STUDY: Do Premium Brands Have Better Headlights?

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A new study tested the assumption that pricey cars have better headlight technology.

In a groundbreaking study of the effectiveness and performance of headlights, the affordable Toyota Prius V was the only vehicle out of 31 mid-size cars that earned a “Good” rating.

The study was conducted by the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety (IIHS).

You may know the group from its Top Safety Pick+ system that has become the de facto standard for ranking vehicle safety.  Although only 31 cars were scored, the Institute actually evaluated 82 sets of headlights.  That’s because manufacturers often offer multiple types of headlight systems on a given model, so the IIHS is aiming to evaluate every possible headlight system on the models it rates.

Prius V headlight

The 2016 Toyota Prius V with optional LED lights scored the highest overall out of the mid-size group.

The pricey Cadillac ATS and Mercedes-Benz C-Class and CLA-Class scored in the lowest group, earning a “Poor” Rating.

The Prius V’s LED (light emitting diode) headlights aren’t just great at lighting up the road ahead either.  They consume about 30 percent less energy than do conventional headlights, improving fuel efficiency.

iihs chart headlights

Toyota highlights the system in its Prius V marketing, saying “…produce a clean white light, offer extremely long life.”

The Prius V also comes with automatic high-beams, something that IIHS awards bonus points for, if they work well.

The IIHS did point out that to get the good Prius V headlights one must opt for the optional technology package on the top trim level of the car.  Buyers that choose a lower trim, or skip the optional package get headlights that are rated “Poor.”

Prius V family

Lighting is one way that automakers differentiate their vehicles.  Premium brands highlight advances in lighting with videos like the one below from the Mercedes-Benz C-Class (which scored at the very bottom of the grouping in IIHS testing.)

The IIHS evaluates headlights at its new Vehicle Research Center. Headlights are tested just as they are received from dealerships.  The study notes that owners rarely adjust headlights, so they don’t either.  Sensors placed at various points in the track record the visible light from the headlight systems.

Low beams are more heavily weighted than are high because they are used more often.  The group also deducts points for systems that have excessive glare visible to oncoming traffic.

Matthew Brumbelow, an IIHS senior research engineer, pointed out the difference between a good set of headlights and a poor set, saying, “The Prius v’s LED low beams should give a driver traveling straight at 70 mph enough time to identify an obstacle on the right side of the road, where the light is best, and brake to a stop.  In contrast, someone with the halogen lights would need to drive 20 mph slower in order to avoid a crash.”

Chart courtesy of IIHS.  Images courtesy of Toyota.