Money is more important to Australian car buyers than a safety score. So, too, is performance.

Faced with a choice between a well-priced car and a full five-star ANCAP safety rating, sales results have proven that price comes first.

Even when it comes to high-priced, high-performance cars, no sign of an ANCAP star is still no barrier to buying.

At the bottom end of the car market, the MG 3 has consistently led the value contenders in Australian showrooms yet has never been tested by the Australasian New-Car Assessment Program.

A total of 12,085 MG 3s were delivered in Australia through the first nine months of this year, up from 11,612 in 2022, giving it a 43 per cent share of its light car class according to official figures from VFACTS.

The Hyundai Venue, one of the small SUV favourites with 4626 sales to the end of September, only manages a four-star score from ANCAP.

It’s still better than the rampaging Ford Ranger Raptor, which currently sits at the top of the pick-up world with a waiting list stretching for more than a year despite a near-$100,000 price, since it has never been put through an ANCAP test.

The lesser Ranger has scored five stars but there are significant differences in the front end of the performance-focused Raptor, including a wider front track, different suspension and a V6 petrol twin-turbo engine.

Dacia, a value-driven Renault brand from Romania, has already decided it will import its Duster small SUV in 2025 even without a 5-star ANCAP rating. The car is likely to get 3 stars but Dacia’s focus is on keeping the car affordable for Australian families.

In the sports car world, where Ferrari and Lamborghini and McLaren sit at the very top, there are zero ANCAP scores for buyers to compare – because it would cost too much to buy the cars and crash them.

The Italian supercar companies are not even listed by ANCAP, despite its website highlighting 53 brands including long-dead Saab which is listed under “old models” with five-star scores from 2002-2003.

The situation with the MG 3 highlights one of the shortcomings of ANCAP.

Although there is no official score or test results, the car is still included on ANCAP’s official website but the organisation says: “The MG 3 was released into Australia in 2018 and is currently unrated.”

Yet it also defends its position. “ANCAP endeavours to test a broad range of popular models sold in Australia and New Zealand, and new safety ratings are added to the ANCAP website regularly,” it says.

“If a rating for this model (MG 3) becomes available, full details on its safety performance will be added to this page.”

The missing results raise a range of questions about ANCAP and its operations, from the cars it rates to the process of creating a locally-focused star rating.

Many of the ANCAP scores are just cut-and-paste work from the results of testing by Euro NCAP, checked to ensure local relevance.

But even the pricey upscale models from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are not included in ANCAP scores.

The importance of a five-star ANCAP score has grown steadily since Renault and Subaru first identified it as a selling tool in Australia in the early 2000s.

Government and corporate buyers have also pushed five-star ANCAP as part of their corporate governance and due diligence for staff safety.

But some carmakers are questioning the direction of ANCAP and the impact on the price of Australian cars.

“They have gone too far,” one company CEO, who would not be named, told CarExpert.

Others have similar feelings but refuse to go public as they are worried about being branded as ‘anti-safety’.

But Dacia’s move, and the likelihood of other future arrivals from low-cost countries including India and Vietnam, is raising other questions.

China, though, is using a five-star score as a showroom weapon and its big brands are always aiming for the top in ANCAP.

MORE: It’s time for smarter ANCAP safety ratings
MORE: The red tape holding back Australian new car buyers

Paul Gover

Paul Gover is one of the most experienced and respected motoring journalists in Australia. After more than 40 years on the automotive beat there is nothing he has not done, yet he still brings the enthusiasm of a rookie. He has worked in print, digital, radio, television and for every major publisher in the country. He is also a national motor racing champion and once co-drove with Peter Brock at Bathurst.

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