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The results of the third and final phase of the ASEAN New Car Assessment Programme (ASEAN NCAP) were released yesterday, but we were also given a quick look at the cars tested at the PC3 lab of the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (MIROS) facility in Melaka. On display were the Honda CR-V, Proton Preve, VW Polo Sedan, Toyota Corolla Altis 1.8, Peugeot 208, Chevrolet Sonic and both Kia Picantos.

How were the cars tested?

To recap, the cars were subjected to an offset frontal collision test, which involves striking a deformable barrier with an overlap of 40% at 64 km/h. A UN R95 side impact test is new for this phase, and consists of a mobile deformable barrier striking the side of each car at 50 km/h.

To achieve a five-star rating, a car must feature at least two airbags, a stability control system and a seat belt reminder, while passing the side impact test is now required for four stars and up. Child occupant protection is now rated in stars, rather than in percentages like in the first two phases.

Phase III saw the Honda CR-V, Proton Preve, Toyota Corolla Altis 2.0 (with the Additional Safety Package) and Chevrolet Colorado all collecting five-star adult occupant protection ratings, with all but one of the rest achieving four stars.

How is ASEAN NCAP testing different from Euro NCAP?

The discussion surrounding the latest results mostly centred around discrepancies between the airbag count and the adult occupant protection rating, which is the one most people and manufacturers would quote. This is due to the scoring system only taking into account the frontal collision test result, with the side impact test only used to determine if the car passes UNECE regulations.

It’s the reason why the Honda CR-V (the first left-hand drive car the institute has tested, a Thai-built model destined for the Philippine market) bagged the highest score in the group with just two airbags to its name (our cars come with a minimum of four airbags), while certain cars with side and curtain airbags such as the Peugeot 208 – which scored five stars in Euro NCAP – and the Malaysian-spec Kia Picanto only managed four stars.

This differs from the more advanced Euro NCAP system, which combines frontal, side and pedestrian impact (as well as whiplash protection) scores into a single, more balanced rating. MIROS’ explanation for their decision is to give manufacturers a “soft landing” to ease themselves into providing better side impact protection.

The Malaysian-market Kia Picanto 1.25 Manual vs. the Thai-market model

So what’s next?

Nevertheless, the institute admits that the current rating system could confuse buyers into believing that a car with dual airbags is safer than one with four or even six, and plans to implement a proper scoring system for side impact tests that will influence the main rating by 2016.

One of the real eye-openers of the day was the stark difference in protection between two base-spec Kia Picantos – a Malaysian-market manual with six airbags and ESP, and a Thai-market manual with no safety systems whatsoever. Looking at the two cars in the metal side-by-side, it is almost eerie how similar the two cars look on the outside, with almost identical levels of deformation.

But the difference in results could not be more extreme – while the local car netted four stars for both adult and child protection, the sparse Thai car garnered no stars for adult occupant protection (it scored a dismal 0.40 points out of 16.00, versus the plusher model’s 12.67) and just one star for child protection. It is a grim reminder of how vital airbags are in a collision, shielding the occupants from the hard interior surfaces they would otherwise hit.