The Renault Captur could have been safer for rear passengers, a Renault executive has admitted, had curtain airbags been fitted to the car.
The controversial decision to make full-length curtain airbags unavailable in the Renault Captur follows the decision first made with the Clio hatchback range last year, when Renault argued that the rate of rear passenger occupancy was low in light hatchbacks. But it has now mimicked that decision with its Captur sub-compact SUV – a car directly targeted at families.
Renault claims that the introduction of stability control, in concert with the low rate of rear passenger occupancy, means the chance of a fatal side collision is low. It also argues that both the Clio and Captur are good enough to achieve a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, and that their seat-mounted front-side airbags do a better job of protecting front passengers than traditional roof-mounted curtains.
On the Euro NCAP website, however, it references as part of the reason for its side impact test (below), which thwarts the side of the car into a pole at 29km/h, that in an “impact without the head protecting airbag, a driver’s head could hit the pole with sufficient force to cause a fatal head injury.”
In that test, the pole collides with the exact point of the driver’s hip, further away from rear passengers. Euro NCAP does not test side impacts directly into the rear doors and rear passenger hip point, yet in a real-world crash it is entirely possible that a pole, tree or car could hit directly into the rear door.
Euro NCAP goes on to say that “a side impact airbag with head protection makes this kind of crash [pole impact] survivable despite the severity.”
By extension, it would appear that a side impact targeted at rear passengers of a Clio and Captur would have a less chance of surviving as they lack airbag protection.
Renault deputy program director Christophe Pejout claims that with the Clio and Captur’s full length vertical front-side airbag, mounted in the front seats, “the driver and front passenger are better protected” when compared with traditional curtain airbags. This is likely the reason why the Clio and Captur score highly in that very specific driver-focused Euro NCAP test.
Asked directly whether rear passengers of a Clio or Captur would be safer with airbag protection, Pejout admitted that “probably yes, all other things equal…”
Yet the deputy program manager also claimed that Euro NCAP tests are based on “real-world” crashes, despite a complete lack of testing focused specifically on rear-biased side impacts.
Even in the second and final Euro NCAP side impact test (above), a deformable barrier impacts the side of the car at 50km/h, but again directly at the driver’s door, not the rear doors. While the 1.5 metre-wide barrier is centred to line up with the driver’s hip point, some of the rear door also intrudes – but certainly not to the extent of the driver’s.
Pejout believes that “ESC remains an answer to some of the accidents” but concedes that ESC cannot prevent another car from hitting a Clio or Captur when emerging from an intesection, for example.
“Crash cases for rear passengers are very few … because occupation for rear passengers is very low,” continues Pejout.
Asked why this is the case when the Captur is targeted at young families, the deputy project manager clarified: “a young family … but with children [booster] rear seats.”
He said that Renault must prioritise certain safety development in the case of specific cars and cited that right now “pedestrian safety is important also”.
“In growing markets like China, India, the majority of dead people are pedestrians,” he added.
He believes the Euro NCAP is the standard by which buyers rate the safety of their new car, and that safety developments within Renault are “a constant evolution [with] Euro NCAP protocol.
“In two or three years, the protocol may be different again.”
But the Euro NCAP protocol currently does not have a test that specifically covers side impacts targeted on the rear doors…