What are the safest new and used cars in Australia?

18 June 2021
Being aware of your surroundings is especially important on the road, where one false move can lead to serious consequences. It’s why many car buyers ask themselves “what are the safest cars in Australia?”

With road accidents resulting in 1,125 deaths nationwide in the year to May 2021, and many more serious injuries, one key to a clever car purchase is knowing how safe it is.

Safest new and used cars in Australia
Source: Pablo del Rio Sotelo/Shutterstock.com

Need another reason to consider car safety? Insurers typically take the safety rating of a driver’s vehicle into account when calculating their premium, so, along with a variety of other factors we’ll look at below, it could end up impacting how much you pay for insurance.

Here are some tips on how to research Australia’s safest cars.

What makes a car safe?

While it’s not necessarily true in all cases, a general rule of thumb is that the newer a car is, the safer it is.

Why? As motoring evolves, manufacturers are becoming ever smarter at incorporating safety features into vehicles of all sizes. These can come in two forms – active and passive – and in general, the more of each a car has, the safer it is.

Active features are designed to stop an accident from happening. They include:

  • Auto emergency braking: senses an imminent crash and automatically applies the brakes if you don’t respond
  • Lane keeping assist: helps you keep in between lines by intervening when necessary to manipulate your car’s steering
  • Rear cross detection: a sensor that picks up movement within a field, sounding an alarm (audio or audio plus visual) if an object is detected
  • Rear bumper sensor: alerts you if it senses obstacles nearby while you’re parking

Passive features are those that only operate during an accident. They include:

  • Airbags: deploy when a major impact is made with another object
  • Seat belts: secure the car’s occupants in their seat, helping them avoid whiplash
  • Crumple zone: a part of the vehicle’s structure designed to crumple in an accident, absorbing much of the impact

Fast fact: Did you know many modern cars are designed so that if there’s a major impact to the front of the vehicle, the car’s engine dislodges and slips underneath the car? This is designed to prevent the engine from breaking through to the interior and injuring the driver and any passengers.

What are Australia’s safest cars?

Significant effort goes into assessing the safety of on-market vehicles. 

In Australia, two important information sources are ANCAP (the Australasian New Car Assessment Program), which covers new cars, and the UCSR (Used Car Safety Ratings) system, which covers used cars.

Safest new cars in Australia

At the time of writing, ANCAP ranked these as the five safest current car models in Australia:

  • Toyota Kluger/Highlander, June 2021 onwards (all variants)
  • Genesis GV80, December 2020 onwards (AWD 2.5L petrol and 3L diesel variants only)
  • Genesis G80, December 2020 onwards (2.2L diesel and 2.5L petrol variants only)
  • Kia Carnival, January 2021 onwards (all variants)
  • Mazda MX-30, March 2021 onwards (all variants)

ANCAP publishes safety ratings for new cars based on “the level of safety they provide in the event of a crash and their ability to avoid or minimise the effects of a crash”. Vehicles receive a 0–5-star safety rating based on their performance across these test areas:

  1. Adult occupant protection
  2. Child occupant protection
  3. Vulnerable road user protection (i.e. vehicles that score highly here are seen to be designed in a way that causes less injury to a pedestrian in an accident)
  4. Safety assist (i.e. active and passive safety features)

Ultimately, ANCAP recommends “the safest vehicle you can afford with 5 stars and the latest rating year.” Why? ANCAP says as time passes its rating criteria become ever more stringent.

Today, more new cars than ever have a 5-star safety rating, so it’s important to recognise the test year and different testing scores that a car receives as well as its star rating.

Thoughts on safety draw into question driverless cars. Removing human error and increasing a car’s ability to react quickly will increase safety, at least in theory. However, autonomous vehicles can’t recognise how some fellow road users might react. A recent pedestrian fatality highlighted that the driverless car involved wasn’t programmed to know people might jaywalk.

Safest used cars in Australia

The UCSR scheme, which is overseen by the Vehicle Safety Research Group, provides used car safety ratings based on data from real-world crashes investigated by the Monash University Accident Research Centre.

The ratings system “covers both the role of the vehicle in determining injury outcomes (secondary safety) and the contribution of vehicle design and specification to crash risk (primary safety).”

