Popular Japanese car marques Honda, Suzuki and their Korean counterparts Daewoo and Hyundai were all cited as manufacturers that needed to "improve safety standards".
Twelve models were rammed into deformable walls to simulate crash conditions - part of the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) - at the Transport Research Laboratory.
European car-makers topped the safety tables. The Audi A3, Renault Megane and the VW Golf achieved the maximum four stars in the tests. Experts said these car-makers had the advantage of newer models - while many of the Far Eastern makes were based on older designs.
This argument was used to explain the poor performance of the pounds 17,000 Honda Civic. According to a spokesman for Honda, the model has been designed in 1992. "The Civic is in the second half of its working life - it is unfair to compare it with brand new cars," said a spokesman.
Others chose to question the legitimacy of the tests themselves. "These tests do have to be seen for what they are. They are not real life situations," said a spokesman for Daewoo, whose pounds 11,000 Lanos failed because the driver faced "an unacceptably high risk of chest injury".
However, in an interview in this week's Autocar magazine, Professor Adrian Hobbs, chairman of the Euro NCAP technical working group, defended the tests.
Professor Hobbs said while the tests could not represent every type of accident, they did represent the most important ones.
He also denied a suggestion that advice from car companies had been ignored. He went on: "We had a meeting in July 1996 with the industry, which was a technical meeting. It was not very helpful because the industry basically came along to tell us why we shouldn't do an NCAP programme."
The real test for many manufacturers will come this October - when new models face tough new standards for side impact collisions.
Even the best performers were far from perfect. The Consumers' Association said the Audi A3 - although one of the highest scorers and with a very stable body shell - still had room for improvement in the frontal impact knee injury area.
"Car manufacturers have a long way to go to improve safety standards," said Andrew McIlwraith, editor of the CA's Which? Car magazine.
He added: "Although we've witnessed encouraging improvements in car safety design, we hope these widely publicised tests will force manufacturers to take safety more seriously."Reuse content