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8 Dec 2021

Popular small electric car gets zero stars for 'poor' protection in crash tests

The Renault Zoe gets a damning report from Euro NCAP's latest tests, making it a Which? Don't Buy

The reputation of the Renault Zoe hatchback lies in tatters after becoming only the third car ever to receive zero stars in Euro NCAP crash tests. We don't recommend buying any car that receives three stars or fewer out of five.

  • Renault's Zoe electric car gets zero stars in latest Euro NCAP test.
  • It becomes only third car to get zero stars in these safety tests, joining Fiat's Panda (2012-) and Punto (2006-18).
  • The Zoe still complies with regulatory safety standards, but lacks modern safety technology.
  • New side airbag less effective compared with previous-generation Zoe.
  • Renault responds saying it will fit autonomous emergency braking as standard from March 2022.

Launched in 2013, the Zoe was among the first small electric vehicles to be widely available. The car received a major refresh in 2019, featuring a heavily revised interior and much improved battery, which we see as the second generation of the Zoe.

The original Zoe was awarded a five-star Euro NCAP rating when it was tested in 2013, under a much older and less challenging Euro NCAP test programme.

Euro NCAP's latest assessment of the Zoe points to cutting corners in safety and key safety features being removed from the latest iteration of the car. It describes the new seat-mounted side airbag as a 'degradation in occupant protection' and says the car 'lacks meaningful crash avoidance technology'.

This means the Renault Zoe fails to match up to the standard of safety of rival cars in the same tests (although it's still legally safe to drive).

The two other cars to have scored zero stars out of five in Euro NCAP tests are the Fiat Panda (2012-) and Fiat Punto (2006-18).

Discover the Best cars for 2021. Which? reviews and recommendations take into account safety, reliability and much more from our independent lab tests.

New Renault Zoe airbag is less effective

When the new Zoe launched in 2019, it received various improvements to the battery, but no added safety. In fact, the new seat-mounted side airbag, which had previously protected the head and thorax, was replaced with a less effective airbag that only protects the thorax.

Euro NCAP's crash tests picked up a catalogue of failures. The tests revealed that in the event of an impact hitting the far side (the passenger side) of the car, it offers 'poor' protection for the driver as they are forced sideways across the car.

When it crashed the car into a pole at one side (pictured above), Euro NCAP noted that there was 'poor' protection for the driver's head. Worryingly, as you can see, the head of the dummy used in the test directly strikes the pole as it entered the car.

When the car crashed into a deformable barrier, Euro NCAP found the driver's chest had only 'weak' protection.

And in the event of a rear impact, where there's a whiplash risk, protection of the neck of the dummy in the rear seat was rated 'poor', and 'marginal' for the driver.

Concerns were raised for child passengers too. For a child in a booster seat, 'poor' protection was recorded both for the child's neck in a frontal impact and for their head in a side-on impact.

Finally, in the event of colliding into a pedestrian, Euro NCAP says the car offers 'almost entirely poor' protection for the pedestrian's pelvis.

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The car also failed to impress in Euro NCAP's assessments for safety assistance systems - technology that aims to reduce the likelihood and severity of collisions, such as a lane-departure warning on motorways. Crucially, autonomous emergency braking (AEB, which automatically applies the brakes to reduce the force of an imminent collision) isn't included with the Renault Zoe as standard, only as an option. Euro NCAP therefore did not test it. This AEB option is also temporarily unavailable on the Zoe range due to the current supply shortages.

Renault is part of a car group with sister brand Dacia, which in the same tests has received only one star out of five for the Dacia Spring, a lower-cost electric car that is currently sold on the continent - a decision on UK availability is expected early in 2022.

Secretary general of Euro NCAP, Michiel van Ratingen, said: 'These disappointing results for the Zoe and the Dacia Spring show that safety has now become collateral damage in the group's transition to electric cars.

'Not only do these cars fail to offer any appreciable active safety as standard, but their occupant protection is also worse than any vehicle we have seen in many years.'

Matthew Avery, who is chief research strategy officer for UK safety research centre Thatcham Research and a Euro NCAP board member, commented: 'It is a serious concern to see results like this in 2021, especially from a manufacturer who has previously performed well in Euro NCAP testing.

