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Ford leads on big people carrier safety with five-star Transit Custom

Tristan Honeywill

By the time you’ve loaded up an MPV with all the kids’ stuff, a couple of their friends and perhaps a pet or two, it’s easy to see why some people are attracted to family vans. The space and versatility make family trips and activities a lot easier. What most people don’t realise, however, is that the standard safety tests for these vehicles are even more lenient than the basic legal checks for cars.

Their “M1” classification basically assumes that the vehicle is designed around a driver, perhaps his mate, and a big empty space for things like boxes to be strapped down and shipped. The legal tests were written long before adding windows and extra rows of seats became popular. However, buyers just assume that a car-like interior means car-like safety will be standard.

Dr Michiel van Ratingen of Euro NCAP said: “Large people carriers based on van platforms are generally less equipped for safety than normal passenger cars. If you are tempted to buy such a vehicle, please be aware they often do not offer the state of the art in safety.”

The latest crash test results from Euro NCAP highlight this. Only the Ford Transit model achieved five-star levels of safety.

Fiat has responded to the assessment by offering more airbags as standard in the three-star Scudo. This vehicle also sells as the Peugeot Expert and the Citroën Jumpy in Europe and Dispatch in the UK.

The Hyundai H1 scored three stars without changes to its fitment policy.

The Renault Trafic scored just two stars. This also sells as the Vauxhall/Opel Vivaro and Nissan Primastar.

None of the vans tested did badly in the main adult occupant tests. And, with two tonnes of mass, drivers of these vehicles will still have an unfair advantage in a head-on collision with a small car. The real difference between the vehicles tested is in the equipment they feature.

The Transit has also received an award for offering its Lane Keep Assist technology as an option. With vans starting to use camera technology to prevent accidents, the pressure on manufacturers to offer these technologies on all models will increase.

Euro NCAP says that it is reviewing how quickly it will make autonomous emergency braking (AEB) technology part of the assessment. In the next few years, all new cars will need to fit this in order to qualify for five stars. The car safety organisation is likely to focus instead on airbag fitments and improvements to the basic crash performance for family-vans.

Other manufacturers will need to follow Ford’s example if they want to sell this type of vehicle to safety-conscious families and companies.


Does five-star safety cost more?

The five-star people-carrier version of the Ford Transit Custom starts at £26,485. The similar, but more refined Ford Tourneo Custom starts at £28,285. ESC and all airbags come fitted as standard. Lane Keep Alert, an adjustable speed limiting device and a Driver Impairment Monitor are available in an option pack for £582.

The two-star people carrier version of the Renault Trafic starts at £25,129. Electronic stability control is £450, speed limiter £60, front lateral and curtain airbag £440, passenger airbag £220, rear lateral airbag £220.

Renault is expected to replace the Trafic in the next 12 months or so, with VW and Mercedes-Benz also due to introduce new versions of the T5 and Viano.

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