IIHS Headlight Verdict: Dark Times for Small SUVs

The days of the standard halogen bulb might be numbered. Here’s a look at those halogen bulbs, and the other technologies and novelties that’ll start replacing them while adding more wow factor to the world of automotive lighting.

This past March we brought you the news that when headlights were tested for brightness, they came up dim. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the good folks who do much of the crash testing we read about, tested 31 midsize sedans and found only one scored a “good”. The rest were marginal or poor. Even those with LED or HID lights didn’t fare well. Now they have tested 19 2016 model year small SUVs (and two 2017s) and the news isn’t any brighter. Of the 21 vehicles they tested 47 headlight combinations (most of them were available with base halogens and uplevel HID or LEDs). Not a single vehicle was rated “good”. In fact, more than two-thirds of combinations tested rated poor, and not one vehicle rated even “marginal” unless a more expensive trim level was selected, with almost every base trim SUV testing as poor.

As with the first round of testing, HID or LED lights are no guarantee of a better rating. Some provide no more or no better light than the halogens they are replacing. The IIHS tests quality and quantity of usable light based on the high and low beams of each car. They look at straight road performance, the ability to light around curves, and they even care about how much glare is thrown at oncoming drivers.

The best rated was the 2016 Mazda CX-3, but only with the curve adapted LED lights and high-beam assist. The lower trim of the same vehicle scored a poor. The worst rated was the 2016 Honda HR-V, which was deemed inadequate even on the straight road. It was one of 12 small SUVs that can’t be optioned to anything better than a poor rating.

As we covered last time, the test can be greatly dependent on headlight aim, and for that reason it is highly recommended that you get your headlights properly aimed. It’s easy to check and usually straightforward to fix, although it is still no guarantee for a system that under performs.

In a bit of good news for nighttime drivers, the IIHS has stated that starting in 2017, if automakers want their highest Top Safety Pick+ award that their cars must meet at least an “acceptable” rating. Automakers are normally very quick to respond to IIHS test changes. The next scheduled testing will be pick-up trucks.

The other acceptable ratings were for properly equipped versions of the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tuscon, and 2017 Ford Escape. Poor ratings went out to the Audi Q3, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500x, Honda HR-V, Jeep Patriot, Renegade, and Wrangler, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, and 2017 Kia Sportage.


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Evan Williams

Evan Williams

Evan is based in Halifax, and has been a car nut for as long as anyone can remember. He autocrosses, does lapping days and TSD rallies, breaks cars and then fixes them again.