The resulting 2020 Used Car Safety Ratings Buyer’s Guide doesn’t have overall rankings – instead, it rates cars within their vehicle type. The vehicles with an ‘Excellent’ driver protection ranking plus a ‘Safer Pick’ notation in each category, in alphabetical order, are:

Safest used small cars

  • Audi A3 04-13
  • BMW 1 series 04-13
  • Toyota Prius 3 09-16

Safest used medium cars

  • Audi A4/S4/RS4/AllRoad 08-15
  • Mercedes Benz CLK C209 03-09
  • Subaru Liberty/Legacy/Outback/Exiga 09-14
  • Volkswagen Passat 06-15

Safest used large cars

  • Mercedes Benz E-Class W212/C207/A207 09-16

Safest used small SUVs

  • Audi Q3/RS 12-18

Safest used medium SUVs 

  • Audi Q5/SQ5 09-16
  • Honda CR-V 12-17
  • Hyundai Santa Fe 12-18
  • Lexus RX270/350/400h/450h 09-15
  • Nissan Murano 09-15
  • Subaru Forester 12-18
  • Subaru Tribeca 06-14
  • Volvo XC60 09-17

Safest used large SUVs 

  • Audi Q7 06-14
  • BMW X5 01-06
  • BMW X5 07-13
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee 10-18
  • Mercedes Benz ML-Class W163s 98-05
  • Mercedes Benz ML/GL -Class W164/X164 05-11
  • Mercedes Benz ML/GL/GLE/GLS-Class W166/X166/C292 12-18
  • Toyota Landcruiser Prado 09-18
  • Volvo XC90 03-15

No cars in the ‘People Movers’, ‘Light Cars’, ‘Commercial: Vans’ or ‘Commercial: Utes’ categories secured the coveted ‘Safer Pick’ status, however several did achieve the ‘Excellent’ driver protection ranking.

How do safety ratings affect car insurance premiums?

How your car rates for safety can have a significant influence on how your car insurance premium is calculated, but it’s not a golden ticket. Insurance companies generally follow a multi-layered process to determine policy pricing.

There are many variables that may be involved. For example, there are 44,000 possible answer combinations to the questions PD Insurance asks motorists. Our software ‘rater’ analyses the answers as they’re entered, then calculates the premium according to the expected safety of the driver and vehicle.

Bear in mind that different insurers may ask different questions, or rate answers differently. For instance, some may heavily weight the car’s overnight parking location while others focus more on other factors.

Aspects that may or may not be taken into account include:

  1. Vehicle type (i.e. year, brand/make, model, series and so on) and how likely it is to be involved in accidents, according to research data
  2. The geographic location where the car will be based and/or garaged (e.g. some insurers reduce premiums for motorists who live and park their car in a relatively safe neighbourhood)
  3. The driver’s age, gender and other personal circumstances (such as their driving history, claims history and whether they’re the only driver)
  4. How the vehicle will be used (e.g. business or personal, whether it will be driven in high-traffic periods)
  5. If the car has any pre-existing damage
  6. If the car has any modifications or accessories
  7. Kilometres travelled per year
  8. Whether you pay the premium upfront or by regular auto-payment (i.e. a number of insurers offer discounts to customers who pay their annual premiums in full).
Safest new and used cars in Australia
Source: BLACKWHITEPAILYN/Shutterstock.com

What optional safety features could reduce my car insurance premium?

Some insurers may allow premium discounts for cars with additional safety features, but many don’t.

Tactics that can help prevent car theft such as using self-arming immobilisers and steering wheel, pedal or tyre locks won’t necessarily translate to lower premiums. But, they may provide you with extra peace of mind either way.

Before you add any safety features to your car, it could be worth checking the impact with your insurer. Think about the potential financial benefits of doing so – will it add value or save you money in some way? – as well as the safety benefit it may offer.

You should also be aware that post-manufacturing modifications may actually increase your premium. Why? Some high-tech add-ons, such as throttle controllers and autonomous braking, can be pricey to repair if damaged in an accident, leading to a higher premium.

So, what makes a safe car? Everything from how it’s designed and manufactured to the way you drive, service and maintain it can influence how safe it is to drive. The onus is on the driver (and your mechanic) as well as the manufacturer.

What makes for a lower insurance premium? Exploring all the factors that influence the premium calculation process can be a good place to start. An open conversation with each insurer you’re considering will often assist greatly as well.


Main image source: New Africa/Shutterstock.com

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About Kristy Sheppard

Kristy Sheppard is the Communications Manager at PD Insurance where she is surrounded by passionate motoring enthusiasts and insurance experts. Kristy has over 20 years’ experience in coordinating the communications efforts of companies across Australia and beyond. In that time, she has covered sectors including financial services, education, technology and property. A self-confessed personal finance nerd, Kristy relishes making complicated subjects simple so people can confidently make informed decisions. Outside work she enjoys the active lifestyle offered by coastal living and being the ‘mother of dragons’ to young triplet boys. You can find her on LinkedIn.