Seven of the latest batch of eight cars to be submitted to the Euro NCAP safety tests have achieved the the top five-star rating, while the eighth, the Citroen C3, would have achieved five rather than four stars if ESC (electronic stability control) systems had been fitted more widely across the range.

These good results mark a strong contrast with the position during the early years of NCAP testing - first introduced in 1996 - when four and five star ratings were very rare, even for the less comprehensive suite of tests then in use. But has there perhaps been an element of safety-test "grade inflation"?

Have the manufacturers been designing cars to meet the narrow specific requirements of the tests rather than some broader notion of safety? This seems unlikely, at least for the more recent rounds of testing, which are very broad in scope; the latest ratings reflect several different types of impact test, provide separate ratings for adult and child occupants, assess pedestrian safety and also award points for features such as ESC which promote active safety (avoiding accidents in the first place) rather than passive safety (protecting vehicle occupants when a collision occurs).

Latest Euro NCAP five star winners:

Honda Insight

Kia Sorento

Renault Grand Scenic

Skoda Yeti

Subaru Legacy

Toyota Prius

VW Polo

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