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Revealed: the safest cars and game-changing motoring technologies of 2020

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Revealed: the safest cars and game-changing motoring technologies of 2020

The SEAT Leon, Toyota Yaris and Volkswagen ID.3, along with the Honda Jazz and Mazda CX-30 are all in contention to be named 2020’s safest car of the year

  • Five cars will go head-to-head to win the What Car? Car of the Year Safety Award
  • Nominations scrutinised following most exacting Euro NCAP tests ever
  • All cars achieved a maximum five-star Euro NCAP rating in 2020
  • Five new technologies vie to win the What Car? Car of the Year Technology Award
  • All nominations bring improved safety benefits to the road
  • Both award categories continue to be supported by safety experts, Thatcham Research

Automotive research centre, Thatcham Research, has today revealed the UK’s five safest cars and the five best technology developments in the automotive world during 2020, forming the shortlists for the respective 2021 What Car? Car of the Year Safety and Technology awards.

Safety in numbers

The What Car? Car of the Year Safety Award recognises the carmakers that have produced the safest cars during 2020 and the shortlist is drawn up based on results from the latest Euro NCAP safety testing. Judges also considered affordability, sales volumes and any additional innovative safety technologies not currently tested by Euro NCAP. The outright winner and two runners-up will be announced on twitter on 14 January 2021.

The five cars that are bidding to scoop the coveted safety award in 2021 have faced more scrutiny than ever before, thanks to stricter Euro NCAP testing protocols that came into force during 2020.

A new ‘passive’ safety assessment which encourages manufacturers of bigger vehicles to share the burden of impacts with smaller vehicles tests ‘compatibility’ for the first time, while new side impact tests assess occupant containment via inner seat-mounted airbags and injury risk when occupants are in contact with far-side internal structures.

There are also two new ‘active’ safety tests that assess the ability of Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) systems to prevent ‘Turn Across Path’ collisions at junctions and reversing accidents.

Matthew Avery, director of research, Thatcham Research, said: “The cars that have come through our judging and made it to the shortlist have had to earn their stripes this year. The new protocols that we helped to develop are designed to expose any weaknesses in a car’s capability or testing performance.

“Any carmaker awarded a five-star Euro NCAP rating in 2020 has really risen to the challenge presented by our new protocols and that’s great news for road safety. These cars are impressively safe and the carmakers that have produced them should be congratulated for their work – particularly during what has been a very challenging year for the motor industry.”

And the nominations are…

A panel of Thatcham Research and What Car? judges have chosen the following cars, in alphabetical order, as their shortlist nominations. Avery offers his expert insight:

Honda Jazz: “The Jazz is a solid performer across all test categories and even topped the 2020 charts with a score of 80% for the protection it offers to vulnerable road users. The introduction of a centre-mounted airbag to limit front seat occupant interaction in far side collisions also helped this hybrid achieve an impressive 87% in the adult occupant protection category.”

Mazda MX-30: “This is Mazda’s debut EV and is aimed at the more affordable end of the market. It achieved the second highest adult occupant protection score in 2020 and its impressive passive safety credentials were strengthened by its 87% score in the child occupant protection tests.”

SEAT Leon: “This is an affordable small family car that offers sound safety performance across the board. It’s 92% score for adult occupant protection was the best in 2020 and the introduction of a centre airbag to prevent occupant-to-occupant interaction in a side impact supported that result. The presence of a multi-collision braking system is also a useful addition as standard.”

Toyota Yaris: “The Yaris represents good value for money as a super mini with a solid level of active and passive safety technology. This means its good at preventing accidents, having scored 85% for safety assist, while its 78% score in the vulnerable road user category means it also offers strong protection to other road users.”

Volkswagen ID.3: “VW’s first fully-electric car has been designed from the ground up and has been impressive straight out of the box. It top-scored in both the safety assist and child occupant protection categories during testing and features the latest in restraint technology, including innovative side airbags to protect non-struck-side occupants.”

Technology to the fore

The five nominations that have secured a place on the What Car? Car of the Year Technology Award shortlist, have the potential to improve both vehicle and driver safety now and into the future.