'Unfortunately, a conscious decision has been made to remove the head protection from the seat-mounted side-airbag, by the brand that originally pioneered the use of it with Euro NCAP's test of the Renault Laguna 2 in 2001. As a result, the safety of occupants within the vehicle has been severely impacted.'

Find out how this car performs in other respects, such as for reliability and battery performance, in our expert Renault Zoe review.

Renault's response

A Renault spokesperson told us: 'Above all, Renault ZOE E-TECH Electric is a safe vehicle and complies with all regulatory safety standards. These standards are constantly evolving, and as such, Renault continually improves its vehicles in order to comply with the regulations in all the markets where they are sold.

'On orders from 1 March 2022, the Advanced Emergency Braking system (autonomous emergency braking) will be fitted on every ZOE E-TECH Electric trim level as standard.'

Other cars tested by Euro NCAP

Fiat 500e, £27,145 - 4 stars

The Fiat 500e proves that affordable electric cars don't have to compromise on safety. It's achieved a remarkable result despite being a small city car, scoring four stars out of five in Euro NCAP's tests.

The only significant point raised by Euro NCAP for adult safety was that the car lacks a side airbag to prevent the driver travelling across the car in the event of a side impact, and so it rated performance in this part of the test as 'poor'.

Nevertheless, the car received good scores in all of Euro NCAP's test areas, including for its safety assistance systems and for protecting vulnerable road users.

Find out whether this could be the ideal car for you in our Fiat 500e review.

Nissan Qashqai, £23,985 - 5 stars

The popular Nissan Qashqai crossover SUV is a family car favourite, so owners will be pleased to hear it's scored a full five stars out of five in Euro NCAP's tests.

Many of the results are extraordinary: it scored 91% for protecting both adults and children in the car, and its safety assistance systems score an even more impressive 95%. The car scored a still commendable 70% for protecting vulnerable road users, as it could offer better protection for the pedestrian's pelvis.

Is this car right up your street? See what our experts thought in our Nissan Qashqai review.

Skoda Fabia, £15,305 - 5 stars

Euro NCAP has tested the all-new iteration of this popular small hatchback.

The Fabia scored five stars out of five in Euro NCAP's assessments, with strong scores for protecting adults and children in the car (85% and 81% respectively), and good results overall.

We'll have our full review of this new Fabia early next year. If you can't wait that long, take a look at our Skoda Fabia (2015-21) review.

Range Rover Evoque PHEV, £31,424 - 5 stars

This popular, spacious SUV is very safe, with Euro NCAP rating it a full five stars out of five. Its experts determined that the new plug-in hybrid version is sufficiently similar to the standard version it tested in 2019, so it has carried over the rating.

It performed exceptionally in 2019, with the diesel model tested scoring 94% for protecting adults in the car, and 87% for protecting children.

Although we haven't yet reviewed this PHEV version, you can find out our opinion of the non-electrified model in our expert Range Rover Evoque review.

BMW iX, £69,905 - 5 stars

This is BMW's major new large electric SUV, and it's onto a winner if safety is anything to go by. It has scored strongly for protecting adults, children and also for its safety assistance systems (91%, 87% and 81% respectively), and has scored a still good 73% for protecting vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.

We haven't tested the BMW iX yet; we'll be doing so early in 2022. In the meantime, check out our other BMW car reviews.

Mazda 2 Hybrid, Audi A6 PHEV and more

Euro NCAP rated even more cars this month - here's a list of the rest of the results:

  • Mazda 2 Hybrid (full hybrid) (on sale in the UK from April 2022, price yet to be announced) - 5 stars
  • Audi A6 PHEV (plug-in hybrid), £54,990 - 5 stars
  • Mercedes-EQ EQB (electric), £52,145 - 5 stars
  • Mercedes-EQ EQS (electric), £99,995 - 5 stars
  • Genesis GV70, £39,450 - 5 stars
  • Genesis G70, £33,400 - 5 stars
  • MG Marvel R (electric), £34,000 - 4 stars
  • Volkswagen Caddy (van), £25,379 - 5 stars
  • Nissan Townstar (van), around £15,000 before VAT - 4 stars