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Safest small cars in Australia

Small cars are safer than they've ever been.

Let’s talk urban myths: If you want to be protected in a car crash, you need to be driving a vehicle that’s bigger than the one you collide with.

It was this mindset that once held that smaller cars – for all their other benefits of efficiency, convenience and cost – were second-best when the unthinkable happened.

That may have been the case way back in the days when personal transport had only just farewelled the horse, but these days, that’s simply not the case.

Modern car design has attempted to mitigate the blunt-force trauma of a car crash in many different ways.

Necessarily. While cars have become vastly more sophisticated and safe, the laws of physics are yet to be re-written, which means that Force still equals Mass multiplied by Acceleration (Newton’s second law for those playing at home).

But modern car design has attempted to mitigate the blunt-force trauma of a car crash in many different ways (crumple-zones, airbags and, of course, seat belts).

And that’s only on the passive side: There have also been great strides made in active safety, the tech that helps you avoid the crash in the first place (ABS brakes, autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and reversing cameras to name just a few).

With that in mind, small cars can now be as safe as a bigger one and, in most cases, a brand-new small car will be at least as safe, if not safer, than a larger car a generation or two old.

There have been great strides made in active safety, the tech that helps you avoid the crash in the first place.

But it also means small car (or any car) safety needs to be looked at holistically. That is, you can’t simply look at the crash survivability without considering the crash avoidance tech, as well.

So, what are the safest brand new small cars you can buy right now in Australia?

To answer that, we’ve narrowed it down to cars that fall physically within the small car category (makes and models like the Toyota Corolla and VW Golf) and capped the price limit at $40,000 to keep this relevant to the majority of potential buyers. Trust us, there are plenty of safe small cars under that price.

The concept of scoring vehicle safety has become a very nuanced pursuit in recent years.

We then turned to the howsafeisyourcar.com.au which is a website that publishes crash tests and vehicle safety assessments carried out by ANCAP, a government and motoring-club funded initiative that has been testing cars here since 1993 and giving its findings on all categories of cars, including the best safe small car for you.

The concept of scoring vehicle safety has become a very nuanced pursuit in recent years. The fact is, there are plenty of small cars under $40,000 that ANCAP testing suggests are maximum five-star crash performers.

But when you look more closely, there are nowhere near as many that score a 10-out-of-10 from ANCAP for having a full serving of safety tech on board. That’s where surviving the crash and avoiding the crash in the first place become two very different things.

So, what are the cars with all the stars and a 10/10 when it comes to the experts’ recommended safety features?

 

Nothing seems to have been left out of the Mazda’s safety arsenal.

1.    Mazda 3 2022

The Mazda 3 scored highly in every regard, including the crucial areas of adult and child crash protection. Nothing seems to have been left out of the Mazda’s safety arsenal, making it a sound buy on any safety level.

The Scala rates well in terms of pedestrian safety and crash-avoidance tech.

2.    Skoda Scala 2022

The Skoda features very similar safety credentials to the Mazda 3, including high scores for adult and child protection. It also rates well in terms of pedestrian safety and crash-avoidance tech.

The Golf scored well in every aspect of primary and active safety.

3.    VW Golf 2022

The VW Golf has always been a highly regarded safety performer and the latest model is absolutely no exception. It scored well in every aspect of primary and active safety as well as those all-important recommended features.

The Corolla has a few omissions from the safety equipment list.

4.    Toyota Corolla 2021

Even though it was not quite as good as the three previous cars listed, the current Toyota Corolla still rates as a five-star and 10-out-of-10 performer. The main omissions from the safety equipment list include a driver-attention detector and blind-spot warning.

So, those are the five-star 10/10 performers, but where do some other popular small-car choices fit into the big picture?

Let’s start with the popular South Korean duo of the Hyundai i30 and Hyundai Kona. These are both five-star crash-test performers, but the i30 is only rated 9/10 for the recommended safety equipment.

The i30 lacks both higher-speed AEB and blind-spot monitoring while the Kona lacks only the latter. Actually, the Kona was given a 10/10 rating when it was tested in 2017 but falls into the SUV, not small-car category.

The Kia Cerato is another popular buy in small cars right now, and while it gains 9/10 for equipment, the new model has not yet been ANCAP tested. It’s expected to improve on the previous model’s four-star performance.

The Toyota Corolla’s little brother, the Yaris, scored very well in its most recent testing with a five-star crash rating and 10/10 for equipment. Only the lack of blind-spot monitoring played against it.

The i30 lacks both higher-speed AEB and blind-spot monitoring.

While on the subject of smaller brethren, the Mazda 3’s smaller sibling, the Mazda 2 scored five crash stars, but lost a point for equipment by not offering higher-speed AEB and driver-attention monitoring on all models.

The Volkswagen Polo is now a slightly older design and its rating reflects that. While it’s a five-star crash performer when it was last tested in 2017, it’s an 8/10 for safety equipment.

Missing are high-speed AEB, lane-keep assist and blind-spot monitoring. A new Polo is expected very soon, and this may be enough to lift that score, especially since the base-model has been discontinued and the franchise moved upmarket.

The Skoda Kamiq, stablemate to the Scala, scored well when it was ANCAP tested back in 2019. It rated five crash-stars and 9/10 for equipment with high-speed AEB the notable absentee.

Another hot-selling new car, the MG HS is another good safety choice with five stars for crash-worthiness and 10/10 for safety equipment. Again, this is a car that falls into the SUV category, not a conventional small car or hatchback.

The Volkswagen Polo is now a slightly older design and its rating reflects that.
David Morley
Contributing Journalist
Morley’s attentions turned to cars and motoring fairly early on in his life. The realisation that the most complex motor vehicle was easier to both understand and control than the...
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