BMWs Receive Poor Headlight Ratings – What it Means for MINI

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (the IIHS) has completed its first ever rating of automotive headlights. While MINI was absent from this first test, two BMWs (representing several different lighting systems) both fared poorly in the test. Interestingly it was the lowly Toyota Prius that beat the field with a “Good” rating.

What does this mean for MINI? We have some thoughts. The 2 and 3 Series tested represented three different systems: halogen, HID Xenons and a newer LEDs system. While the MINI offers a standard halogen system similar to the 3 Series tested, it’s optional LED system is powered by a different bulb than the 3 Series. Also of note, this test puts emphasis on automated functions such as auto high beams and curve-adaptive systems, both of which most MINIs lacks. Interestingly the previous generation R56 system had a curve-adaptive system but made due with an older Xenon HID system.

The Clubman's optional LED headlight

The Clubman’s optional LED headlight

From our experience the F56 equipped with LEDs is the best system to date. But go with the standard halogen set up and all three generations have looked the same to us over the years. Have a differing opinion? Hit the comment section below – we’d love to hear it. In the mean time let’s take a look at the results for those two BMWs.

The 2 Series and it’s optional HID Xenon system scored either poor or marginal depending on whether you check the box for driver assistance. Interestingly the test doesn’t just found distance but also the availability of options such as automatic high beams and the presence of a curve-adaptive system.

Here’s the full text of what they found on the 2 Series:

Low beams: On the straightaway, visibility was inadequate on both sides of the road. On curves, visibility was good on both right curves and inadequate on both left curves.

The low beams never created excessive glare.

High beams: On the straightaway, visibility was good on the right side of the road and fair on the left side. On curves, visibility was good on the gradual left and both right curves and fair on the sharp left curve.

High-beam assist (optional) compensates for some limitations of this vehicle’s low beams on the straightaway and on both left curves.

BMW 340i

The IIHS tested three different 3 series which included three lighting trim levels. Below is the highest level which included the optional LED lighting:

Low beams: On the straightaway, visibility was inadequate on both sides of the road. On curves, visibility was fair on both right curves and inadequate on both left curves.

The low beams never created excessive glare.

High beams: On the straightaway, visibility was good on both sides of the road. On curves, visibility was good on the gradual right and gradual left curves and fair on the sharp left and sharp right curves.

High-beam assist compensates for some limitations of this vehicle’s low beams on the straightaway and all 4 curves.

It’ll be interesting to see how BMW (and other luxury automakers who were poorly graded) will react to this study. Given BMWs history of debuting new technologies within automotive lighting it’s certainly an unexpected development.

  • I have a 2013 R58 w/the HID and adaptive headlights and they seem to be very good at night on low beams and really good on high beams. I also have the LED DRL/Fog lights too.

    Night visibility as a driver has never been a problem for me including rural two-way roads. I was a bit curious myself when i saw the report.

  • So here’s a physicists take on the evolution of automotive lighting systems. Way back in the incandescent days, light intensity was poor, as was reflector optimization. This meant that there was poor light levels, but a wide field of illumination that didn’t blind oncoming traffic. As we’ve evolved from halogen to high intensity to LED and eventually lasers (with forms of projectors thrown in for good measure), the intensity has gone up, good for the driver, but bad for oncoming traffic. The tendency to blind oncoming traffic means that optics were changed to make sure there was well defined high intensity areas, with emphasis on abrupt cut-off in the vertical plain to make sure oncoming drivers weren’t blinded. Side illumination was accidental at best, with some really funky beaming effects that were, let’s just say, non-optimized from the perspective of optic performance. As the effective source size shrank, brilliance increased, even for the same light output, making oncoming driver discomfort more of an issue. LEDs are a designers nightmare. While very bright, and very small, the dispersion pattern for the light means that one must use a micro-optic lens in front of each element to get a nice beam profile. The side illumination that came along for free with long filaments in incandescent bulbs is gone, meaning that non-spherical lenses must be used to throw light to the sides where it’s needed to see things like around turns, or deer, pedestrians or whatever that is at the side of the road. I don’t think the designers have really hit a sweet spot in light profile design yet, and I don’t think they will for a while. Personally, I think this is what’s behind the drive to adaptive headlights. It’s easier to make them turn (after all, steering wheel angle is data that already exists in the DSC system) than to make sure there is a well optimized beam profile that isn’t blinding to anyone looking at the source. In a way, I guess this means that the better the lighting from the point of a driver going close to straight, the worse it is for every other metric.

  • R.O.

