Headlight Safety Test Casts Shadow on Compact SUVs

16_Honda_HR-V_Headlights.jpg 2016 Honda HR-V | photo by Evan Sears

CARS.COM — As the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety continues to shed new light on the performance of one of the most basic, yet vital, elements of car safety — headlights — automakers have their work cut out for them. For 2017, vehicles will need to receive at least a good or acceptable rating for headlights in order to qualify for Top Safety Pick Plus and a new IIHS evaluation of 21 small SUVs concluded that only four models would qualify.

Related: New IIHS Headlight Tests Illuminate Many Poor Performers

Among the 47 different headlight combinations on the 21 vehicles tested, more than two-thirds rated poorly, with only four models earning the acceptable rating that would qualify them for the top safety designation.

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

The lackluster headlight performance extended across all price ranges and headlight types, including those using supposedly safer advanced technologies. IIHS previously tested 31 vehicles it classifies as midsize cars, reporting in March that only the Toyota Prius v had earned a good rating for headlights; next up for testing are pickup trucks.

Among small SUVs, IIHS rated the following four models acceptable:

  • 2017 Ford Escape
  • 2016 Honda CR-V
  • 2016 Hyundai Tucson
  • 2016 Mazda CX-3

Those receiving a marginal rating, all from the 2016 model year, include:

  • BMW X1
  • Mazda CX-5
  • Mitsubishi Outlander
  • Toyota RAV4
  • Volkswagen Tiguan

Poorly rated models include:

  • 2016 Audi Q3
  • 2016 Buick Encore
  • 2016 Chevrolet Trax
  • 2016 Fiat 500X
  • 2016 Honda HR-V
  • 2016 Jeep Patriot
  • 2016 Jeep Renegade
  • 2016 Jeep Wrangler
  • 2017 Kia Sportage
  • 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
  • 2016 Nissan Rogue
  • 2016 Subaru Forester

It’s important to note that buyers of any of these models interested in the best-rated headlights must be sure to select the trim level or option that includes them. The top-rated headlights on the CX-3 — curve-adaptive LED lights with optional high-beam assist, which turns the brights automatically on in the absence of other cars — are offered on its top Grand Touring trim.

The worst-performing headlights of the bunch belong to the HR-V. Its halogen low and high beams proved inadequate on all four types of curves tested by IIHS — including sharp and gradual left and right turns — as well as straightaways.

IIHS engineers tested headlights on a research track after dark using a device that measures how far light is projected as the vehicle drives straight and on the four types of curves. Glare is also taken into consideration; excessive glare results in a marginal rating at best. The rating system favored no one type of headlight technology, though high-beam assist did receive an “explicit nod” from researchers for its potential to increase the safe use of high beams.

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