Hyundai and Volvo earn “good” headlight ratings

Hyundai and Volvo
The Volvo XC60 has earned a "good" headlight rating from the IIHS
Hyundai and Volvo
The 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe is one of two mid-size SUVs given a “good” headlight rating by the IIHS. The other is the Volvo XC60

Hyundai and Volvo have become the first vehicles to be awarded a “good” rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The IIHS) began testing the headlights of new vehicles in 2016. The results have been pretty disparaging to this point. The vast majority of vehicles have received a “poor” or “marginal” rating with respect to the efficacy of their headlights.

Among the trio groups tested to date – mid-size cars, small SUVs and pickups – not a single vehicle has received a “good” rating for its headlights.

Click here to see ratings for small SUVs

Click here to see ratings for mid-size cars

Click here to see ratings for pickups

The IIHS has been including headlight test results in its overall safety ratings since the 2017 model year. 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. The dismal headlight ratings have been dragging down the overall safety rating.

Headlight results dragging down overall safety ratings

As a result, manufacturers have been reacted, making improvements, either through equipment changes or improved aiming procedures on the assembly line. The IIHS has noted this trend toward ensuring headlights play a larger role in traffic safety, The first clear evidence of this improvements comes in the latest round of tests. Mid-size SUVs have produced a pair of “good” ratings for Hyundai and Volvo.

The 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe and the 2017 Volvo XC60 have become the first, among more than 100 vehicles tested, to earn a “good” headlight rating.

Hyundai and Volvo
The new Volvo XC60

IIHS 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 measures 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, full 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 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”.

New technology does not guarantee better result 

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 37 SUVs tested, the IIHS says there are 79 possible headlight combinations!

The most recent tests of 19 mid-size and 18 mid-size luxury SUVs showed 12 have headlights rated “acceptable” and 23 available with nothing other than “marginal” or “poor” headlights.

The Volvo XC60 earned its top rating thanks to optional curve-adaptive HID projector headlights. These lights turn with the steering wheel to help illuminate curves in the road. The same HID headlights on this Volvo can be equipped with high-beam assist, which automatically switches between high and low beams according to the presence of other vehicles. The IIHS gives extra credit for High-Beam assist.

Hyundai and Santa Fe do well

The curve-adapting feature does not ensure a better rating. The 2018 Kia Sorento was one of the worst mid-size SUVs in this test despite its curve-adaptive HID headlights. The IIHS says the projector low beams don’t provide adequate light on the straights, left hand turns and gradual right turns. For example the Sorento low beam illuminate only 45 metres on the right side of the road compared to the Volvo’s 96 metres.

The Ford Edge was another that didn’t fare well. Whether equipped with base halogen or optional HID projector lights, both high and the low beams provided inadequate illumination in all five tests. The halogen low beams also produce unacceptable glare into oncoming traffic.

The IIHS found that more than half of the 79 headlights tested had excessive glare. That alone accounted for the “poor” rating in 17 cases. The IIHS says managing glare is more difficult for higher vehicles like pickups and tall SUVs. The Hyundai and Volvo models awarded a “good” rating have addressed that issue.


Best available headlight system for each model

2017 models unless specified

Luxury SUVs


Volvo XC60


Acura MDX

Acura RDX


Buick Envision

Infiniti QX70

Lexus NX

Lexus RX

Mercedes-Benz GLE


2018 Audi Q5


Cadillac XT5

Infiniti QX50

Lincoln MKT

Volvo XC90


Infiniti QX60

Lincoln MKC

Lincoln MKX


Non-luxury SUVs



Hyundai Santa Fe


Honda Pilot

Jeep Cherokee

Jeep Grand Cherokee

Toyota Highlander



2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Dodge Durango

Ford Flex

GMC Acadia

Nissan Murano

Nissan Pathfinder



Dodge Journey

Ford Edge

Ford Explorer

GMC Terrain

Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

Jeep Wrangler

Kia Sorento

Toyota 4Runner

About Richard 166 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.