TRL monitored how the cars fared under both frontal and side-impact collisions in order to establish an overall safety rating for people in the car, giving priority to the driver.
While Volvo's top place will surprise few people, other results will raise eyebrows. Prestige cars such as the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C Class and Saab 900 scored just two stars. Mainstream fleet cars did perform better, with the Vauxhall Vectra, Ford Mondeo, Nissan Primera, Renault Laguna and Volkswagen Passat all achieving a three star rating.
Euro-NCAP results: four stars - Volvo S40; three stars - Ford Mondeo, Nissan Primera, Vauxhall Vectra, Renault Laguna, Volkswagen Passat; two stars - Audi A4, BMW 3 series, Citroen Xantia, Mercedes-Benz C-class, Peugeot 406, Rover 600, Saab 900.
MOTOR manufacturers repeated their criticism of the tests, first made when superminis were subject to the same crash procedures. They slammed European New Car Assessment Programme tests for being unscientific, and for failing to take account of other issues such as a car's road holding and braking.
They also pointed out that all new cars must meet stringent official safety levels in 15 different front impact tests and eight side impact tests, as well as roll-over and rear impact tests, criteria which go well beyond the NCAP's single front and side tests. Even Volvo, the only manufacturer to achieve a four star rating, questioned whether any firm conclusions could be drawn.