Most new cars are tested by Euro NCAP (European New Car Assessment Programme) – an independent organisation which performs a range of crash tests and rates each car in four critical areas:
A total of 33 new cars were tested during 2021 and each one was given a star rating (the maximum is five), with a percentage score for each of the four areas.
So, fasten your seatbelts for the safest new cars of 2021 – the winners of Euro NCAP's 2021 Best in Class awards...
Winner: Mercedes-Benz EQS
Runner-up: Polestar 2
It's a little late to the party, but the all-electric Mercedes-Benz EQS has been well worth the wait. Futuristic, luxurious, swift and spacious, it's packed with standard driver-assistance technology, including adaptive cruise control and self-parking assist.
Its scores for the adult occupant protection and child occupant protection categories were the highest achieved by any car in 2021.
Handsome outside and oozing Scandi chic inside, this distinctive five-door fastback blends practicality with performance and cutting-edge technology. You can choose from three versions which offer a range of up to 335 miles and a 0-62mph time as fast as 4.7 seconds.
The Polestar 2 performed consistently well across the board, it's packed with safety equipment as standard and is fitted with ISOFIX points front and rear. There's also a multi-collision braking system, which applies the brakes immediately after an impact to prevent the vehicle from being involved in secondary impacts.
Winner: Skoda Fabia
Runner-up: No award because no other small family car scored five stars in 2021
Watch out Vauxhall Corsa, Volkswagen Polo and Ford Fiesta, there's a new kid on the block in the supermini sector and it's likely to pick up some serious sales.
Stylish and offering best-in-class space, the fourth-generation Fabia also delivers autonomous emergency braking (AEB), with pedestrian and cyclist detection, as standard across the range, along with lane-keeping assistance and two ISOFIX child seat mounting points in the rear.
Winner: Toyota Yaris Cross
Runner-up: Volkswagen Caddy Pure electric
More baby RAV4 than big Yaris, the bold new Toyota Yaris Cross really shakes up the compact SUV sector. Powered by a gutsy 1.5-litre self-charging petrol hybrid engine, CO2 emissions are as low as 112g/km and fuel economy is up to 57.6mpg.
The Yaris Cross is fitted with Toyota's latest Safety Sense technology, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and even the ability to help the driver steer around obstacles in an emergency. It's also fitted with a rear-view camera as standard, making parking a doddle.
Launched in 2021, the all-new fifth-generation version of VW's iconic small van is more civilised and connected than ever. Also available as a multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), it features new engines, suspension, trim levels and technology, plus a real step-up in terms of interior materials.
The Caddy also benefits from the Volkswagen Group’s latest safety systems with standard autonomous emergency braking, along with pedestrian detection, a driver alert system, lane assist and a speed limiter. Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and high-beam assistance for the headlights are also available.
Winner: Nissan Qashqai
Runner-up: Volkswagen ID.4
The third-generation Nissan Qashqai was launched in 2021 and is the best model yet, blending sharp new looks with more comfort and practicality, better build quality and the latest tech. It handles better too, and the driving experience is more refined.
Built in Britain, the crossover's many safety and driver assistance features include Blind Spot Intervention, which senses when the driver hasn’t seen another vehicle in a neighbouring lane and will actively steer the car back into its lane and away from the danger. Likewise, the Rear Cross Traffic Alert can prevent collisions when reversing out of parking spaces.
Winner of the World Car of the Year 2021 award, Volkswagen's first all-electric SUV is a great family choice. Available with 52kW and 77kW battery packs, it has a range of up to 322 miles.
One of the few cars here fitted with ISOFIX points in the front passenger seat, as well as the rear, standard safety and driver assistance systems include AEB, lane assist, adaptive cruise control and driver fatigue detection. It also features a centre-mounted airbag which protects the driver and front passenger from hard mutual contact in the event of a side crash.
Winner: Skoda Enyaq iV
Runner-up: BMW iX
Skoda's first fully electric SUV is available with two sizes of battery, giving it a range of up to 333 miles. Dynamic to drive, distinctive and well built, there's bags of space for a family inside, plus a luggage capacity of 585 litres (1,710 litres with the rear seats folded).
AEB, lane-keep assist, cruise control and speed limiter are fitted as standard, along with ISOFIX points front and rear. It's worth adding that Euro NCAP's tests on the front seats and head restraints also demonstrated good protection against whiplash injuries in the event of a rear-end collision.
BMW's big new electric SUV may have divisive looks, but all we can say is that it's much cooler up close and it drives superbly. Boasting a range of 257-380 miles, the fastest version can sprint from 0-62mph in an impressive 4.6 seconds. Futuristically styled inside, the new infotainment system is a real treat.
Among its myriad safety features, the BMW iX has a front collision warning system with brake intervention that can detect pedestrians and cyclists as well as vehicles.
Winner: Mercedes-Benz EQS
Runner-up: Polestar 2
The striking EQS all-electric luxury saloon is the most aerodynamic production car in the world. With a range of up to 453 miles, an impressive 173 miles of range can be added in as little as 15 minutes if you can find a chargepoint powerful enough.
As one of the most expensive cars tested by Euro NCAP in 2021, you'd expect this sleek Merc to come packed with safety kit – and it doesn't disappoint. For example, there's a new microsleep warning from the Attention Assist system, which analyses your eyelid movements through a camera on the driver's 'Hyperscreen' display.
One of the benefits of being a sister brand to Volvo is that you benefit from more than 90 years of ground-breaking safety research (remember, Volvo gave the world the three-point safety belt in 1959).
The stunning Polestar 2 is packed with driver assistance and safety kit. Finishing runner-up in two classes is no mean feat for this star EV with its winning combination of performance and practicality.
I'm an experienced journalist, digital editor and copywriter, now specialising in motoring. I’m editor of Automotive Blog and have worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online for household names including the BBC, GMTV, ITV and MSN. I’ve produced digital content in the financial sector for Lloyds Bank, Nationwide and the Money Advice Service. I'm married with two children and live near Bath in Somerset.