The latest results show the new Audi A3 and the Mazda6 achieved four stars for occupant protection at a time when five-star ratings are being gained more frequently.
Other manufacturers have also had star ratings upgraded from four to five after being re-tested following the adoption of seatbelt warning devices, the latest being the Volkswagen Touran mini-MPV.
Volkswagen confirmed that since its first test the Touran had been fitted with an audible seatbelt reminder to the front passenger seat, in addition to the existing one for the driver, scoring extra points and helping it achieve five stars.
Euro NCAP said star ratings were based on occupants being 'belted', thus seatbelt reminders were important, pointing out that safety gains over the last few years would be wasted if seatbelts were not used.
An Audi spokesman said: 'The use of a seatbelt is now a legal requirement in most countries and as research shows that the vast majority of drivers use one at all times while driving, we have in the past believed it unnecessary to provide a visible or audible reminder. We are by no means alone in omitting this feature, but we will of course review the situation in light of the new format of the Euro NCAP test.'
A Mazda spokeswoman pointed out that development of the Mazda6 had started before the introduction of the seat-belt reminder protocol, but the Mazda3, due on sale in 2004, is fitted with an audible and visible seatbelt reminder for the driver and front seat passenger.
The Renault Scenic, whose five-star result was announced in September, has achieved three stars in the new child protection category introduced in this round of tests. The child protection rating is for a combination of a vehicle with specific child seats recommended by the manufacturer.
The combination can earn up to five stars for child protection, with the rating depending on fitting instructions for the child seats, the car's ability to accommodate them safely and their performance in front and side impact tests.
The Ford Focus C-MAX gained the best results in the first child protection assessment with four stars.
Manufacturers were advised to work harder on pedestrian protection, with too few vehicles achieving higher than two stars.
Max Mosely, Euro NCAP chairman, said: 'While occupant protection continues to improve, the number of manufacturers scoring only one or two stars for pedestrian protection is still very disappointing.
'Euro NCAP urges all manufacturers to redouble their efforts in addressing pedestrian safety.'
Transport Minister David Jamieson added: 'It is very important that pedestrian scores start to improve before new European standards begin to take effect in 2005.'
|Euro NCAP crash test results|
|Occupant protection||Child protection||Pedestrian protection|
|Ford Focus C-MAX:||****||****||**|