Updated Wednesday, September 20, 2023 with new FAQ
These days, there are a plethora of active and passive safety systems. Adaptive cruise control keeps you safe from the car in front of you, while active lane assist will keep you in your lane. Safety systems do well to make driving safer, but the one feature that has been important for decades are headlights. While driving in the dark, a good set of headlights are critical for safety. Illuminating the road may seem simple, but they assist with decreasing nighttime crashes and alert other drivers to your presence, preferably without blinding them in the process.
How can you tell if your next vehicle purchase has good headlights? It’s not like dealerships are excited to stay late to let you drive a car at night. This is where the IIHS comes in. When they rate a vehicle’s safety, they include rigorous headlight testing with detailed notes on how well lights illuminate curves and other road features. Visibility is essential, after all.
High, low, and fog lights should provide a good amount of light for any driving situation. According to the IIHS, “about 1 in 3 headlight systems tested for model year 2022 earn a good rating.” Marginal or poor headlights have low visibility along with excessive glare. Glare is measured because headlights should illuminate the road without having the light in the other drivers’ eyes. As with other active and passive safety systems, headlights are constantly evolving. LED and HID headlamps are now common setups.
Adaptive headlights are showing up in an increasing number of new cars. Depending on surrounding traffic and road conditions, these modulate between your high and low beams. The system automatically dips the lights if the camera detects oncoming traffic when using high beams to prevent blinding other drivers. Cars can also have curve-adaptive headlights. When you turn the vehicle, the lights adjust using sensors in the steering system. Since the headlights turn with the vehicle, visibility for curves increases. Automakers recognize just how important headlights are, and as a result, the IIHS is awarding their Top Safety Pick+ to a whopping 101 vehicles.
Audi, Genesis, Kia, Volkswagen, and Volvo top the charts in terms of overall safety. Two notable inclusions for 2022 include most minivans earning the Top Safety Pick+ rating, along with four pickup trucks.
Small cars with the best headlights for 2023
All of these inclusions are due to modern and improved headlights. Some automakers give consumers good headlights as standard, while others make you pay for upgraded headlights. Now, let’s get into some of the Top Safety Pick+ vehicles, according to their class. The classes include small, midsize, luxury, large, and large luxury cars, small SUVs, Midsize SUVs, Midsize Luxury SUVs, Large SUVs, and Minivans. For these, the measurement is in meters in low and high beams, and all have no excessive glare. First off, there is the small car class. These include the Honda Civic and Honda Insight, Mazda 3, and Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid.
Although the Honda Civic and Insight don’t have curve assist, they score an overall good rating due to high-beam assist. The Civic and Insight’s low beams can illuminate up to 110.2 m. High beams reach up to 152.2 m. Meanwhile, the Mazda 3 also got a good rating, but you need upgraded trim levels to get these headlights. These have both curve-adaptive and high-beam assist headlights. Low beams illuminate to 102.7 m, while high beams are up to 131.7 m. Finally, Subaru’s Crosstrek Hybrid also has curve-adaptive and high-beam assist headlights. Its low beams are slightly lower at 89.5 m, but high beams go up to 157.2 m.
Midsize cars with the best headlights for 2023
Midsize vehicles include the Honda Accord, Kia K5, Subaru Legacy and Outback, and Toyota Camry. Upgraded Honda Accord trims don’t have curve-adaptive headlights but do have high-beam assist. Low beams illuminate to 109.6 m and 180.0 m with high beams. The Kia K5 is the same as the Accord but illuminates 94.6 m for low beams and 142.7 for high beams. Subaru’s Legacy and Outback both have curve-adaptive and high-beam assisted headlights. These have 135.0 m of low beam illumination and 155.5 m for high beams. Finally, the Toyota Camry’s headlights don’t have curve assist but do have high-beam assist. You can see up to 123.9 m with low beams and 157.9 m with high beams.
Posh vehicles are also included. For midsize luxury cars, the Acura TLX, Lexus ES 350 and IS, Tesla Model 3, Volvo S60 Recharge, along with the Volvo V60 Cross Country. Out of these, only the Volvos have curve-adaptive and high-beam assist headlights. Acura TLX’s low beams illuminate at 88.9 m and 150.5 m for high beams. Meanwhile, Lexus’ low beams illuminate 137.0 m and 143.4 m with high beams. Tesla’s Model 3 has 92.6 m of useful illumination and 160.1 for high beams. Finally, the Volvos have around 86.6 m of low-beam illumination and 157.5 m of high-beam illumination.
