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Ranked: Small SUVs with the best headlights for 2023

Picture of Chris Teague

Chris Teague

Reviewing new vehicle safety and crash scores should be an essential part of your car buying process. Understanding how and why a vehicle is considered safer than others can help you make the right decision and keep your family more secure on the road. That said, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety runs thorough tests that cover several areas of vehicle safety, so understanding the whole system can be daunting. To help, we’ve pulled out the small SUVs with the best headlights from recent testing.

These 2023 model vehicles offer excellent illumination after dark, and many come with adaptive or “bending” light systems that light up curves as the driver turns the steering wheel. We selected models with “Good” headlight scores for all trims, so there are other models with trims or configurations that didn’t make the cut

Here are the small SUVs with the best headlights for 2023. 

Mazda CX-30

Top Safety Pick+                          

The Mazda CX-30 earned top marks across the board in crash tests performed by the IIHS, and both versions of the available headlights got “Good” scores. The organization noted that the CX-30’s low beams create some glare but said that the high and low beams offer good illumination on curves and to the sides of the road. Mazda equipped the CX-30 with LED projector headlights for high and low beams, and they lack a curve-adaptive feature but come standard with high-beam assist.

best headlights for 2023

2023 Mazda CX-50

Top Safety Pick+

The CX-50 is Mazda’s newest small SUV, bringing ruggedized upscale styling and a posh interior. It’s also got fantastic headlights, earning a “Good” score for both variations. Like the CX-30, the CX-50 gets LED projector headlights, but Mazda added curve adaptability to the CX-50. High-beam assist comes standard. The low beams created glare in testing, and the IIHS said left-side visibility was only fair. That said, the organization noted that the CX-50’s high-beam assist helps compensate for the low beams’ shortcomings.

Mitsubishi Outlander

Top Safety Pick+

The Mitsubishi Outlander is a surprisingly plush and comfortable family hauler, and the automaker added a fuel-efficient new plug-in hybrid model for 2023. All trim levels get LED reflector headlights without curve-adaptive features, but high-beam assist comes standard. The Outlander’s low beams created glare, but standard high-beam assist helped the SUV claw back points.

Nissan Rogue

Top Safety Pick+

The Nissan Rogue and Mitsubishi Outlander are related, sharing much of their underlying engineering, so it’s not surprising that the two have similar safety scores. Like the Outlander, the Rogue gets LED reflector headlights without curve adaptability. High-beam assist comes standard, which the IIHS says helps the Rogue overcome the glare created by its low-beam lights.

best headlights for 2023

Subaru Forester

Top Safety Pick+                                    

The Subaru Forester has evolved from a funky hatchback for outdoorsy people to a legitimate small SUV with all the comfort and tech you’d expect. Subaru’s EyeSight safety tech comes standard, which brings a load of driver assistance features, including high-beam assist. Curve-adaptive headlights come standard. The IIHS said the Forester’s low-beam headlights never exceeded its glare limits, so the Subaru’s lights edge out many vehicles on this list. The high beams provided fair visibility on the sides of the road, and high-beam assist helps improve visibility in curves.

Toyota RAV4 and RAV4 Prime

Top Safety Pick+

The RAV4 and plug-in hybrid RAV4 Prime offer fantastic safety scores, including great headlights. Neither model’s lights exceeded the IIHS glare limits, and the low beams did a good job illuminating the sides of the road. That said, they were only fair in the sharp left curve test and were inadequate in the gradual left curve test. Similarly, its high beams provided fair visibility in the gradual right and left curve tests and were insufficient in sharp right and left tests.

best headlights for 2023

Genesis GV60

Top Safety Pick+

Genesis is on a tear with gorgeous vehicles featuring stunning tech and driving assistance features. The brand-new GV60 is no exception, earning the IIHS’ best safety scores in all categories except LATCH system ease of use, where it grabbed an “Acceptable” rating. The luxury electric SUV surprisingly lacks curve-adaptive headlights, but its LED projectors come with high-beam assist. The IIHS noted some glare in its low beam tests, but the high beams made up for the limitations with good curve illumination.

best headlights for 2023

Ford Bronco Sport

Top Safety Pick+

The Ford Bronco Sport and its larger sibling, the Bronco, are among Ford’s hottest-selling vehicles. The Sport shares some components with the Ford Escape but brings more off-road capability and rugged styling. Beyond earning a Top Safety Pick+, the SUV grabbed top marks for its headlights across the board. The IIHS said that the lights never exceeded the glare limits and noted that illumination was good with both high and low beams.

best headlights for 2023

Kia EV6

Top Safety Pick+

The Kia EV6 is a relatively recent addition to the automaker’s lineup and is already a hit. It’s nearly impossible to find one for sale, and if you do, it’s likely marked up. The EV6’s crash test results and safety equipment show why the vehicle is so popular, as it earned top marks in testing and delivers a substantial list of standard features. Its headlights are also top-notch, grabbing a “Good” score from the IIHS with good illumination from both beams.

How the IIHS tests headlights

As you can imagine, the IIHS testing program is thorough, and headlights are no exception. The 2018 standards state that a vehicle cannot have more than 1,000 km (around 621 miles) on the odometer. The rules also require proper tire inflation, a full fuel tank, limits on how loaded down it can be, a warmup period for LED headlights, and battery charging suggestions for vehicles with halogen lights. 

Vehicles are fitted with a GPS tracker to measure speed and geographic position, and the IIHS tests vehicles with headlights adjusted to their factory position. If a car is equipped with adaptive headlights, they are tested with the system enabled. Those with adjustable suspension systems will be tested in the default position. Read the complete guidelines here.

Frequently asked questions on the best headlights for 2023

Are LEDs better than halogen headlights?

LEDs produce a whiter light beam that is generally brighter than the light emitted by halogen headlights. Most automakers are moving toward LEDs, but they do have downsides. For example, the lights do not produce enough heat to melt snow and ice in cold weather, so the housings can cloud over time.

Can I upgrade to LED lights?

Aftermarket LED upgrades and bulbs may be illegal, but there’s little data on how often the laws are enforced. If you’re considering an upgrade, check with your local parts store or dealer to learn your options. The SUVs with the best headlights for 2023 come standard with LEDs, so you won’t have to worry about upgrading.

What about HID headlights?

High-intensity discharge, or HID, lights use xenon and can draw more power than LEDs. They also do not have the same lifespan, only reaching around 15,000 hours compared to LEDs’ 45,000 average life.

When did the IIHS start testing headlights?

The IIHS began headlight testing in 2016 and has updated its methodology as technology changes.

Are popup headlights illegal?

No. There are no outright bans on hidden or popup headlights, even though no new cars offer them today. 

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