The shortlisted cars*, from 14 different manufacturers, will be assessed before three are selected by Thatcham Research and an independent panel of safety experts, with the winner announced at the ceremony in January 2016.
Now in its second year, the safety award recognises cars with a five Euro NCAP star rating and available for consumers to buy in the UK from January 2016.
Euro NCAP introduced the overall safety rating in 2009. To achieve a high overall rating the car must deliver a balanced performance across all four areas: adult occupant protection, child occupant protection, pedestrian protection and safety assist.
The 2015 winner was the Land Rover Discovery Sport, with the Nissan Qashqai and the Volkswagen Passat coming second and third respectively.
The initial long-listed contenders will be assessed against stringent safety factors including adult occupant protection, safety assist and child occupant protection. Judges will further consider additional safety innovations such as new collision avoidance technologies and pedestrian protection, including Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB).
Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham Research, said: “Improved protection for drivers and passengers has helped lower the UK’s road death toll significantly over the past 20 years. This year’s long list of contenders shows that active safety systems like AEB, which are proven to reduce accident claims by 38%, are increasingly being fitted as standard.
“From January 2016, Euro NCAP testing will assess the performance of AEB systems in recognising and braking to avoid pedestrians. In 2018 a similar test will be introduced around cyclists. Vehicles that are not effective in these scenarios will find the sought-after 5 star rating increasingly difficult to attain.
“The What Car? Safety Award is a unique way for consumers to select safer cars and identify the best of the best; understanding how they are protected inside the car in the event of a crash; and how accidents can actually be avoided in the first place.”
Jim Holder, What Car?’s editorial director, added: “Safety is one of the key concerns for new car buyers, particularly if the vehicle in question is to be used as the main mode of family transport. What Car? believes it important that such a key consideration is reflected in our Car of the Year Awards.
“Not only does the Safety Award highlight the incredible, yet often unsung, work manufacturers do, it also allows us to both commend and encourage it.”
*Shortlist in full
Audi A4, Audi Q7, BMW X1, Honda HR-V, Honda Jazz, Hyundai Tucson, Infiniti Q30, Jaguar XE, Jaguar XF, Lexus RX, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Skoda Superb, Suzuki Vitara, Toyota Avensis, Vauxhall Astra, VW Touran, Volvo XC90.