the Avensis did well in all categories, with an 85% child occupant protection rating, 78% pedestrian protection result and an impressive 81% safety assist score. Avensis owners can rest easy, secure in the knowledge their car should perform well in an accident, with Euro NCAP awarding it full marks in the side-impact assessment. The Avensis’ driver’s knee airbag didn’t provide as much protection as the testers expected, but its standard autonomous emergency braking system garnered praise. Something else the Avensis comes with as standard is Toyota’s generous five-year/100,000-mile warranty; given the car was ranked 38th out of 150 cars in our 2016 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey though, this is unlikely to be something you’ll need. Read more.

Key points

3.4 / 5
Price 
£18,085 - £26,795

SEAT Ateca SUV

The SEAT Ateca may be seventh on this list, but it – and the Honda below – are joint sixth really, as they all scored 93% in Euro NCAP’s adult occupant assessments. The testers found the Ateca provided strong protection for adult occupants in both the side and frontal impacts, although like the Avensis, one of its airbags (in this instance the side curtain airbag) didn’t offer the expected protection. Still, with an 84% score for child occupant protection, the Ateca’s family-friendly safety credentials are strong. We also rate the Ateca: it’s slightly cheaper than the equally practical Nissan Qashqai, while the driving experience is excellent, build quality is robust and the overall sense is that SEAT’s first-ever SUV has hit the nail firmly on the head. Read more.

Key points

4.7 / 5
Price 
£17,990 - £29,990

Honda Jazz hatchback

All the cars featured so far on this list are SUVs or family cars, but the Honda Jazz is proof small hatchbacks are able to provide excellent protection, too. With its 93% adult and 85% child occupant scores, the Jazz particularly impressed Euro NCAP in its side-impact tests, while its frontal-impact assessments also yielded strong results. The Jazz’s AEB system was judged to be effective, although the testers noted this is only designed to work at city speeds. Despite its small size, the Jazz is remarkably impressive in terms of the space it offers: the back seats have acres of legroom, while the 354-litre boot puts some larger cars to shame. Although it’s not hugely quick, the Jazz is very easy to drive and impressively comfortable over potholes and speed bumps. Avoid the unpleasant CVT automatic gearbox if at all possible, though. Read more.

Key points

4.1 / 5
Price 
£13,495 - £17,705

Jaguar XE saloon

The Jaguar XE is the British equivalent of the Alfa Romeo Giulia, being a sleek, swift and smooth executive express with an excellent driving experience. Although the XE can’t match the Alfa’s headline-grabbing adult occupant score, its 92% rating in this area is still excellent. Euro NCAP judged the XE as offering excellent side-impact protection, strong frontal-impact protection (particularly for the driver’s and passenger’s legs), while its standard AEB system was found to be effective. An 81% child occupant result adds reassurance for families, with the XE scoring maximum points for the protection afforded to the one-and-a-half-year-old child crash-test dummy. Like its big brother the Jaguar XF (and the VW Tiguan above), the XE has an ‘active’ bonnet, providing extra protection for pedestrians and helping the car secure an 81% score in this area. Read more.

Key points

4.6 / 5
Price 
£26,990 - £44,995

Toyota Prius hatchback

Equalling the Jaguar’s 92% adult occupant score, the Toyota Prius also scored maximum points in its side-impact test, while the frontal-impact assessment revealed a rigid and stable passenger compartment. In the severe ‘side pole’ test (which involves the car being propelled into a lamppost-like pole at 20mph) Euro NCAP judged the Prius as generally good, although it noted adult passengers could be liable to chest and rib injuries. Still, this is one of the more extreme tests that form part of the Euro NCAP assessment and the Prius came in for praise overall. It was awarded maximum points in the child occupant side-impact test, helping the hybrid Toyota score 82% for child occupant protection. Toyota fits its ‘Safety Sense’ package to the Prius as standard, and the low-speed AEB system this comes with was also awarded maximum points, contributing to the Prius’ 85% safety assist result. If you like the way the latest Prius looks, you’ll find a comfortable and well-equipped car, that can return (a claimed) 94.1mpg, costs nothing in road tax and is even (if you avoid models with larger alloy wheels) exempt from the London Congestion Charge. Read more.

Key points

4.1 / 5
Price 
£23,295 - £27,450