Large cars with the best headlights for 2023
IIHS only has one large car on this list: the Kia Stinger. Luxury large vehicles include the Audi A6, A6 Allroad, and A7, Genesis G80 and G90, along with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Only the Mercedes-Benz E-Class has curve-adaptive, and high-beam assist headlights. Note that all of these require purchasing an upgraded lighting package. Let’s get into the low beams and high beams.
- Kia Stinger: 109.4 m/149.1 m
- Audi A6/Allroad: 100 m/148.8 m
- Genesis G80: 75.4 m and 148.8 m
- Genesis G90: 127.2 m/194.6 m
- Mercedes-Benz E-Class: 94.8 m/168.8 m
SUVs with the best headlights for 2023
There are many SUVs on the list, which breaks down into small SUVs, Midsize SUVs, Midsize Luxury, and Large SUVs. First are the Small SUVs. These include the Ford Bronco Sport, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5 and CX-30, Nissan Rogue, Volvo C40 Recharge, XC40, and XC40 Recharge. All Mazda and Volvo vehicles have both curve-adaptive and high-beam assist headlights. The following are the low beams and high beams.
- Ford Bronco Sport: 93.4 m/159.1 m
- Hyundai Tucson: 87.0 m/154.7 m
- Mazdas: 109.8 m/147.6 m
- Volvos: 83.4 m/173 m
There are 23 regular and luxury Midsize SUVs. Regular midsize SUVs include the Ford Explorer, Hyundai Palisade, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Murano, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, and Volkswagen ID.4. Mazda CX-9, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, and Volkswagen ID.4 have curve-adaptive and high-beam assist headlights.
- Ford Explorer: 77.9 m/135.4 m
- Hyundai Palisade: 110.1 m/173.3 m
- Mazda CX-9: 114.1 m/143.7 m
- Nissan Murano: 91.2 m/180.0 m
- Subaru Ascent: 109 m/148.9m
- Toyota Highlander: 105.9 m/153.1 m
- Volkswagen ID.4 Pro S: 104.3 m/124.3 m
The majority of SUVs on this list are luxury midsize SUVs. These are the Acura MDX and RDX, Audi Q5 and Q5 Sportback, Cadillac CT6, Genesis GV70 and GV80, Hyundai Nexo, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, Volvo XC60, XC60 Recharge, XC90, and XC90 Recharge. Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class with Advanced Lighting Package and all Volvos have curve-adaptive and high-beam assists headlights.
- Acura MDX: 98.3 m/159.6 m
- Acura RDX: 114.1 m/169.4 m
- Audi Q5 and Sportback Prestige: 115.4 m/163.2 m
- Cadillac XT6: 94.6 m/153.3 m
- Genesis GV70: 102.5 m/167.9 m
- Genesis GV80: 56.7 m/156.3 m
- Hyundai Nexo: 130.9 m/165.2 m
- Mercedes-Benz GLE with Advanced Lighting Package: 6 m/155.0m
- Volvo XC60, and Recharge: 71.7 m/157.6
- Volvo XC90 and Recharge: 84.3 m/152.2 m
Large SUVs and minivans with the best headlights
Finally, there are the Large SUVs and Minivans. These include the Audi e-tron and e-tron Sportback, Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, and Toyota Sienna. None of these have curve-adaptive headlights. Audi’s e-tron and Sportback have 81.6 m of low beam range and 154.0 m of high beam range. Chrysler’s Pacifica has 85.7 m of low beam range and 146.2 m of high beam range. The Honda Odyssey has 92.9 m of low beam range and 141.9 m of high beam range. Finally, the Toyota Sienna has 108.2 m of low beam range and 159.4 m of low beam range.
You may not think about it, but headlights are an integral and essential safety feature people may overlook. Technology is constantly changing, and both curve-adaptive and high-beam assist headlights are helping to illuminate our roads. Once again, some are standard features, while others require optional equipment or packages. Is headlight visibility part of your safety needs? If not, check out IIHS to learn more and see their top picks.
Frequently asked questions
What are adaptive headlights?
Adaptive headlights move to cover more of the road as the vehicle moves. This typically means that the lights turn as the driver turns the steering wheel to provide better illumination on curves.
What are matrix LED headlights?
Matrix systems can shut down a portion of the light beam to prevent blinding oncoming traffic and pedestrians. They can also shift the light to focus on parts of the road, such as curves and other obstacles.
Are aftermarket LED lights illegal?
While many new cars come with LED headlights from the factory, it’s illegal to modify your headlights with aftermarket LED units. None meet federal safety standards, and can be too bright for other drivers if installed incorrectly.
How does the IIHS test headlights?
The IIHS tests high- and low-beam headlights in several situations, including straightaway, gradual left curve, gradual right curve, sharp left curve, and sharp right curve. The organization measures visibility on the edges and center of the road, and evaluates illumination, glare, and lighting distance.