IIHS Takes Dim View of SUV Headlights


CARS.COM — A slew of SUVs have spotty headlight performance, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced today. The agency put 37 small and mid-size models through its newish test for headlight effectiveness and found most scored marginal or poor (out of good, acceptable, marginal or poor).

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The price of the vehicle had little correlation with performance. Luxury models like the Lincoln MKX and Infiniti QX60 scored poor, as did mass-market favorites like the Ford Explorer, Jeep Wrangler and Kia Sorento. The only two models to earn good ratings were the Volvo XC60 and Hyundai Santa Fe (not the Santa Fe Sport), and both cars require optional premium headlights just to get those scores. Meanwhile, base headlights scored marginal on the XC60 and poor on the Santa Fe.

Other models got low scores regardless of options. Below are the results for each car with its best available headlight system; all are model-year 2017 cars unless otherwise noted.


  • Hyundai Santa Fe
  • Volvo XC60


  • Acura MDX
  • Acura RDX
  • BMW X5
  • Buick Envision
  • Honda Pilot
  • Infiniti QX70
  • Jeep Cherokee
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • Lexus NX
  • Lexus RX
  • Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class
  • Toyota Highlander


  • Audi Q5 (2018)
  • BMW X3
  • Cadillac XT5
  • Chevrolet Equinox (2018)
  • Dodge Durango
  • Ford Flex
  • GMC Acadia (not Acadia Limited)
  • Infiniti QX50
  • Lincoln MKT
  • Nissan Murano
  • Nissan Pathfinder
  • Volvo XC90


  • Dodge Journey
  • Ford Edge
  • Ford Explorer
  • GMC Terrain
  • Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
  • Infiniti QX60
  • Jeep Wrangler
  • Kia Sorento
  • Lincoln MKC
  • Lincoln MKX
  • Toyota 4Runner

This latest batch marks the fourth group of cars IIHS has tested for headlights. The agency noted that headlights this go-round performed better than those in other SUVs and pickup trucks tested by the agency. But work remains to be done.

Less than half the group had acceptable or good headlight scores — a requirement for 2017 to earn the agency’s highest designation, Top Safety Pick Plus. And 23 SUVs had marginal or poor headlight performance without any optional upgrade to improve performance. (Of course, earlier IIHS tests signal that a premium headlight option doesn’t always perform better.)

IIHS says about half of all traffic deaths occur at night, dawn or dusk, and headlight performance isn’t something consumers typically evaluate at the dealership during a daytime test drive. The agency’s tests measure how far ahead a car’s low and high beams illuminate the road, both in a straight line and on various curves. The agency also tests how much glare the lights give oncoming traffic — a particular problem for SUVs, IIHS notes, because their lights sit higher.

The agency tested all available headlight configurations for the group, 79 in all. Differences between the best and worst performers were stark: On a straightaway, the Kia Sorento’s low-beam lights illuminated only 148 feet ahead; the XC60’s low beams illuminated 315 feet. And similar-seeming models can have big variations; the three-row Hyundai Santa Fe, for example, has separate headlight configurations from its two-row Santa Fe Sport sibling.

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Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price. Email Kelsey Mays

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