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Star ratings and the importance of safety when buying a car

Differences in vehicle specification    

Last year Latin NCAP tested the Suzuki Baleno with dismal results. This is a vehicle that is familiar to the SA car market, being a popular seller under the Suzuki nameplate as well as the Toyota banner, rebadged as the Starlet.    

The vehicle tested was equipped with dual front airbags, safety belt pre-tensioners, safety belt load limiters and ISOFIX anchorage points, but lacked electronic stability control.   

Towards the end of 2021 we approached both manufacturers for insight into whether local buyers ought to be concerned by the rating.    

Brendon Carpenter, marketing manager for Suzuki, responded to our inquiry.    

“Our stance is that any article referencing the crash test performance of a vehicle produced for and assessed in another country is not relevant to SA, especially as the set-up and specifications of the vehicle and the particular NCAP test itself is country and market specific.”   

Carpenter added that electronic stability control was standard on all Baleno models in SA.

Often the assumption is that vehicles produced in the same factory are the same, but that is not the case.”   

“The Baleno is a global export model where vehicles destined for the Japanese market, European market, SA market and many others originate from the same factory in India, but with market specific specifications and features relevant to each market.”   

“It would be irresponsible to assume that or report or create the perception that vehicles produced in the same factory are the same in terms of structure, specifications or features.”   

The Suzuki S-Presso in 2020 earned a zero-star rating in a round of testing by Global NCAP under the Safer Cars for India banner.    

Carpenter said some headlines in local reporting on the results were “sensationalist” and created “an unjustified and negative sentiment in SA  for a model variant and test not relevant to SA”.    

According to the 2020 report on the S-Presso, “Its structure was rated unstable and should be improved. Its footwell area was rated unstable as well. 

At the time Suzuki SA responded: “The vehicle tested is the lower grade variant in India, with one airbag and no seat belt pre-tensioners, all SA variants are equipped with dual front airbags and front seat belt pre-tensioners as standard.”   

Commenting on the Latin NCAP Baleno rating on the Starlet, Toyota SA echoed these views.   

“Though Starlet has not been tested on the Safer Cars for Africa programme we expect it would receive an acceptable rating if it were to be evaluated,” the company said.

“All Starlet models come equipped with safety features including active electronic aids such as ABS, EBD, brake assist and vehicle stability control.    

“Automatic transmission models include hill assist control. Xi and Xs models are fitted with driver and passenger airbags while the Xr variants feature curtain and side airbags. Two ISOFIX points and a security system are provided across the board.  

“It’s worth nothing that when the Suzuki-based model was tested by Euro NCAP in 2016 it achieved a four-star rating thanks to the provision of the safety kit on European models such as stability control systems, standard on all Starlets sold in SA and side-impact protection, standard on Starlet Xr models sold in SA.”     



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