The BMW 3 Series has not only proved popular with car reviewers and buyers, it has also impressed What Car? Safety Award judges, who have named it the safest car of the year.
The accolade for BMW’s most enduring and best-selling model was announced at the What Car? Car of the Year Awards ceremony on January 14, 2020, with the seventh-generation 3 Series beating the Tesla Model 3 and Mercedes CLA to the Thatcham Research-sponsored award by a bumper’s length.
Matthew Avery, Thatcham Research director of research and Safety Award judge comments: “The BMW 3 Series is a worthy winner of this year’s Safety Award. It’s a great safety all-rounder, registering some of the highest scores seen in Euro NCAP impact testing. It also has a very good Autonomous Emergency Braking system which can detect other vehicles along with pedestrians and cyclists.
“The 3 Series accounts for nearly a third of BMW’s annual sales, maximising the real-world benefit of the safety technology fitted. As a result, this car has the potential to make a genuine difference to the safety of UK road users.”
In Euro NCAP testing, the BMW 3 Series scored maximum points in both side impacts, as did it’s AEB system in tests of its functionality at city-driving speeds, avoiding collisions in all test scenarios.
It’s score for the protection offered to Vulnerable Road Users (87%) was also category-leading, derived from the fitment of an ‘active bonnet’ which deploys to protect pedestrians should the car strike them – described by Avery as “one of the big safety innovations of recent years” – and it’s AEB system performance.
“BMW has a really strong safety pedigree,” Avery says. “The last eight models to be tested all achieved top Euro NCAP ratings.”
Claire Evans, What Car? consumer editor and Safety Award judge added, “The primary appeal of the BMW 3 Series is the way it drives, and it’s an added bonus that it’s safety is first rate too. It’s a very safe place to be if you’re unlucky enough to be involved in a crash, and its active safety systems mean it excels in avoiding accidents in the first place.”
Tesla Model 3 crash avoidance capability helps secure runner up spot
The first of two runners up for the award is the Tesla Model 3, a car with “pioneering Driver Assistance systems that ensure its crash avoidance capability is stronger than in any other car tested in 2019,” according to Avery.
Its 94% score in the ‘Safety Assist’ category, which assesses driver assistance systems, leads the market by 12%. It also achieved maximum points in testing of its Lane Support and Emergency Lane Keeping systems, due to its ability to recognise, and steer away from, road edges and oncoming vehicles.
Avery comments: “The Tesla Model 3 demonstrates that carmakers can successfully fit safety technology to a ‘driver’s car’. It also offers high levels of passive safety protection, for example it was the only vehicle tested to achieve maximum points in the test that simulates a head-on collision at 40mph.”
Whilst the Tesla Model 3 is fitted with some of the best driver assistance systems on the market, Avery sounded a word of caution on its AutoPilot system: “Its AutoPilot function is badly named and has design flaws that encourage the driver to let the vehicle take complete control.”
“The Tesla Model 3 was a real What Car? Safety Award contender. However, while the reports of accidents occurring in AutoPilot mode continue, the judges agreed that it was simply not possible to give it the top award.”
Despite the concerns shared by judges regarding AutoPilot, they were impressed by Tesla’s ability to improve performance via ‘Over The Air’ updates. Avery comments: “This is a genuine game changer. It means that all Tesla vehicles can be upgraded to match the safety performance of the Model 3.”
Runner up status for the Mercedes-Benz CLA with top Euro NCAP scores
The second runner up for the Safety Award, the Mercedes-Benz CLA, topped the Euro NCAP table in 2019 with an average score of 90% across all testing categories.
Avery comments: “The Mercedes-Benz CLA is a close relative of last year’s Safety Award winner, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class – and continues the family tradition of market-leading safety.
“It was the only vehicle to score above 90% in the Adult Occupant Protection, Child Occupant Protection and Vulnerable Road User categories. It also has one of the best Speed Assistance systems tested, which allows the driver to lock the vehicle into the limit at the press of a button. This is especially useful when driving on Smart motorways and is a great example of a Speed Assistance system that drivers can see the benefit in using.”
But it’s Emergency Lane Keeping system was not “best of breed”, according to Avery, as it is not able to identify road edges when there are no markings on the road, and it has no threat detection for oncoming vehicles.
The What Car? Safety Award winner and runners up were selected by an expert panel of judges made up of Avery, Euro NCAP’s secretary general Michiel van Ratingen and Claire Evans, consumer editor at What Car? Magazine.
The judging criteria took a variety of factors into account, including:
- five-star Euro NCAP rating and high overall Euro NCAP testing scores across all categories;
- potential sales and affordability – to promote cars bringing safety to the masses and making a big overall impact on road safety;
- standard-fit crash avoidance technology – from Autonomous Emergency Braking systems that can not only detect other vehicles but also pedestrians and cyclists, to intuitive Emergency Lane Keeping systems to prevent drivers from colliding with oncoming vehicles;
- Driving Assistant Systems such as Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Support Systems that combine to reduce fatigue for motorway drivers