3 Jul 19

Tesla Model 3 safer than a Volvo S60? EuroNCAP believes so.

You don’t have to be a dyed in the wool carmaker to build safe vehicles, as Tesla shows. Better still, the Californian carmaker builds cars that are safer than most of its rivals, as recent EuroNCAP assessments demonstrate.

The Tesla Model 3 got a perfect score in the frontal offset deformable barrier crash test. EuroNCAP says its performance in the Safety Assist tests particularly impressed, thanks to its superb driver assistance systems like lane support, speed assist and autonomous emergency braking. The Tesla’s 94% score in 2019 Safety Assist tests is the best yet under Euro NCAP’s most recent protocol.

Safer than a Volvo?

It seems that Tesla has cracked the safety recipe - or at least the one prescribed by EuroNCAP. But how does it compare with Volvo's latest model, the similarly sized S60? Do the decades of dedicated Swedish safety research still translate into a better EuroNCAP rating? 

Let's take a closer look at the four chapters assessed by EuroNCAP:

  • As to Adult Occupants, both cars get an excellent 96%. The Model 3 performs better in the frontal offset test and the full-width rigid barrier test, but the S60 offers a better lateral protection - especially in the side pole impact test - and reduces the risk of a whiplash considerably.
  • As to Child Occupants, the Volvo gets maximum points for both frontal and lateral crash test performance, defending the Swedish OEM's reputation as a builder of strong and child-safe cars. The Tesla still gets a higher overall rating, though (86 vs 84%), because some child seats require caution while installing them in the Volvo, costing the S60 some precious points.
  • Both the Volvo and the Tesla get a luke-warm 74% in the Vulnerable Road Users chapter. Looking at the green areas on the hood, you'd rather be hit by the S60 than by the Model 3 as a cyclist or a pedestrian. That has to do with the fact that the Volvo comes with an active hood that pops up to create greater clearance to stiff structures in the engine compartment. Still, the Model 3 did better than the S60 as to recognising pedestrians and especially cyclists and avoiding a collision in the first place, scoring full points. 
  • Tesla really nailed EuroNCAP's Safety Assist test, reflected by a best-ever rating of 94%, nearly putting the Volvo to shame with its not more than average 76%. "The (Model 3's) AEB system performed well in tests of its response to other vehicles at highway speeds. The lane support system helps to prevent inadvertent drifting out of lane. The system can also intervene in some more critical situations", EuroNCAP writes. By comparison, the S60 's systems perform ok, but EuroNCAP penalises the car for not having a driver seat occupant detection system and failing the rear occupant detection test. For an OEM that invented the three-point seatbelt, that's odd - and an easy-to-fix problem, one would reckon. Also, EuroNCAP was not impressed by the Volvo's Emergeny Lane Keeping abilities and rated the Human Machine Interface "average".

EuroNCAP Tesla Model 3 results for the Vulnerable Road User section: the yellow, orange and red zones indicate adequate to poor results. At the same time, the Tesla nearly scores 12 out of 12 points on Autonomous Emergeny Braking.

EuroNCAP Volvo S60"s rating for the Vulnerable Road User section: the green area indicates that pedestrians are less likely to get severely injured, reflected in the good head injury rating. The S60's AEB is not as good as the Model 3's according to EuroNCAP.

And the winner is...

If you only look at the numbers, the Tesla Model 3 is the safer car according to EuroNCAP. Still, there are some remarks to be made.

For starters, many safety aspects are left unassessed by EuroNCAP. Electronic Stabilty Control, for instance, is no longer tested by the organisation since the system became mandatory in 2014. How well a car brakes or how stable it responds while abruptly avoiding an obstacle is not reflected in the rating either, let alone the presence of additional safety systems like Run Off-road Mitigation.

Second, EuroNCAP pays relatively little attention to low-to-medium-speed rear-end collisions, which occur rather frequently and can cause life-long neck injuries. Volvo has decades of experience in developing whiplash-avoiding seats and headrests, so it would be safe to assume that you're better off in a Volvo when you get rear-ended. 

Third, carmakers like Volvo and Mercedes test their vehicles in much more demanding conditions than the standard EuroNCAP's. They crash cars at higher speeds and in a wider set of scenarios, making sure occupants and vulnerable road users are optimally protected in as many circumstances as possible. That is not rewarded by EuroNCAP. Also, Volvo uses different types of dummies, representing people of all sizes, shapes and ages, not just 'standard' children and the average adult.

Finally, the fact that the Model 3 is considered a safer car than the Volvo S60 by EuroNCAP is mainly due to its advanced driver assistance systems. It goes to show that Tesla is at the forefront of assisted and automated driving: its cars recognise hazards better and are good at avoiding collisions. At the same time it teaches Volvo a lesson in Human Machine Interfacing. The Swedes indeed need to catch up in this area - something they are doing with the adoption of Android into their next-gen infotainment system.  


Authored by: Dieter Quartier