    I was waiting for MF to post this story. The HL (Halogen) in my 2015 F56 S are very poor. The halogen’s that were in my R50(2004) were much better. When I ordered my F56 (Mar 2015) at that time I didn’t do very much night driving and any was limited to urban/city where there are lots of street lights, plus I couldn’t squeeze another $750 into my budget to get the LED’s. Over the last 6 months my night driving has increased and it’s noticeable how poor the halogens are.

    If I had known how poor the halogen’s are, I would have figured out a way to increase my budget by $750. On top of that, changing out the bulbs on the R50 was easy. On the F56, looks like some components or front will have to be move/removed to access and replace bulbs. Looks like it’s a dealer/shop job. Too bad.

    For a car that’s classified as a “premium” car by BMW/MINI, Halogen’s should not be standard.

    • I hear this will be the last generation of MINIs with them standard.

      • R.O.

        Of course. 🙁 I have no plans to purchase a new vehicle for 7 or 8 years. By then, who knows if MINI will still be the best choice for a small sporty vehicle.

  • LuckyDevil

    My 2013 R60’s Bi Xeon headlights are AMAZING!!!! Not sure what these Clowns are testing??? ??

  • Vik

    “Also of note, this test puts emphasis on automated functions such as auto high beams and curve-adaptive systems, both of which the MINI lacks.”

    The current generation MINI DOES offer High-Beam Assist(within active driver assistant) and LED with Cornering Lights which would illuminate when the steering wheel is turned.

    • The former is a very rare option not even posted on MINUSA.com. The latter isn’t particularly effective.

      • Vik

        They are both on the Build and Price page for all of the third generation MINI. Check out MINIUSA.com again.

        • After years they just added it. Because of that take rates are close to zero.

        • Vik

          The option was introducrd in October 2014. So as you say “years” I would say a year and a half of no internet marketing.

          Regardless, to say MINI lacks something means they don’t offer it. But they do, even if they didn’t advertise it for some time and the take rate is low.

        • They don’t offer it if it s not in dealer lots. That’s the reality that MINUSA knows all too well. It’s a huge pain point for them.

        • Vik

          So now you’re implying that no store in the USA has had an active driver assistant equipped car on their lot available for sale since the option became available to order? Hmm…it’s a wonder how I have it on my car. And several people in my local car club have it on their cars.

          You’re digging yourself deep into a hole here. As a serious journalist I would suggest doing more research before making accusations against the brand this website revolves around. And if you’re proven wrong, then own up to it rather than making excuses. Owning up to a mistake is the best way to keep your credibility as a journalist.

        • I’m actually not even sure what point you’re making.

        • Vik

          The point I am making is you said MINI is lacking equipment when in reality they are not lacking equipment.

        • Craig

          You both have points. The option is available, however, the barrier to entry is very high. The active driver assist option requires also purchasing the “Fully Loaded” package. This is a $4750 option on the F54. The option itself is $1000. So, unless you already want most of the options in the package, active driver assist is effectively a $5750 option. This is quite pricey IMHO. It also adds options that I actively avoid such as the sunroof. I’m 6’6″ so every inch of headroom is precious to me. I don’t particularly care for any of the other options in the package either. So, effectively the active driver assist option does not exist for me.

        • R.O.

          Craig is correct, both Vik and Gabe have some good points. I agree with Craig that the only way to get the ADA have to get the full loaded pkg @ $4750. Crazy. (I too don’t want things such as sunroof or many of the other options in the FL pkg).

          Except you can get the ADA for the jCW 2-Door hatch for $1,000 without having to get the full loaded pkg. That to me makes no sense. Why on the JCW it cost $1,000 without getting full loaded pkg but for all other MINI variants ADA is only available by getting FL pkg.

          Vik is correct that ADA is shown on the configurator, but that didn’t happen till either late last year or early this year. When I was spec my F56 Cooper S last yr March, it wasn’t listed. I didn’t even know about until after I had order my MINI. I found out about ADA via youtube videos that showed MINI’s in Europe and Asia with the buttons on the steering wheel for the functions.

          I asked the motoring advisor about the item and he said only one person had ordered it and very few people knew about the option.

          I agree MINI did a poor job of advertising it or making sure the dealers and advisors told customers/buyers about the option. I wasn’t told about it.

          Heck my MA forgot to mention that I had to tick the box to get voice control even though I had optioned Visual boost and voice activation/control was a no cost option when getting VB. If you didn’t tick the box though, MINI didn’t add it. I wasn’t happy about that.