The headlights on small SUVs among the worst

headlights on small SUVs
The Jeep Renegade is among the small SUVs given a"poor" headlight rating by the IIHS

In this test group, the highest rating went to the Mazda CX-3 in Grand Touring trim with curve adapting headlights with high beam assist.

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.

The Honda HR-V earned the worst rating in this segment. The IIHS says the illumination provided by the HR-V’s halogen low and high beams is inadequate on all five tests

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”.

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

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

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

 

 

About Richard 100 Articles
At the age of five I was already obsessed with all things automotive being able to identify the make and model of car by just the sound of its engine going down the street in front of our house in the small town on the south shore of Nova Scotia. Although I have been covering and writing about the automotive scene for more than 40 years and the light still grows brightly.

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