Ask the expert: ‘Will an SUV be safer for my daughter than a regular hatchback?’

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Alex Robbins is contributing editor at Telegraph Cars where, as well as responding to readers’ queries, he also contributes reviews of new and used cars, together with articles on buying and selling. 

His knowledge of the used car market informs his many buying guides relating to the best buys in particular sectors, with an emphasis on value for money. Every week he will answer your questions on buying and selling, as well as solving your car problems, whether consumer or mechanical.

Do you have a motoring dilemma you’d like our expert to solve? For consumer and used car advice, or car faults, email CarsAdvice@telegraph.co.uk and include your subscriber number. This week’s question… 

Dear Alex

My daughter has had a Toyota Yaris auto for six years and has been very happy with it. She is now ready for a change and believes that she needs an SUV, claiming that they are “safer”. Is this correct? She is interested in a Skoda Kamiq auto. Over the years I have read in your pages numerous comments about VW Group automatic gearboxes being very unreliable. Is this still true? 

– RG

Dear RG

To your first point, and speaking generally, a car’s safety has less to do with whether it’s an SUV or not than how well designed it has been in the first place.

For example, your daughter has specified a preference for the Kamiq, and as luck would have it this is actually one of the safest small cars around, with excellent crash test ratings of 96 per cent for protection of adult occupants and 85 per cent for child occupants, according to the experts at EuroNCAP, the independent crash-testing organisation.

Yet these ratings are matched by the Volkswagen Polo, which is a small hatchback rather than an SUV – so the Polo should keep you just as safe as the Kamiq. The Renault Clio, meanwhile, manages 89 per cent for child protection, while matching the above two cars’ adult occupant protection scores.

By contrast, the Hyundai Bayon, also a small SUV, scored 76 and 82 per cent respectively. That’s not an unacceptable score, but neither is it up there with the best. What this shows is that, if safety is your daughter’s primary concern, it makes more sense for her to study Euro NCAP’s crash test ratings than simply to assume that an SUV will be safer. 

To your point about the Volkswagen Group’s DSG gearboxes, they have acquired a reputation for big bills through the years, and not an undeserved one, so you’re right to be cautious. 

On the other hand, many of these issues affected older cars, especially those with the DQ200 seven-speed unit, built before 2015. And I know there are plenty of drivers worldwide who have enjoyed years of trouble-free motoring with DSG gearboxes – my father and myself among them. 

I think if your daughter is buying brand-new, with the backing of a warranty, she shouldn’t have to worry too much. And if she really wants peace of mind, she can always extend her warranty – Skoda allows you to do this (for a relatively reasonable additional charge) when you buy the car, taking the standard three-year, 60,000-mile warranty up to four or even five years and 100,000 miles. 

Alternatively, for a good balance between safety and reliability, your daughter could look at the new Toyota Yaris Cross. It doesn’t score quite as highly in crash tests as the Kamiq, but still does very well, with 86 and 84 per cent for adult and child protection respectively. What’s more, it enjoys arguably the best warranty in the business, and low running costs thanks to its hybrid powertrain – not to mention Toyota’s excellent reputation for reliability, too. 

On that basis, the Yaris Cross could represent a good balance between the SUV stance your daughter desires, the safety she knows she wants and the reliability you seek on her behalf. And happily, she already knows the marque given that she’s been in her Yaris for six years. She might even be able to leverage her loyalty at her dealer to try and negotiate a good deal. 

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