SUVs may be the hottest segment in the market – but the headlights on small SUVs are some of the worst! In tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) not one of the 21 small SUVs tested, received a “good” headlight rating and only four achieved “marginal” or “acceptable” status.
The IIHS began testing headlights in 2016 and has been including those results in its overall safety ratings since the 2017 model year. The first group of vehicles tested were midsize cars. The results were pretty disparaging. Click here for those ratings. The second group was 2017 small SUVs and the results are equally discouraging.
IIHS ratings widely respected
The IIHS safety ratings are widely respected by both industry and consumers. They are based on Passive Safety – how well a vehicle protects occupants in a crash and Active Safety – features that help prevent a crash or lessen its severity.
Headlight tests are conducted as the vehicle travels straight ahead and on curves. Sensors measure how far the light travels “with an intensity of at least 5 lux”. Lux is a unit that measure illuminates or how much light falls on a surface. IIHS says for comparison purposes, a full moon on clear night illuminates the ground to about one lux.
Both high and low beams are measured under five situations – straight, gradual left and right and sharp full left and right turns. Glare to oncoming vehicles from low beams is also measured and factored into the rating.
The headlights on small SUVs conducted under five situations
The majority of headlights use one of three different light sources: halogen, high-intensity discharge (HID) or LED. Each system is paired with either reflectors or projector lenses. Reflectors bounce the light forward from multiple surfaces. Projectors use a single lens to broadcast the light forward. Most of the good- and acceptable-rated headlight systems have HID -sourced light and projector lenses. The IIHS points out “having LEDs, HIDs and/or projector lenses doesn’t guarantee good or acceptable performance”.
Adding further confusion and difficulty for consumers, is the fact headlight systems for the same vehicle can vary according to trim level. For example, within the 21 small SUVs tested, there were 47 possible headlight configurations! The headlights on small SUVs in general were poor, more than two-thirds of them received a “poor” rating.
Click here to see the ratings for mid-size cars
As was the case with mid-size cars, where Prius got the top rating and BMW the worst, price is not a factor in small SUV lighting systems. Nor does the latest technology such as HID (High-Intensity Discharge), LED (Light Emitting Diode) and curve-adaptive systems, guarantee of higher rating.
Latest headlight tech no guarantee
In this test group, the highest rating went to the Mazda CX-3 in Grand Touring trim with curve adapting lights with high beam assist . Other small SUVs with an “acceptable” rating were Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Hyundai Tucson. The Honda HR-V earned the worst rating. The IIHS says the illumination provided by the HR-V’s halogen low and high beams is inadequate on all five tests. The HR-V is one of 12 small SUVs not available with anything other than “poor” rated headlights.
The headlights on small SUVs were poor overall. Picking a different trim level can help. But, picking the right trim level and accompanying headlight system can be tricky. The Hyundai Tucson Limited trim comes with headlights rated “acceptable” while other trim levels received a “poor” rating. But the confusion does not end there. The Tucson in Limited trim with the optional curve-adaptive headlights, gets a “poor” rating because of excessive glare for oncoming traffic.
HEADLIGHT RATINGS FOR SMALL SUVS
Best available headlight system for each model,
2016 models unless specified
2017 Ford Escape
2017 Kia Sportage
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport