The 2021 Isuzu D-Max and 2021 Mazda BT-50 twins will have a centre airbag between the two front seats – making them among the first vehicles on sale in Australia with this advanced safety feature.
Until now, a centre airbag has only been available in Australia on a $200,000 Audi A8 limousine (pictured below).
The criteria for a five-star safety rating in 2020 is higher than it was last year, and has progressed every one to two years over the past decade.
It means a car with a five-star rating issued in 2011 – such as the Volkswagen Amarok – has not met the same testing requirements for a five-star rating in 2020.
Isuzu Australia is yet to confirm the new D-Max will be equipped with a centre airbag, however CarAdvice understands it’s a formality because it is crucial to being able to achieve a five-star rating.
A statement from Isuzu Ute Australia said: “Safety is extremely important to (us) and our customers, but unfortunately we are unable to comment on the specific safety features of future product.”
It means there will be at least six new vehicles introduced in Australia this year with a centre airbag.
The centre airbag – embedded in the passenger side of the driver’s seat – is designed to protect the front occupants from making contact during a severe side impact.
The middle airbag is also designed to protect the driver from an intrusion from the passenger side, such as a pole or tree.
MORE: New Mazda BT-50 unveiled
Centre airbags will become more prevalent on new models because they are necessary to meet more stringent safety standards adopted by the independent authority, the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP).
This aspect of ANCAP testing accounts for four points out of a possible 38 – or 10.5 per cent of the adult the occupant protection score – for a five-star safety rating.
Rhianne Robson, ANCAP director of communications and advocacy, said: “ANCAP’s new far-side impact testing has been introduced to assist in reducing occupant-to-vehicle and occupant-to-occupant interaction and injury in cases where the crash impact occurs on the opposite side to the driver.
“For example, in a run-off-road crash where you might hit a tree on the passenger side of the vehicle – how well does the vehicle protect the driver from intrusion on that far-side?”
As for “occupant-to-occupant” protection, ANCAP says it aims to “minimise injury from a potential head clash between the driver and front seat passenger.”
“These types of crashes account for around one-third of occupant injuries,” said Robson.
The new testing criteria is “designed to encourage the fitting of an effective countermeasure which, in essence, becomes a centre airbag.”
Older vehicles with outdated five-star safety ratings are still allowed to advertise the score, however they are now required to identify what year the test was conducted, so consumers know if the vehicle was tested against newer or older standards.
There is now also an expiry date on crash test scores. A vehicle crash-tested today is only able to advertise the result for six years, to encourage car makers to continually upgrade their safety.
However, the score expiry was only introduced in 2018, which is why vehicles tested in 2011 are still able to advertise a five-star result even though they would likely earn only three or four stars when measured against today’s criteria.