Headlights on Small SUVs Fail to Earn High Scores in IIHS Assessment

Only four models earned an "acceptable" rating, with none earning a grade of "good"

Headlights on Small SUVs Fail to Earn High Scores in IIHS Assessment
Image: Mazda
July 12, 2016

Attention owners of small SUVs: a recent report indicates that your visibility may be lacking during nighttime and inclement weather driving.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has conducted an assessment of headlight efficacy for small SUVs, with none earning a "good" rating. In fact, only four of the 21 models tested earned an "acceptable" rating, with the rest scoring "marginal" or "poor."

Headlight performance in today's vehicles varies widely. Government standards are based on laboratory tests, which don't accurately gauge performance in real-world driving. The evaluations conducted by the IIHS simply measure the amount of usable light provided by low beams and high beams as vehicles travel on straightaways and curves.

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

The study shows that a vehicle's price tag does not necessarily correspond to the headlight quality. More modern lighting types, including high-intensity discharge (HID) and LED lamps, and curve-adaptive systems, which swivel in the direction of steering, also are no guarantee of good performance.

The only type of technology given an explicit nod in the ratings is high-beam assist, which automatically switches between high and low beams based on the presence of other vehicles. Vehicles can earn extra credit for this feature because of its potential to increase low rates of high-beam use.

The best-performing headlights in the small SUV group belong to a new model, the 2016 Mazda CX-3, and are available on its Grand Touring trim. This model features curve-adaptive LED lights with optional high beam assist.

The worst headlights belong to the 2016 Honda HR-V. The illumination provided by the HR-V's halogen low beams and high beams is inadequate on all four curves and on the straightaway.

The following is a breakdown of IIHS headlight ratings for small SUVs (2016 models unless otherwise specified):

  • Acceptable: 2017 Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-3
  • Marginal: BMW X1, Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Outlander, Toyota RAV4, Volkswagen Tiguan
  • Poor: Audi Q3, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Jeep Patriot, Jeep Renegade, Jeep Wrangler, 2017 Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester