Based on numerous test drives over recent months and years, I’m happy to report that headlight performance from the mainstream automobile seems to be improving rapidly.
It used to be that accessing a high-performing lighting system required an investment in a big-dollar, luxury flagship, sometimes with optional technology fitted. Today, we’re seeing higher-than-ever performance from the factory-supplied lighting systems in various affordable cars and trucks.
In many cases, these provide drivers with illumination performance that used to cost a lot more money.
Why? In part, it’s because better lighting helps sell cars.
Not directly, of course. In fact, it’s fairly unlikely that any new-car shopper will get to fully assess the performance of its lighting system before they buy it. Usually, you buy a new car after test driving it (in daylight), and later, discover how well its headlights work when you go for your first after-dark drive.
Strange, isn’t it, that such an important part of your new car’s functionality often goes unaddressed until after its purchase.
But here’s the thing: In order to achieve maximum safety ratings (which do sell cars directly), modern automobiles need to achieve high scores in a variety of tests and assessments by professionals, and lately, headlight performance has become one of the factors they assess.
In fact, to achieve the coveted and highly sought-after Top Safety Pick + rating from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), tested vehicles must ace numerous crash-impact tests, provide superior performance from their crash-avoidance systems, and, achieve a high rating for headlight performance, too.
The IIHS started assessing headlight performance as part of their testing regimen a few years back and many automakers responded by including better lighting systems at lower price-points than ever. It’s win-win, for the shopper.
Headlights are typically fired by halogen, xenon, or LED lighting elements.
The latter are the most common in new cars, since LED lighting has a virtually infinite lifespan, low energy usage, and solid performance.
Some affordable vehicles include LED lighting technology as standard, while others offer it optionally. When shopping for a new vehicle, check out the specifications to determine what lighting system is supplied with the specific trim-grade you’re considering. If an optional lighting system is available as an add-on, or, available by moving up to a higher trim grade, it’s worth considering the switch.
Based on thousands of kilometres of after-dark observation across numerous makes and models, you writer can confirm that a top-line lighting system with LED technology has plenty of benefits. These include further and wider illumination ahead of the vehicle, commonly with above-average peripheral illumination of tree-lines and culverts next to unlit roadways.
Good headlight reach can provide early warning of hazards up the way, and early engagement of even distant reflective surfaces. Peripheral illumination provides added warning of potential wildlife approaching the roadway from the immediate sides of the vehicle.
As an added bonus, high-performing lighting systems help to mitigate driver eye fatigue on longer nighttime drives, largely by reducing the need to squint and strain to see detail up the way. Put another way, with a high-quality lighting system, you’ll likely notice a considerable delay in the onset of eye fatigue after dark.
There’s some convention that LED headlights don’t get warm enough to melt snow and ice from their housings, and truly, they do give off very little heat. In my experience over dozens of winter test-drives of LED-lighting equipped models, this has not been the case. Clear your lights before you drive, and the lack of warmth at the surface of the headlight housing means falling snow is less likely to melt into liquid water, to which more snow and ice can stick.
Of course, in inclement weather, regular inspection of the headlights and taillamps is the driver’s responsibility, to ensure no obstruction in the illumination.
Not all cars offer a performance or LED lighting system, and not all LED or optional lighting systems are exceptional where performance is concerned.
Based on my test drive notes over the past few years, here’s a partial list of some mainstream vehicles I’ve reported to have above-average headlight performance: Jeep Wrangler (with LED headlamps), Toyota Corolla, Nissan Kicks (with LED headlamps), Honda CR-V, Kia Niro (with LED headlamps), Mazda 3, Infiniti QX50, Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Silverado (with LED headlamps), Hyundai Tucson, Toyota Prius.
Again, the list of vehicles above is not comprehensive. For best results, shoppers set on accessing top-notch headlight performance can ask their sales associate if an up-level lighting system is available for the model they’re considering.
If possible, arrange an after-dark test drive to try the lighting system out for yourself, before you buy. If that’s not a possibility, find an owner’s community online, or via Facebook, relating to the model you’re considering, and post a question. Many members of many online vehicle communities are happy to share their experiences, and answer questions from potential owners-to-be.