Almost All Small SUV Headlights Are Bad, None Are Good: IIHS

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Compact SUV headlights have a long way to go if they want a passing grade from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The organization now rates headlight performance, and ] small SUVs are the latest crop of vehicles to undergo testing. The study results aren’t dazzling.

Out of 21 vehicles and 47 headlight options, no small SUV received a “good” rating from the IIHS, and two-thirds garnered a “poor” rating. Only four vehicles — the 2017 Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson and Mazda CX-3 — earned a rating of “acceptable.”

The headlight test is simple. IIHS measures the amount of light emitted by low and high beams, then measures the amount of glare faced by oncoming vehicles. Vehicles scored points if their headlights came with an auto-dimming feature.

A poor score in the headlight test isn’t good for a vehicle’s overall rating. IIHS won’t declare a vehicle a top safety pick if their headlights fail to net a good or acceptable rating.

“Manufacturers aren’t paying enough attention to the actual on-road performance of this basic equipment,” IIHS Senior Research Engineer Matthew Brumbelow said in a statement. “We’re optimistic that improvements will come quickly now that we’ve given automakers something to strive for.”

In March, when the organization tested midsize sedans, the BMW 3 Series was judged to have the worst headlights in the businesses, proving that vehicle price has little to do with headlight performance. With small SUVs, the “worst” list is a lengthy one, and very diverse. Take your pick of nationalities found at the bottom — Audi Q3, Fiat 500X, Buick Encore, Subaru Forester, Kia Sportage, and a number of other Japanese and American models.

Jeep fared the worst overall, with all of its small offerings — Patriot, Renegade and Wrangler — rated as poor. Honda’s HR-V also found a home on the bottom, as did the Chevrolet Trax, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, and Nissan Rogue.

The “marginal” category was thinly populated, with no domestic automaker found on the second-from-bottom shelf. Earning that title was the Mazda CX-5, BMW X1, Mitsubishi Outlander, Toyota RAV4 and Volkswagen Tiguan.

No particular headlight type fared better than others. Halogen, HID and LED headlamps are found throughout the list, because lumens only go so far towards your final grade. Glare issues demoted 17 of the headlight combinations.

“Glare issues are usually a result of poorly aimed headlights,” said Brumbelow. “SUV headlights are mounted higher than car headlights, so they generally should be aimed lower. Instead, many of them are aimed higher than the car headlights we’ve tested so far.

[Image: Jeep]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

More by Steph Willems

Join the conversation
4 of 66 comments
  • Ttacgreg Ttacgreg on Jul 12, 2016

    This is my understanding of where we are, and were with vehicular lighting. I am old enough to remember all vehicles having sealed beam headlamps that had pretty much uniform performance. Only the occasional misaligned headlight presented glare. I can remember them all being pre-halogen lamp color. They were all a warm incandescent color, which are longer and thus lower energy wavelengths. There is a reason red light is used in dark situations. Eyes can develop their night vision absent brighter light and shorter, higher energy wavelengths (towards the blue end of the spectrum). I remember the late 60's Dodge Polara wit a single supplemental "super light" that ran into trouble in a few states because the color of the light was too bluish. When I got a new for 1971 car with the halogen sealed beam headlights with their whiter color light, other drivers were flashing their high beams at me. Whiter light, more towards blue in the spectrum, more glare. Then, happy days! The dreaded big government dropped its headlight regulations. Freedom for the automakers, stylists, and marketeers. This has set off a marketing and user arms war of sorts. Brighter light, bluer light, add in fog lamps that operate 99% of the time when there are no foggy conditions, and there is no hope of developing night vision now. We are all driving around with fried eyes at night. My understanding of European regulations (gasp, horrors) are that they take vehicular lighting far more seriously. Their low beams have discrete cuts-off, headlights cannot be mounted nearly as high up on a vehicle as they are here, as seen on trucks and school busses. I remember reading that when HID lights came out, specific rules were written for them in Europe, unlike here. Headlight levelers, manual or automatic are standard. I noted years ago visiting France that all the headlights had yellow lenses on them. Yellow blocks blue light. Certainly some basic research could determine the proper set of three parameters, light intensity, color, and beam pattern that would result in the most effective night vision for vehicular headlight systems to produce, and write effective regulations to guarantee that they are met. Interestingly, Consumer's Reports has recently been evaluating headlight performance for both effective illumination and oncoming glare. Good to see that IIHS has jumped in on the game. I guess I am not the only one who is distressed by poorly engineered and (yes I will say it, harmful) headlight systems. Go ahead, call me a Communist Marxist big government liberal. I can take it like a man, but government regulations are the answer in this instance.

    • See 1 previous
    • Brn Brn on Jul 12, 2016

      I'm also old enough to remember incandescent headlights. I agree that the trend toward cooler colors does does not benefit visibility. Your point is very well taken. I also remember how those old headlights would fade over time, A LOT. Moving to halogen was an overall improvement.

  • Golden2husky Golden2husky on Jul 12, 2016

    Bluish lighting sucks. I am amazed that some people actually buy 5000K LED lamps for their home. Yes you do get higher efficacy but the quality of the light is horrible.

  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
  • Tassos Under incompetent, affirmative action hire Mary Barra, GM has been shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis.Whether the Malibu cancellation has been one of these shootings is NOT obvious at all.GM should be run as a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and NOT as an outfit that satisfies everybody and his mother in law's pet preferences.IF the Malibu was UNPROFITABLE, it SHOULD be canceled.More generally, if its SEGMENT is Unprofitable, and HALF the makers cancel their midsize sedans, not only will it lead to the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST ones, but the survivors will obviously be more profitable if the LOSERS were kept being produced and the SMALL PIE of midsize sedans would yield slim pickings for every participant.SO NO, I APPROVE of the demise of the unprofitable Malibu, and hope Nissan does the same to the Altima, Hyundai with the SOnata, Mazda with the Mazda 6, and as many others as it takes to make the REMAINING players, like the Excellent, sporty Accord and the Bulletproof Reliable, cheap to maintain CAMRY, more profitable and affordable.
  • GregLocock Car companies can only really sell cars that people who are new car buyers will pay a profitable price for. As it turns out fewer and fewer new car buyers want sedans. Large sedans can be nice to drive, certainly, but the number of new car buyers (the only ones that matter in this discussion) are prepared to sacrifice steering and handling for more obvious things like passenger and cargo space, or even some attempt at off roading. We know US new car buyers don't really care about handling because they fell for FWD in large cars.
  • Slavuta Why is everybody sweating? Like sedans? - go buy one. Better - 2. Let CRV/RAV rust on the dealer lot. I have 3 sedans on the driveway. My neighbor - 2. Neighbors on each of our other side - 8 SUVs.
  • Theflyersfan With sedans, especially, I wonder how many of those sales are to rental fleets. With the exception of the Civic and Accord, there are still rows of sedans mixed in with the RAV4s at every airport rental lot. I doubt the breakdown in sales is publicly published, so who knows... GM isn't out of the sedan business - Cadillac exists and I can't believe I'm typing this but they are actually decent - and I think they are making a huge mistake, especially if there's an extended oil price hike (cough...Iran...cough) and people want smaller and hybrids. But if one is only tied to the quarterly shareholder reports and not trends and the big picture, bad decisions like this get made.