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Euro NCAP: Safety must come first as SUVs continue to hit the market

In its final release of the year, Euro NCAP has delivered the safety results of eleven cars: the Volkswagen ID.7, BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-EQ EQE SUV, Kia EV9, smart #3, BYD Seal-U, Honda ZR-V, Hyundai Kona, XPENG G9, VinFast VF8 and the BYD Tang.

In the context of COP28, it would appear encouraging that the majority of these are EVs, but Euro NCAP says this release highlights “a concerning trend” in consumer demand for heavier, more powerful, and taller cars that not only put other drivers at risk but also have an adverse effect on the environment.

Of the 11 new cars rated, only three weigh less than two tonnes, and only one, the smart #3, is classified as a small family car.

The growing consumer demand for electric vehicles has opened opportunities for new entrants on the European market. Several cars that were tested in 2023 were from Chinese manufacturers (BYD, smart, XPENG) anxious to prove their relevance to European buyers. For the first time, the line-up also includes a car from Vietnam (VinFast).

On the positive side, Euro NCAP says manufacturers – established or new – are responding well to its requirements that came into effect at the beginning of this year, adding that eight out of the eleven vehicles received a five-star rating.

The Kia EV9 impressed

The Honda ZR-V, Hyundai Kona and the VF8 from Vietnamese EV startup VinFast all scored four stars. The Kona, which is a popular car in Ireland, was a “real disappointment” and was “lucky to avoid three stars”, according to Euro NCAP. It said this result is due to its “substandard test performance”, especially in driver assistance and crash avoidance.

“Hyundai has made the car larger and its interior bigger to compete within its class, but the company should not assume that its customers are content with a level of safety which lags behind its competitors,” Euro NCAP said.

Despite its size, Euro NCAP said the Kia EV9 comes kitted out with a range of child safety equipment and has a good dynamic performance, achieving a comfortable five-star score.

With the Mercedes-EQ EQE, the tester said the electric SUV that achieves an overall very good performance particularly in its safety assistance technologies. It added that the vehicle is let down by “the lack of robustness in the car’s centre airbag system”, which showed “potential head injury for occupants in the front”. It scores a five-star rating.

Meanwhile, Euro NCAP said the BMW 5 Series is right behind the Volkswagen ID.7 in its safety performance, although not quite as good in pelvic and femur protection in the frontal crash test. Both vehicles achieve a comfortable five-star rating.

The smart #3, which is set to arrive in Ireland early next year, is said by Euro NCAP to under-perform in far-side protection while the front seat dummy occupants made contact in testing. The vehicle is not equipped with child presence detection but still manages to achieve a safe score of five stars.

“For years, Euro NCAP was accused of pushing up the weight of cars. It was thought that additional safety features meant extra mass,” said Michiel van Ratingen, secretary general Euro NCAP.

“That was never really the case and the increase in vehicle weight we see nowadays is certainly not safety-related – it is down to consumer preference for larger vehicles and to electrification, with ever bigger batteries being used to quell consumers’ range anxiety.

“But this is a trend that helps neither safety nor the environment: big, heavy cars are generally less energy efficient than small, light ones, and there is a safety concern when those two types of vehicles collide or, worse, when vulnerable road users are involved.”