Ranked: Midsize SUVs with the best headlights for 2023

Chris Teague

Chris Teague

midsize suvs with the best headlights for 2023
The midsize SUVs with the best headlights for 2023 earned top marks in nighttime testing performed by the IIHS.

There’s no way around it. SUVs are a way of life here in the United States and have become the default people-hauler for millions of families. They’re more spacious and packed with tech than they’ve ever been, and automakers are spending billions developing new safety tech and convenience features. That has made them even more desirable (and expensive), but one of the most important safety features is often one of the most overlooked: Headlights.

We’re way past halogens at this point in the game as manufacturers shift many vehicles to LEDs, which are more energy efficient and brighter than old-school bulbs. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) scores most new models on how well their headlights illuminate the road and avoid blinding other drivers. We’ve gathered a short list of the models with the best-rated headlights for 2023 here.

midsize suvs with the best headlights for 2023

The SUVs you see on this list all earned “Good” scores. This means that every trim level tested earned top marks. Several other top-rated SUVs picked up Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick + awards, but one or more trims whiffed in headlight testing. We’ve listed those and the end with notes on which trims performed best. As a note: We cover luxury SUVs separately.

See the small SUVs with the best headlights for 2023 here.

Why IIHS headlight scores matter

In 2007, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that almost half (49%) of the passenger fatalities on roads happened at night, but only 25 percent of travel occurred during those hours. That meant the fatality rate per vehicle mile traveled was around three times higher at night.

The IIHS says that vehicles earning a “Good” score in its tests are involved in 19 percent fewer nighttime single-vehicle crashes than those with poorly rated headlights. Good illumination protects you, others on the road, and your vehicle.

How the IIHS tests headlights

The IIHS uses five test scenarios to evaluate low and high beams. Both systems are tested on straightaways, gradual left curves, gradual right curves, sharp left curves, and sharp right curves. Tests also evaluate the level of glare created by the low-beam headlights. The agency fits each vehicle with a GPS tracker to monitor geographic location and speed. Headlights are tested in their factory settings, which means features like curve adaptability and high-beam assist are left on if they come that way by default. 

If you want to read more and see a detailed overview of IIHS headlight testing, read the agency’s summary here.

Midsize SUVs with the best headlights for 2023

midsize suvs with the best headlights for 2023

2023 Mazda CX-9

Top Safety Pick +

Mazda’s SUVs are known for offering engaging driving experiences and upscale interiors. The CX-9 is no exception, and while its future is uncertain as Mazda nears the release of the new CX-90, it’s a safe and compelling midsize SUV. The CX-9 comes standard with a full suite of advanced safety tech, including blind spot monitoring, automatic high beams, lane departure warnings, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, rear cross-traffic alerts, and a rearview camera.

The IIHS gave the CX-9 a “Good” rating for its headlights, but the score is only for the top three trim levels: Carbon Edition, Grand Touring, and Signature. In testing, the low beams created some glare, but the high beam assist and the high beams’ curve illumination helped make up for the shortfall. The agency did not score headlights from lower trims. 

midsize suvs with the best headlights for 2023

2023 Nissan Murano

Top Safety Pick +

The Nissan Murano isn’t the most exciting five-seat SUV to drive, but it comes standard with a full suite of advanced driver aids. Nissan equips the long-running model with blind spot warnings, rear cross-traffic alerts, lane departure warnings, lane keep assist, forward collision warnings, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and rear automatic braking.

All Murano trims earned “Good” headlight scores. The LED reflector lights do not offer a curve adaptive option but do get automatic high beams. The IIHS said the Murano’s low beams did not create excessive glare and noted that the high-beam lights offered good visibility in curves and on straights.

midsize suvs with the best headlights for 2023

2023 Subaru Ascent

Top Safety Pick +

The Subaru Ascent is a comfortable midsize SUV with weather-conquering standard all-wheel drive. Every trim gets EyeSight advanced safety tech, which includes adaptive cruise control with lane centering, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warnings, lane keep assist, and automatic emergency steering. Most trims also get blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alerts and reverse automatic braking.

