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Replacing a 20-year old car with a modern supermini could save your life, say Euro NCAP experts

Written by James Mills

Replacing a 20-year old car with a modern supermini could save your life, say Euro NCAP experts

It’s no surprise that there are thousands of 20-year old cars on Britain’s roads. After all, they perform much like their more modern counterparts. But there’s one area where older cars show their age: safety.

To demonstrate vividly how much safer modern cars have become, Euro NCAP, the independent crash safety organisation, staged a ‘smash test’ comparison between one of the most popular affordable family cars of 1997 and a modern equivalent.

From the 90’s is the Rover 100 (better known as the Metro), a car that sold in huge numbers and of which there are still hundreds in active service. From the modern era comes one of the best small cars around: a 2017 Honda Jazz.

Looking at the two cars it is easy to see just from the outside how the cars differ in their safety design. The Rover 100 is extremely compact, has thin pillars supporting the roof and lots of glass. The Jazz is built around a longer platform, has thick pillars and a shorter bonnet with a less steeply raked windscreen.

Inside, the Rover comes equipped with just one airbag, in the steering wheel. The Jazz is fitted with airbags for the driver, front seat passenger and side windows.

Rover 100 in red and Honda Jazz in yellow

Rover 100 crumples like a tin can

The results of the 40mph crash test, and shocking footage captured in this video, are likely to alarm any driver of a similarly old car.

The Rover 100 effectively crumples like a tin can in the offset front impact – a test that represents one of the most common serious accidents on UK roads.

The airbag inflates but offers no protection to the driver. As the whole frontal structure is pushed inwards and the slim A-pillar folds at the top, the cabin area collapses inwards towards the driver. So severe is the buckling of the body that the crash test dummy’s head barely glances the airbag before striking the hard pillar. The driver’s door is also heavily buckled and would be almost impossible to open from the inside. The driver’s legs are trapped too.

The chances of surviving the 40mph crash were slim, with life-threatening injuries sustained.

Crash test comparison

Honda Jazz driver could have walked away from 40mph crash

Viewed in isolation after its crash test, the damage to the new Honda Jazz appears severe. But in fact the car has deformed as it is designed to, and occupants have been so well protected that the driver could open the door and walk away with little more than a bruise or two.

The crumple zones forward of the bulkhead have absorbed most of the force and done their job perfectly as the passenger compartment looks to be completely intact. All airbags deployed properly and protected the occupants from any hard impacts, reinforcing the Jazz’s five-star Euro NCAP rating.

Crashed Rover 100 and Honda Jazz

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Euro NCAP staged the accidents to highlight how its campaigning has led to dramatic improvements in the safety of the cars people buy. Today, car makers advertise their cars’ crash test credentials. However, when Euro NCAP was founded, its tests were attacked by car makers, who claimed it was virtually impossible to achieve a top score.

Max Mosley, the first chairman of Euro NCAP and now chairman of Global NCAP said: “Twenty years on from what started as a controversial programme, rejected by manufacturers, and supposedly aiming for unrealistic safety standards, Euro NCAP is now firmly part of the automotive mainstream. Thousands of fatalities have been prevented, consumer demand for safety is high, manufacturers compete on safety rating results, and vehicle safety standards continue to improve.”

As safety technology improves, Euro NCAP must adapt to include this as well, so in the future they are looking at including systems for detecting cyclists in their ever-expanding array of tests. We’re looking forward to seeing how manufacturers can continue to improve safety in their cars and contribute to even safer roads for the next 20 years.

honeycomb

Written by James Mills

Read more from James Mills

James Mills is a former editor of BBC Top Gear and Auto Express magazines. He now contributes to The Sunday Times Driving. His favourite car is the Caterham Seven.

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