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Thatcham Research reveals the UK’s safest new cars of 2021

uks safest cars of 2021

Year’s best performers across tough Euro NCAP and Thatcham Research testing revealed

Expert panel focuses on affordable cars that will deliver biggest benefits to road safety

Electric Vehicles (EVs) and Hybrids continue to impress ahead of 2030 ban on new ICE vehicles

Thatcham Research has revealed the UK’s safest new cars of 2021, with EV and Hybrid models demonstrating impressive safety advancements ahead of the 2030 ban on new Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) sales.

Making a positive impact this year are the safety-conscious EQS from Mercedes-EQ, Nissan’s popular Qashqai, and the all-electric Enyaq by Škoda. Also featured are the Volvo-derived Polestar 2 and the hybrid-electric Toyota Yaris Cross.

Expert judges favoured affordable vehicles that will bring the biggest safety benefits to the greatest number of drivers. Of particular importance were robust ‘active’ crash-avoidance systems and ‘passive’ safety features, well-delivered driver interface technology, and a commitment to standard fitment across the range.

Matthew Avery, Chief Research Strategy Officer, Thatcham Research comments: “It is fantastic to see carmakers continuing to prioritise safety, with all but four vehicles tested by Euro NCAP in 2021 achieving a four or five-star rating. Most are rising to the safety challenge and it’s encouraging to note EVs are performing very well.

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“As well as the development of active safety technology to help avoid crashes and protect vulnerable road users, we also welcome the continued introduction of passive safety innovations such as centre-airbags, which prevent occupants from colliding into one another during side impacts.”

Selections will now form the shortlist for the 2022 What Car? Safety Award, sponsored by Thatcham Research. The overall winner and two runners up will be revealed on 20 January.

The expert panel of judges who selected 2021’s safest cars includes: Thatcham Research’s Matthew Avery; Claire Evans, What Car? Consumer Editor; Michiel van Ratingen, Euro NCAP Secretary General; and Loughborough University’s Pete Thomas, Emeritus Professor in Road and Vehicle Safety.

Claire Evans, comments on the nominees: “The great news for consumers is that the shortlisted models demonstrate that cars don’t have to be hugely expensive to be kitted out with the latest safety equipment. The Qashqai and Yaris are affordable, popular models that will sell in large numbers and so enhancing road safety for their buyers and other road users. It’s also reassuring to see that specifically designed pure electric models, such as the Enyaq and Polestar 2 have impressive all-round safety credentials.”

Scroll below to find out – in alphabetical order – why each of 2021’s five safest cars impressed across various judging criteria and to read Matthew Avery’s expert view.

Brand: Mercedes-EQ – Model: EQS – Type: EV

The EQS scored some of the best Euro NCAP test results of the year, impressing judges with its improved Safety Assist technology and occupant protection, including a centre console-mounted airbag to contain occupants during side impacts.

Matthew Avery says: “This is an extremely safe vehicle which achieved impressive Euro NCAP test scores. As you would expect from Mercedes-Benz, the EQS is a great safety performer with its Adult Occupant Protection score of 96% and its Child Occupant Protection score of 91% being the joint highest in those categories during testing. But a price point of just under £100,000 means the EQS won’t be a common sight on the roads.”

  • Adult occupant protection: 96%
  • Child occupant protection: 91%
  • Vulnerable road user protection: 76%
  • Safety Assist: 80%

Brand: Nissan – Model: Qashqai – Type: ICE

The top-selling Qashqai is one of the best-ever performing cars in Euro NCAP tests, achieving more than 90% in three out of four safety categories. Applauded for its Reverse Automatic Braking, Lane Support and Emergency Lane Keeping functions, the Qashqai’s popularity and price point offset the current absence of all-electric or hybrid versions from its range. Tipped to make a big impact on road safety due to its mass-market appeal and Nissan’s commitment to rolling out safety features across its range.

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Matthew Avery says: “This was a difficult choice and sparked long debate among the judges because we’re aware it’s an ICE vehicle. But it’s well-priced at around £25,000 and safety is the fundamental criteria above all else. It’s one of the best vehicles we’ve tested in terms of safety scores across the board and when you add in the price point, along with the fact it’s produced in the UK, we feel it really deserves its place. It’s also an established and popular family car, which can’t yet be said of typically more expensive EV models.”

  • Adult occupant protection: 91%
  • Child occupant protection: 91%
  • Vulnerable road user protection: 70%
  • Safety Assist: 95%

Brand: Škoda – Model: Enyaq – Type: EV

This entry-level compact crossover SUV scored well in frontal offset testing, with the car engineered to minimise damage to other vehicles in a collision, and its Adult Occupant Protection score of 94% was the second highest of all the cars tested. Škoda is planning improvements to the Enyaq’s Lane Assistance technology, which judges felt was a little ‘over-zealous’.

Matthew Avery says: “Škoda’s Enyaq is a family car with lots of room which was only bettered in safety performance by much more expensive vehicles. It’s satisfying to see the Enyaq feature in our top five safest cars list, as it represents the future of all-electric motoring and will account for many sales in the EV crossover segment. Impressive results show the VW Group hasn’t compromised safety in the transition to electric propulsion.”

  • Adult occupant protection: 94%
  • Child occupant protection: 89%
  • Vulnerable road user protection: 71%
  • Safety Assist: 82%

Brand: Toyota – Model: Yaris Cross – Type: Hybrid

The Yaris Cross was commended for its encouraging overall performance in safety tests and its affordability. Judges felt the car’s popularity will help democratise safety technology, allowing many motorists to access and benefit from recent innovations.

Matthew Avery says: “Other cars performed similarly well in testing but few, if any, came in anywhere near the Yaris Cross’s low-entry price. It’s reassuring to see Toyota are demonstrating that lower-cost models can still offer high-end safety systems, and that a focus on overall price need not be at the expense of driver safety.”

  • Adult occupant protection: 86%
  • Child occupant protection: 84%
  • Vulnerable road user protection: 78%
  • Safety Assist: 81%

Brand: Polestar – Model: 2 – Type: EV

This is the first model from the new electric-car brand to be tested against Euro NCAP protocols and has all the safety features you would expect from a Volvo-derived full EV. The car was commended for its impressive passive safety performance, due to its excellent body structure and very effective restraint systems.

Matthew Avery says: “Scoring highly across all categories the Polestar 2 is a vehicle fit for the future, with Over-The-Air updates offering potentially improved performance over the car’s lifetime. It also boasts very good lane support functions, which are threat sensitive and don’t nag the driver. As a new brand, Polestar should be applauded for keeping safety so high on the agenda.”

  • Adult occupant protection: 92%
  • Child occupant protection: 89%
  • Vulnerable road user protection: 80%
  • Safety Assist: 86%

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