In new IIHS headlight ratings, only 7 cars excel

December 9, 2016

Only seven new cars that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has tested have lights that meet the independent agency's demanding criteria. 

That's a pitifully low number, the insurance-funded group based in Virginia says. The mere seven vehicles rated as "good" in its new testing include 2017 versions of the following:

  • Chevrolet Volt
  • Honda Ridgeline
  • Hyundai Elantra
  • Hyundai Santa Fe
  • Subaru Legacy
  • Toyota Prius v
  • Volvo XC60

That's a rag-tag list of cars if there ever was one, and not every version of those models is actually rated "good." For instance, the optional LED headlights on the Chevrolet Volt are "good," while the standard halogen units are rated "acceptable." And on the Subaru Legacy, only the HID headlights are rated "good." The standard halogens come in at "marginal." 

The IIHS' rating scale looks like this: Good, acceptable, marginal, poor. 

While several are new-for-2016 or 2017 models, a few haven't been updated in a few years. The IIHS admits that several automakers improved their offerings' headlamps in advance of its latest testing, which now requires either a "good" or "acceptable" rating for headlights in order for vehicles to qualify for its Top Safety Pick+ award. The IIHS points out the Subaru Forester, in particular, which was mildly refreshed for 2017 and includes revised headlights that elevate it to "acceptable." 

MORE: Check out our accurate list of 2017 Top Safety Pick+ award winners

The IIHS looks at how well headlights distribute light into the driver's field of vision. It also accounts for lights that don't get in the eyes of oncoming traffic  and it awards extra points for automatic high beams that turn on and off on their own. Earlier this year, the agency sent out what essentially amounted to a warning flag that it would not be rating many headlamps highly. 

Notably, the IIHS says that high feature LED and xenon gas discharge, or HID, headlamps aren't necessarily better. Some models tested actually performed better with their standard halogen headlamps than they did with optional high-tech lights. 

In other words, there's a lot of ground to be made up by simply creating headlamp housings and reflectors that paint a clear light pattern.

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