Each innovation has been identified and evaluated by a panel of judges from Thatcham Research and What Car? The winner and two runners-up will be revealed on 11 January 2021. 

“Pioneering technology is what drives vehicle development and safety forward so it’s imperative the most innovative systems are highlighted and celebrated through this award,” Matthew Avery explained. “Vehicle manufacturers are doing some very clever things to ensure their cars offer comfort and convenience benefits, while making the driving experience safer and more engaging.”

And the nominations are…

The following technologies have been singled out for specific praise by the expert judging panel. Matthew Avery gives his insight on each:

Android Automotive OS

What is it? Android Automotive OS is a new breed of infotainment platform built into cars by car makers. Removing the reliance on potentially distracting touchscreens because the voice-activated Google Assistant is built into the car, drivers can download media apps direct to their vehicle, with no mobile device required. Android Automotive OS can also be adapted via over-the-air updates.

Avery says: “Voice-controlled infotainment systems like Android Automotive OS bring clear safety benefits because the driver doesn’t have to take their eyes off the road to use them. And the fact that Android can be updated over-the-air means it will be constantly improved, whereas locked-in own brand infotainment systems will only become more dated and less user-friendly.”

Ford Kuga Lane-Keeping System with Blind Spot Assist

What is it? Ford’s new Lane-Keeping System with Blind Spot Assist made its debut on the Kuga SUV in 2020 and builds on the capability of the brand’s Blind Spot Information System.TheLane-Keeping System with Blind Spot Assist technology monitors the driver’s blind spot for vehicles approaching from behind, and can apply gentle counter-steering force to warn the driver and discourage a lane change manoeuvre if a potential collision is detected.

Avery says: “This isn’t new technology altogether but instead of having a warning, you now have a solid form of intervention which is helpful. It’s much better for the car to intervene on behalf of the driver when there’s a potentially dangerous situation because incidents tend to manifest themselves so quickly. It’s also good news that this kind of tech is available on a mainstream car like the Kuga.”

Kia Blind Spot View Monitor

What is it? This advanced driver assistance system aims to enhance safety for Sorento occupants and other road users by eliminating a driver’s left- and right-side blind spots. It displays a high-resolution video feed on the dashboard instrument panel when the driver indicates to change lane with another vehicle hidden in their blind spot. The video feed is generated by discreet wide-angle cameras, one hidden in each of the door mirror housings.

Avery says: “The key to this tech is it draws the driver’s attention to the blind spot by changing the dashboard display. Most blind spot systems are designed to draw attention to the area that needs the focus – the blind spot – via lights or indicators on the mirror. But when something changes on the dashboard in front of the driver, they immediately know what’s going on. In that sense, this is a powerful system. It alerts the driver to something in their blind spot in a very direct way.”

Tesla over-the-air updates

What is it? This technology wirelessly sends new features to Tesla vehicles that improve functionality, performance and safety. Tesla, which has faced criticism from Thatcham Research about the mis-use of its Autopilot technology, has used OTA updates to make a raft of notable improvements to its vehicles during 2020, including the addition of vision-based speed assist capability, a cabin camera to capture video clips prior to a collision or safety event, dash-cam viewer improvements, and traffic light warnings.

Avery says: “Tesla was the first to introduce over-the-air updates and it’s proved a benchmark innovation. While most OTA updates are based on user functionality, it’s proved a great way to enhance safety performance too. Tesla has progressively increased the safety performance of its vehicles over the last three years. For example, the previous generation software on the Model S was lacking in basic crash-avoidance capability and now, despite being the same car, it’s the benchmark. No other car can claim that kind of dynamic improvement.”

Volvo Advanced Interior Air Cleaner

What is it? This air purification system removes harmful particulates from a Volvo’s cabin atmosphere to ensure occupants breathe clean and healthy air. Incoming air passes through an ioniser that pre-charges the microscopic particles which then stick to a fibre-based filter that carries an opposite charge.

Avery says: “This is an interesting innovation because it’s the first time a car has had an ioniser inside its air filtration system. Removing harmful particulates makes the cabin air cleaner – which is particularly relevant today with increased levels of pollution – and that’s good news for people’s health and their attentiveness behind the wheel.” 

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