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Five stars for most small cars

Coming up short: Suzuki's Alto scored three stars in the European NCAP ratings.

Korea’s latest small cars score top safety marks from ENCAP, but not Suzuki’s Alto

General News logo28 May 2009

EUROPE’S leading independent crash safety authority has awarded maximum collision protection ratings for a range of new small cars, including the Kia Soul, Honda Jazz and Hyundai’s i20 hatchbacks, but not Suzuki’s upcoming Alto.

Euro NCAP this week said its three-star crash safety rating for the Alto, which is expected to set a new low watermark price for new cars when it becomes Australia’s first sub-light-sized model in August, was “limited by its performance in adult occupant protection, child protection and safety assistance technologies”.

ENCAP points out that in response to its more stringent new crash test rating procedure Suzuki has made electronic stability control (ESC) at least optional on all variants of the Alto in Europe.

Suzuki Australia has already announced that all versions of the Indian-built five-door hatchback, which will be positioned beneath the Swift hatch at about $13,000, will come here as standard with six airbags – including side curtain airbags, which were not fitted to the European model tested by ENCAP.

The company has also confirmed ESC will be fitted as standard to at least one variant of Australia’s Alto, but is yet to reveal if it will be available on the entry-level version.

Suzuki Australia says that it expects a four-star Australian NCAP result for its uniquely specified Alto following discussions with ANCAP, and hopes to be able to confirm the car's improved safety rating within a month.

"We've converted ENCAP data to the ANCAP criteria and we're confident of achieving a four-star rating for Alto," said Suzuki Australia general manager Tony Devers.

"We're working with ANCAP to have that verified in time for the launch of the vehicle in July." In contrast with the crash test results released by ENCAP for other small cars this week, the Alto achieved a 55 per cent adult occupant protection rating, along with just 46 per cent in terms of child occupant protection and 35 per cent for pedestrian protection.

It also scored a lowly 29 per cent tally in ENCAP’s new ‘safety assist’ assessment criteria, which includes rear-impact (whiplash) tests and consideration of ESC and speed-limitation devices.

80 center imageFrom top: Honda Jazz, Kia Soul, Hyundai i20, Audi Q5.

The Alto’s three-star result, which would have been considered above-average for its class until recently, didn’t stop the overall safety levels of all small cars most recently tested attracting praise from ENCAP.

“Many claim that the weight and size of a car is the only criteria for safety,” said Euro NCAP secretary general Michiel van Ratingen this week.

“We believe that there are other aspects of safety that are just as important. The smaller cars we tested whose results are released today show that size should not stand in the way of all-round safety.” Holden’s Barina attracted widespread criticism for achieving a two-star crash safety rating until structural changes lifted its ANCAP ranking to four stars in 2008.

While the Kia Cee’d (not sold here) was the first Korean model to earn a five-star rating under the previous ENCAP test process in 2007, the same brand’s Soul is now the first Korean-built vehicle sold in Australia to achieve the top ENCAP mark, and the first under the new test regime.

The Soul, which was released in Australia in April, and Hyundai’s i20, which is expected to replace the slow-selling Accent when it goes on sale alongside the Getz here in the third quarter of this year, were stand-out performers in the latest round of ENCAP testing.

The i20 gained an creditable 88 per cent adult occupant protection score – narrowly ahead of the Soul with 87 per cent – while the Soul top-scored in the child protection department with an 86 per cent rating – ahead of the Q5 (84 per cent) and i20 (83 per cent).

And while the Peugeot 3008, which is not available in Australia, scored consistently high marks in all areas but pedestrian protection (31 per cent), its benchmark-setting 97 per cent safety assist score was most closely emulated by the Soul and i20 – both of which gained an 86 per cent safety assist tally.

Also receiving a five-star crash safety rating was Audi’s mid-sized Q5 luxury SUV, the full four-engine model range for which is now on sale in Australia.

Of the six models most recently tested, it top-scored in the adult occupant protection department with 92 per cent, but achieved one of the worst pedestrian protection rankings of just 32 per cent.

Finally, Honda’s Jazz, which was launched in Australia in September 2008 and has since been joined here by the closely related City sedan, joined the list of five-star light-car safety performers – but received the lowest adult and child occupant protection ratings of 78 and 79 per cent respectively.

Honda’s smallest model received above-average scores in the areas of pedestrian protection and safety assist (with a respective 60 and 71 per cent), but in the front impact test image released by ENCAP appears to have performed less convincingly than other five-star cars most recently evaluated.

Unlike them, the Jazz’s side airbags were deployed in the frontal crash test (and even its fuel cap popped open), presumably as a result of the bodyside deformation that is evident as far back as the C-pillar, which might make opening the doors difficult.

According to ENCAP, the passenger compartment of both the Jazz and the Alto “remained stable” in the frontal test, but “structures in the dashboard presented a risk of injury to the knees and femurs of both the driver and passenger” of both models, despite their disparate star ratings.

“Dummy readings indicated marginal protection of the driver's lower legs,” said ENCAP of the Alto, while the Jazz was also criticised for its potential to injure lower limbs.

“The (Jazz) driver’s footwell was deformed but it did not rupture and retained its stability. Nevertheless, pedal displacements were high and that of the clutch incurred a penalty,” said ENCAP, which said body protection was good in the Jazz in the side barrier test, while chest protection in the Alto in the same test was “marginal”.

Introduced in January 2009, ENCAP’s revised testing strategy now encompasses four main assessment areas (adult occupant protection, child protection, pedestrian protection and safety assist), which contribute a respective 50 per cent, 20 per cent, 20 per cent and 10 per cent to a single overall rating, expressed as a star rating.

Ratings achieved under the old regime are not comparable with those achieved under the new scheme. ENCAP says it will introduce stricter requirements over the next three years, which will further emphasis all-round safety performance and demand higher levels of protection in each area.

“At the heart of the new rating scheme is the objective to offer consumers a full picture of a car’s overall safety performance,” said Mr van Ratingen.

“Euro NCAP is now able to emphasise the importance of new safety technologies that assist a vehicle’s behaviour before an accident regardless of its size. Euro NCAP is also considering a wider range of future important technologies and driver assistance systems,” he said.

Make and model Overall Rating Adult Occupant Protection Child Occupant Protection Pedestrian Protection Safety Assist
Audi Q5 5 Stars 92% 84% 32% 71%
Honda Jazz 5 Stars 78% 79% 60% 71%
Hyundai i20 5 Stars 88% 83% 64% 86%
Kia Soul 5 Stars 87% 86% 39% 86%
Peugeot 3008 5 Stars 86% 81% 31% 97%
Suzuki Alto 3 Stars 55% 46% 35% 29%

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Suzuki’s Alto on the up

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