All Ascent trims earned “Good” scores. The SUV comes with curve-adaptive headlights and high-beam assist. In testing, the IIHS said the low beams created some glare but noted that the high beams did an excellent job in all tests. 

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2023 Hyundai Palisade

Top Safety Pick +

Hyundai hit a home run with the Palisade’s styling, comfort, and tech. The IIHS agreed, giving it stellar safety scores. Hyundai packs every trim with excellent safety features, though some are reserved for top models. Standard tech includes blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, forward collision warnings with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane keep assist, lane following assist, driver attention monitoring, safe exit assist, rear parking sensors, rear occupant alerts, and highway driving assist. Optional tech includes a surround-view monitor, a blind-spot camera system, advanced highway driving assist, and more. 

All Palisade trims earned a “Good” headlight score. LED projectors come standard, and Hyundai includes high-beam assist, but there is no curve adaptability. The IIHS noted some glare in testing the low beams but said that curve and straightaway illumination were good.

Vehicles with mixed IIHS headlight scores

Many midsize SUVs earned top marks in crash tests and performed well enough to receive Top Safety Pick Honors while also earning mixed results in headlight tests.

2023 Toyota Highlander

Top Safety Pick +

Trims with “Good” Headlight Score: Platinum, Hybrid Platinum

Trims with “Acceptable” Headlight Score: L, LE, Hybrid LE, XLE, Hybrid XLE, Limited, Hybrid Limited

2023 Volkswagen ID.4

Top Safety Pick +

Trims with “Good” Headlight Score: Pro S

Trims with “Acceptable” Headlight Score: Pro

2023 Hyundai Santa Fe

Top Safety Pick +

Trims with “Good” Headlight Score: Limited, Calligraphy, Hybrid Blue, Hybrid SEL

Trims with “Acceptable” Headlight Score: SE, SEL, XRT, Hybrid Limited

2023 Nissan Pathfinder

Top Safety Pick +

Trims with “Acceptable” Headlight Score: All

2023 Ford Explorer

Top Safety Pick +

Trims with “Acceptable” Headlight Score: All

2023 Volkswagen Tiguan

Top Safety Pick +

Trims with “Acceptable” Headlight Score: All

2023 Ford Mustang Mach-E

Top Safety Pick

Trims with “Good” Headlight Score: Premium, GT

Trims with “Marginal” Headlight Score: Select, California Route 1

2023 Kia Sorento

Top Safety Pick

Trims with “Good” Headlight Score: SX, SX-Prestige, Hybrid SX-Prestige

Trims with “Poor” Headlight Score: LX, S, EX, Hybrid EX

2023 Kia Telluride

Top Safety Pick

Trims with “Acceptable” Headlight Score: EX with specific packages, SX

Trims with “Poor” Headlight Score: EX with tow package, LX, S

2023 Ford Edge

Top Safety Pick

Trims with “Acceptable” Headlight Score: Titanium with 301A package, ST with 401A package

Trims with “Poor” Headlight Score: SE, SEL, Titanium, ST

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are LED projector headlights?

LED projector headlights work similarly to halogen lights, just with LEDs instead of a bulb. The light beam is more focused, so it can project further and illuminate the road better. 

Can I install aftermarket LED headlights?

There are several options available, but not all are road legal. Check with your parts store and local laws to ensure you don’t get a ticket.

Why are SUV headlights so bright?

Many SUVs come with LED headlights now, which are brighter than halogens, but there’s another reason they look so dazzling. SUVs are generally taller than cars, and their headlights align directly at eye level or with mirrors, directing light at the driver.

When did the IIHS start testing headlights?

The IIHS updates its testing methodology as new tech becomes available. It started headlight testing in 2016.

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