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Car and Driver: IIHS Says Many Small SUVs Have Lousy Headlights

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2016 Honda HR-V

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Automakers probably don’t like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, what with the nonprofit forcing them to redesign critical parts in very short time spans, so here’s one more bombshell. In its second round of headlight testing, the IIHS reports that many popular small SUVs throw out poor illumination—an issue automakers will have to address if they’re to win the coveted Top Safety Pick+ award for 2017.

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None of the 21 models rated the top “good” rating, in which the low- and high-beams measure certain minimum distances under five tests and minimize oncoming glare (read how the IIHS tests work here). Only four of the 2016 and 2017 models rated “acceptable”: the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, and Mazda CX-3—and even then this was only on higher trim levels with upgraded headlights. The BMW X1’s optional bi-LED headlights rated “marginal,” alongside the Mitsubishi Outlander, which uses LED for low beams and halogens for high beams. The Audi Q3’s xenon bulbs garnered the worst, “poor,” score along with the Honda HR-V and 10 other vehicles. The technology, the IIHS says, doesn’t matter. It’s the measured illumination on the road that counts.

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IIHS-headlights-Mazda-Honda

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While there are no government tests that measure on-road effectiveness, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will incorporate similar headlight ratings when it overhauls crash tests for the 2019 model year. IIHS spokesman Russ Rader says that modern headlights, while more advanced than they were 10 years ago with the greater adoption of adaptive beam patterns, automatic high beams, and high-intensity bulbs, aren’t that much better.

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“I doubt we would find all that much different about headlights 10 years ago, because manufacturers have been engineering lights to the same federal standard for decades, but we don’t really know without putting some older cars through our test procedure,” Rader says. “The problem with the standard is that it doesn’t stipulate how much a headlight should illuminate the road when it’s mounted on a vehicle. A headlight that meets the federal standard could produce very different illumination when mounted on an SUV compared with a sports car, for example.”

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In many cases, the IIHS found the SUV headlights were aimed higher than those on the cars it first tested, the results of which were released in March. This contributes to glare and lowers a car’s overall headlight rating. Pickup trucks will be next on the group’s third round of headlight tests. So far, automakers have yet to respond to the new tests. But expect them to get better, and fast.

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