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Latest NCAP tests: four star rating is now "the minimum"

THE latest crash tests from the European New Car Assessment Programme reveal manufacturers are breaking new ground in making modern cars safer than ever before, but the organisers want more.

As a record number of manufacturers celebrated their cars achieving a maximum score in the European New Car Assessment Programme crash tests, the organisers made sure companies didn't feel their success could allow them to relax.

As soon as the results were revealed today, Guido Adriaenessens, International Consumer Research and Testing chief executive, raised the stakes for all car-makers. He claimed that what were once the highest safety standards were now simply the most basic safety requirements for manufacturers.

He told the industry: 'A four-star rating is now the absolute minimum one expects in crash safety tests, so it is disappointing to see three cars in this group failing to meet this requirement, mainly due to shortcomings in the frontal impact protection.'

Only a few years ago, manufacturers were struggling to reach the maximum four-star standard for crash protection – Audi and Volvo were the first in 1997 – and many pointed out that even one star met European safety standards.

Yet as more cars achieved top marks, the bar was moved up another notch with the introduction of a five-star standard, with Renault the first company to achieve the target, followed by Mercedes-Benz.

In the latest batch of tests, Saab has joined Renault and Mercedes-Benz in the exclusive club of manufacturers offering cars that have achieved the maximum rating for occupant protection.

All three companies had cars in the latest round of tests, and Renault and Mercedes-Benz were able to expand their five-star tally to the new Megane, Vel Satis and new E-class respectively.

Saab had admitted being sceptical about the relevance of the set tests in the past, and always sends a team of its own investigators to crashes involving Saabs (Volvo does the same for its own cars).

But it has welcomed the recognition that comes with achieving a maximum score in the benchmark tests.

Per Lenhoff, Saab's head of crash safety development, said: 'These excellent test results are very gratifying. Our goal was to finish at the top of the rankings. However, our Real Life Safety concept is, as always, the controlling factor which guides crash safety development at Saab.

'Real-life situations are difficult to predict and no two collisions are alike. That is why the lessons learned from real-life accidents contribute invaluable information, and why Saab performs tests which are considerably tougher and more comprehensive than those required by law.'

Mercedes-Benz now has two cars with the maximum rating for occupant protection – the C-class and the E-class, and believes pioneering safety technology has helped it achieve success in the tests.

A spokesman for Mercedes-Benz said: 'We remain committed to its pioneering safety work, and the new E-Class continues to set standards. With a brace of airbags, seat belt tensioners and belt force limiters (two stage at the front), the new E-class is a very safe place to be.'

All three five-star manufacturers have met the requirements of Euro NCAP's new seat belt reminder protocol.

Euro NCAP's star rating is based on occupants being 'belted', placing greater emphasis on seatbelt reminder systems, and there is increasing use of ISOFIX child restraints that provided good protection in the tests. Renault now has the most cars of any manufacturer with maximum scores, with the Laguna achieving the first five-star rating in Euro NCAP in 2001.

A Renault spokesman said: 'The results are a vindication of our philosophy of safety for all. It's a priority for us to provide safer cars right across the range, and we now have five-star cars in the Megane, Laguna and Vel Satis.

'Our philosophy extends beyond the cars we build. About 15,000 primary schools have requested our education packs which teach children about road safety.'

However, manufacturers continue to struggle when it comes to pedestrian safety, with little sign of the progress made on passenger safety.

Adriaenessens said: 'The scores for pedestrian safety are also still a cause for concern with the Suzuki Grand Vitara delivering the worst results ever seen in the Euro NCAP tests.'

Euro NCAP test results
Occupant protection Pedestrian protection
Chrysler PT Cruiser Three stars One stars
Citroen C3 Four stars Two stars
Ford Fiesta Four stars Two stars
Hyundai Sante Fe Four stars One star
Land Rover Freelander Three stars One star
Mercedes-Benz E-class Five stars One star
Mercedes-Benz ML Four stars One star
Mercedes-Benz Vaneo Four stars Two stars
Nissan Primera Four stars One star
Nissan X-trail Four stars Two stars
Peugeot 807 Four stars One star
Renault Megane Five stars One star
Renault Vel Satis Five stars One star
Saab 9-3 Five stars One star
SEAT Ibiza Four stars Two stars
Subaru Legacy Outlook Four stars One star
Suzuki Grand Vitara XL 7 Three stars Zero stars
Toyota Corolla Four stars Two stars

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