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Small SUV Headlights Receive Poor Ratings From IIHS

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author photo by James Riswick July 2016

About half of all traffic deaths occur in the dark or in twilight when a car should have its headlights turned on. Unfortunately, none of the 21 small SUVs tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have headlights that warrant the best possible rating of Good.

In fact, only four small SUV models had headlight combinations that performed well enough to achieve the second-best rating of Acceptable: the 2017 Ford Escape, 2016 Honda CR-V, 2016 Hyundai Tucson and 2016 Mazda CX-3. An additional five small SUVs received the second-worst score of Marginal, while 12 ended up with the worst rating of Poor.

Those 21 SUVs tested included mainstream and luxury models, as well as 47 different headlight combinations, including optional systems. Notably, there was no correlation between headlight performance and the price of the vehicle or headlight type. Even vehicles equipped with optional xenon (HID) or LED headlights did not perform to expectations.

"Manufacturers aren't paying enough attention to the actual on-road performance of this basic equipment," said IIHS Senior Research Engineer Matthew Brumbelow in a statement. "We're optimistic that improvements will come quickly now that we've given automakers something to strive for."

Indeed, previous new IIHS tests such as the most recent small-overlap offset crash tests have led to immediate changes in certain cars.

For its headlight testing, the IIHS used a special instrument to measure how far light travels in five different scenarios -- the further, the better. It also tested the effect that light has on oncoming traffic. If a vehicle subjects oncoming traffic to excessive glare, the best possible rating it can hope for is Marginal. Three of the small SUVs tested missed out on Acceptable ratings because of this, but 14 others managed to receive Marginal or Poor ratings due to both insufficient projection distance and excessive glare.

Although the IIHS indicated fault with headlights of all types, it did point out that those with some form of curve illumination or automatic high-beam assist performed better. These are usually optional features if they're available at all, but they're certainly items you should keep an eye open for when shopping for a car.

IIHS has only released headlight ratings once before. In that instance, the group of midsize sedans tested performed better than the small SUVs, but results were still underwhelming. Only one vehicle, the Toyota Prius v, received a Good rating.

The small SUV headlight ratings can be found below, but it should be noted that these only represent the best rating achieved by each car. For instance, two of the Mazda CX-3's headlight combinations received Acceptable scores, while a third got a Poor. We recommend doing further research within each car's IIHS rating page to see which headlight combination received which rating.

Acceptable Rating

2017 Ford Escape

2016 Honda CR-V

2016 Hyundai Tucson

2016 Mazda CX-3

Marginal Rating

2016 BMW X1

2016 Mazda CX-5

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander

2016 Toyota RAV4

2016 Volkswagen Tiguan

Poor Rating

2016 Audi Q3

2016 Buick Encore

2016 Chevrolet Trax

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Small SUV Headlights Receive Poor Ratings From IIHS - Autotrader