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Ute proves a safe bet

Holden rated four out of five stars for safety in recent testing.

But the Australasian New Car Assessment Program results show that more can be done to improve occupant protection in the popular commercial vehicles.

The VE Commodore Ute, which is exported to New Zealand and South Africa, has a range of standard safety features, including anti-lock brakes, electronic brake distribution and electronic stability control.

GM Holden spokesman John Lindsay said it was introducing stability control as standard on all Australian-built cars.

“The recent addition of six airbags as standard on our Commodore sedan range is a further illustration of our commitment to passenger safety in our vehicles,” he said.

The VE Ute also beat the Japanese Mazda BT50 4x4 and Nissan Navara D40 4x4, which rated three stars, while the Indian Mahindra Pik-up rated only two stars under ANCAP's sister program, EuroNCAP.

The Commodore Ute, which was voted most popular car in the 2007 Carsguide Car of the Year awards, was yesterday announced as a finalist in the Australian International Design Awards automotive section along with the Audi TT and R8, VW Eos and Honda Civic Type R. The winner will be announced on May 30.

ANCAP chairman Lauchlan McIntosh said the trend toward improved safety showed that utility vehicles could earn five-star ratings in the near future.

“Manufacturers are building key safety technologies as standard features in many of their models — and while some utes are definitely safer than they were five years ago, more needs to be done,” he said.

In a recent EuroNCAP test, the Navara was declared an “unacceptably high” risk for fatal head or neck injuries in a front-on collision.

Other complaints were “the Navara's passenger compartment became unstable” and “the airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners were triggered late in the impact”.

After an airbag software upgrade, the vehicle scored three stars.

Nissan Australia is contacting customers to take Navaras back for an upgrade to the airbag software.

The Ford Ranger, which shares the Mazda BT50 platform, is also expected to gain three stars.

Other EuroNCAP ratings for vehicles sold in Australia are the new Fiat 500 fitted with ESC, the Volvo V70 and Peugeot 308 with ESC and knee airbag, which scored five stars, and four stars for the Fiat 500 without ESC, the Peugeot 308 without ESC or knee airbag and the BMW X3.