When considering a new car, everybody worries about economy, practicality, reliability - but safety is very important too. Thankfully, manufacturers know this, and it seems every week that another manufacturer announces a new vital piece of safety equipment or an upgrade to protect occupants better in an accident - or even prevent that accident in the first place.
The sheer volume of safety kit out there - combined with confusing brand names from different companies - can be baffling, which is where the experts at Euro NCAP come in. Standing for New Car Assessment Program, the organisation was set up in 1997 to provide an impartial rating for every new car sold in Europe. It uses all manner of crash tests to evaluate car safety as accurately as possible, giving ratings across four categories before awarding a star rating out of five.
Cars are crashed into obstacles head-on, side-on and slightly offset to one side. The cars are fitted with sophisticated crash-test dummies covered in sensors, which tell researchers the forces applied to various body parts in an impact. The crash tests give a picture of the overall safety of the car - effectiveness of seatbelts and airbags as well as its body rigidity during a crash. Cars are evaluated for safety of adult occupants, child occupants, and younger children in properly fitted car seats.
Cars are then tested for pedestrian safety, and a dummy leg and head are fired at the front to gauge the forces involved in a pedestrian collision.
A recent development has been the addition of a 'safety assist' category to the Euro NCAP tests. This refers to equipment such as autonomous braking and lane-keeping assist which doesn't aid in a crash, but prevents it happening in the first place. This category is so important now that it's impossible for a vehicle to achieve the full five-star rating if it's not equipped with some of these 'active safety' features.
The confusing part for consumers comes when trying to compare cars. Euro NCAP constantly revises its testing criteria, making it more and more difficult for cars to reach the full five-star rating. A five star car tested in 2010 would more than likely only receive three or four stars if tested in 2016, as the tests become more stringent and challenging.
It's good news for car buyers though, as chasing a full five-star rating has kick-started manufacturers into really concentrating on safety features. A new car can't really be considered class-leading anymore without a top recommendation from Euro NCAP.
With that in mind, here's Euro NCAP's list of the safest cars it tested last year under the 2015 testing procedure - the safest new cars you can buy today.
Of these, there was one overall winner - and it's perhaps unsurprising that the Volvo XC90 is the safest car Euro NCAP tested last year and the safest car it has ever tested to date. That's still the case, even in 2016. Volvo's commitment to safety is well-known and one of the brand's cornerstones.
Curious about the safest cars from previous years? Here are the last five years of NCAP's safest cars...
Visit our class winners to see previous winners in that car's class. Be aware though that Euro NCAP's car classifications have changed over the years so some cars may be in categories that don't really define them - for example, the Ford Kuga as a large MPV. Regardless of class, however, all cars Euro NCAP tests in a particular year go through the same strict testing procedure. Just remember that even a five-star car from a few years ago may not be considered so safe under current testing procedures.
For a full list of car safety ratings, visit Euro NCAP's website here.