The ten safest family cars: MPVs, SUVs & more

Anyone searching for a new family car will have no doubt at some point asked themselves, “how safe will this car keep everyone if the worst happens?”

The short (and reassuring) answer is that most new cars on sale today protect occupants incredibly well in crashes – especially when compared to cars produced just 10 years ago. Highly stringent tests performed by Euro NCAP rate new cars using a star rating, with five being great and one for a vehicle that should be avoided at all costs.

We’ve rounded up the 10 safest cars which NCAP tested in 2013 and 2014. All were awarded five stars in their respective years, but it is worth bearing in mind that the NCAP test gets tougher every year, so five-star cars from 2013 might not achieve the same score if marked by today’s standards.

2013 five-star Euro NCAP family cars

Mercedes CLA

The list kicks off with the four-door version of the Mercedes A-Class. The CLA achieved a strong five-star rating in 2013. Adult occupant ratings are very high, with good protection against whiplash injuries. It achieved impressive results in both front and side impact tests too, regardless of the size and weight of the occupants involved.

The only point worthy of note came in the side impact pole test (designed to simulate sliding sideways into a lamppost or telegraph pole), where NCAP deemed the CLA offered only marginal protection of ribs. This test, however, is the toughest to excel in, and many cars on this list are marked down for the same reason.

If you’re planning on ferrying about small children, then the CLA should put your mind at ease. Tests to rear facing child seats resulted in maximum marks, while seats for bigger children scored highly too.

In order to protect pedestrians, Mercedes has equipped the CLA with an active bonnet. In the event of an impact, the bonnet pops up to provide cushioning space from the hard engine components beneath.

Peugeot 308

Overall, adult occupant ratings for the Peugeot 308 are very similar to the Mercedes CLA. Maximum marks were awarded for whiplash and side impact protection, but with a marginal level of protection in the ribcage area during side impact pole collisions. Standard fitment of Isofix in the rear seats lets you attach child seats securely too.

A pliable front bumper results in reduced risk of leg injury in the event of a pedestrian collision, though the base of the windscreen and stiff windscreen pillars may increase the risk of head injuries for anyone unfortunate enough to be run over by a 308.

Toyota Auris

The Toyota Auris offers excellent adult occupant protection, even in the tough side impact pole test. Nearly all areas were marked as good in a frontal impact, aside from the driver’s chest and right shin, where protection was still deemed adequate but not outstanding.

In pedestrian collisions, the Auris fared slightly better than the Peugeot 308, but a stiff edge to the bonnet offers poor protection to the pelvic region, unless you’re lucky enough (relatively speaking, of course) to be hit directly in the centre of the car.

Electronic stability control is fitted as standard across the range, while seat belt reminders are fitted for all five seats.

Skoda Octavia

The Skoda Octavia received an impressive rating of 93 per cent for adult occupant safety with the one let down being the side impact pole test, where protection to the chest area was deemed to be “weak”. The kids should be absolutely fine though, with near-perfect scores for tests involving child seats.

Pedestrian safety isn’t the greatest on this list. Curiously, the Octavia used to be equipped with an active bonnet, which resulted in a five-star pedestrian safety rating. However, new versions no longer have this feature, and without it the maks have dropped from 82 to 66 per cent.

Suzuki SX4

As with the latest Vitara mini-SUV, the Suzuki SX4 fares very well in the Euro NCAP safety tests. It gains particular praise for adult occupant protection in frontal collisions and its ability to reduce the risk of whiplash in a rear-end collision.

The front bumper makes a decent attempt at protecting pedestrians’ legs, and there isn’t anything too firm within close proximity of the underside of the bonnet, so anyone landing on the bonnet should have a relatively soft landing. However, the windscreen pillars are fairly stiff, resulting in an increased risk of head injury.

Mazda 3

The Mazda 3 scored the highest marks of any family hatch tested in 2013, faring well in both adult and child occupant categories. As with the Skoda Octavia, all but the side impact pole test return excellent marks – in the pole test the occupants were deemed to be at risk of chest injuries.

Pedestrian safety marks are average for the class, with generally good protection if the point of contact is the bumper or centre of the bonnet. However the risk of injury is increased elsewhere.

2014 five-star Euro NCAP family cars

Audi A3 Sportback e-tron

We’ve now moved on to the cars tested in 2014, and things kick off with the five-star Audi A3 e-tron. Euro NCAP noted that the passenger compartment “remained stable” in frontal collisions, with adult occupant protection good overall. The driver is at minor risk of head injuries, because the airbag does not inflate with enough pressure to prevent the head from hitting the steering wheel. Otherwise protection was mostly good, with low risk of whiplash injuries sustained by front and rear occupants in rear-end shunts.

In Euro NCAP tests carried out after 2014, cars are required to include features like autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning systems in order to score top marks. The A3 features the former as standard and the latter as an option.

While this test exclusively considered the hybrid version of the A3, it’s worth noting that regular petrol and diesel versions of the five door hatch would be highly likely to achieve similar scores.

BMW 2 Series Active Tourer

The practical MPV shape of the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer will likely make it desirable to families, so it’s reassuring to know that its strongest score came in the child occupant protection category. It scored highly for adult occupant protection too, though the driver’s right shin is at risk of injury in a head-on collision.

The fitment of an active bonnet mitigates injury to pedestrians, but in truth there are many cars in the class which are still better in this regard.

Euro NCAP tested the BMW’s autonomous braking system, and found it to perform adequately. The Active Tourer was marked down for the lack of a standard-fit lane keeping assist, though.

Nissan Pulsar

The only notable black mark in the Nissan Pulsar’s otherwise strong safety score for adult occupants is that it offers only marginal protection against whiplash in the front seats. However, it scores near-maximum marks in terms of child seat protection – a big plus for a family car.

Although autonomous emergency braking is available as an option, Nissan suggests that it will be fitted to the majority of models, so NCAP included it in their assessment, though optional city braking and lane-keeping assist weren’t marked.

Nissan Qashqai

Adult occupant protection inside the Nissan Qashqai is marked very highly by NCAP, regardless of whether you find yourself sat in the front or the back. It was found that the crash test dummies were subjected to low loads in rear impact test, suggesting that the likelihood of whiplash injuries are minimised. Protection for both front and rear-facing child seats was marked very highly, with seats suitable for babies being awarded maximum marks.

The smaller Pulsar scores better for pedestrian safety, with greater protection offered across the front bumper and the bonnet. The Qashqai’s score of 69 per cent is largely similar to the majority of cars on this list, however, and overall, it scored the highest safety scores of any family hatch in 2014.

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