A couple of years ago, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety evaluated headlights on 2016 model-year cars and found that most of them, well, sucked. But here we are, more two years later, almost on the dawn of a new decade, and—headlights still pretty much suck.
IIHS came out with the headlight evaluation in 2016, and the organization told Jalopnik in an interview before the new ratings that new tests were being used to set the bar for bringing the auto industry up to standard. But in 2016, only two of the 95 systems tested got the IIHS’ top of its four ratings. IIHS eased up on ratings a little at the end of the year, making its evaluation of headlight glare less strict.
But things haven’t magically gotten a lot better since automakers got the memo and IIHS eased up on the glare evaluation in 2016. In fact, most headlights are still bad, and even the good ones come with a major catch.
IIHS published 2018 model-year headlight ratings a couple of weeks ago, saying tests found the best headlight options on 32 of the 165 models tested had IIHS’ top rating of “good” and the best option on 58 models got the second-highest rating of acceptable. The organization said the best options on 32 models scored its second-lowest rating of marginal, and that “poor” headlights were the only ones available on 43 of the models—meaning no matter how much you pay or how many trims you surpass, your headlights will still be bad.
Most headlights with the “good” rating for the 2018 model year, IIHS said in a press release, came with more expensive optional packages on vehicles. IIHS also evaluated 424 headlight variants on 2018 models, it said, and a whopping 67 percent of them got one of its two lowest ratings: marginal or poor.
The only 2018 vehicle models IIHS tested that had good headlights no matter the trim were the Genesis G90 and Lexus NX SUV, it said, but those models price plenty of buyers out on the lowest trim levels: The 2018 G90 sedan starts at just under $70,000, and the NX starts around $35,000.
For the cars that have worse headlights on lower trims—which account for many of the 2018 models IIHS tested—here’s how drastic IIHS said headlight quality differences can be, emphasis ours:
The good-rated LED projector headlights on the high-end [Hyundai] Kona illuminated almost 450 feet on the right side of the road in the straightaway test for low beams, but the small SUV’s poor-rated base-model halogen projector low beams only illuminated 220 feet on the right side of the straightaway, far short of the optimal 325 feet to provide at least 5 lux illumination.
The Kona is among the 17 vehicles with good-rated headlights that also have poor-rated variants. The Hyundai Sonata and its twin, the Kia Optima, are in this group, too. Consumers have to pick a top trim line to get the best available headlights — on 2018 models, the Limited trims built after September 2017 for the Sonata and the SX trim with the SX Technology package for the Optima.
So, basically, even buying a new car doesn’t guarantee you’re getting headlights that can get even a decent score on a modern safety evaluation. Get your night-vision goggles out, folks, or else you may miss somthing.