Best car headlight bulbs: group test
With clocks gone back, now is the ideal time to upgrade your bulbs. To help you choose, we pick from nine leading car headlight bulbs
Today’s cars are packed with electronics to help avoid accidents, but they count for nothing if you can’t see where you’re going. While gas discharge or HID headlights may have a performance advantage, you can make the most of your halogen bulbs by switching to the latest hi-tech versions.
How we tested them
We tested eight H7 lamps at Philips’ light tunnel in Germany. The beam was measured at two points 50 metres in front of the car and at 75 metres on the kerb.
We doubled the 75-metre reading and added the 50-metre results to form a beam rating. Price played a tiny role in our ranking, which was the average of two bulbs’ results.
All the bulbs tested were good performers and offer major improvements over standard lamps. Topping this test is the new RacingVision from Philips, with a clear margin over Ring’s plus 130 per cent bulb. Close behind is the GE Megalight Ultra from Halfords.
Philips pioneered performance bulbs and was the first manufacturer to offer a product promising 150 per cent more light somewhere within the beam than on standard versions. RacingVision was new for our 2016 test and, as we see so often, where one company leads others soon follow; there are now rival 150 per cent bulbs available.
In the light tunnel Philips’ product had a clear advantage over its competitors with a 139 beam rating. The difference could be seen on the light tunnel wall and the hot spot was bright and close to the tricky-to-reach 75-metre reading. RacingVision is highly effective, but each lamp’s lifetime is shorter than other performance bulbs.
Consistency helped Ring’s plus 130 per cent bulb to take second place in the test and earn a commendation. Often we see one bulb in the pair is among the best, and then the second is no match and brings the overall rating down. Yet there was barely any difference between the two Xenon130s. Sharp cut-offs and an even beam pattern backed up the light readings.
GE Megalight Ultra +130
This is part of the Halfords line-up and is a good option as it was up there with the Ring. Consistency could have been better, with one bulb getting close to the runaway leader from Philips, but the other brought it down to its closely matched rivals. The price quoted above is what you’d pay for a pair of bulbs during Halfords’ current buy-one-get-one-free offer.
Bosch Gigalight Plus 120
Another product to benefit from Halfords’ annual winter buy-one-get-one-free offer, these were a close match for the GE bulb. But the beam was not quite so focused, so the 50-metre readings were a bit poorer than other top-performing rivals. Still, the 75-metre reading was good enough to warrant a commendation, helped by strong consistency between the two bulbs.
Osram Night Breaker Unlimited
It might be only offering a 110 per cent increase in light, but Osram’s Night Breaker Unlimited proved to be a match for rivals claiming higher performance. Two closely matched bulbs helped its overall beam rating. We liked the smooth beam pattern, which was free from dark patches. Keen pricing makes this a good option for those on a tight budget.
Philips X-tremeVision +130
A bulb that delivered too much glare put paid to Philips’ chances of securing another win for the X-tremeVision +130. The company is investigating the cause, but even without this problem, the remaining bulb still didn’t produce a test-winning beam.
The 75-metre measurements were relatively low, hurting its overall rating in our test. And while the readings at 50 metres were strong, they couldn’t do enough to overcome the deficit.
New-for-2016 range from online retailer AutoBulbs Direct, which also includes long-life and blue versions, contains GE bulbs in the neat tubular packs. It takes its name from the claim it will “turn night in to day”.
As the name also implies, Twenty20 daylight120 claims 120 per cent more light, and this could be seen in the light tunnel. The better bulb of the pair had a well defined, homogeneous beam pattern, but the second lacked the same power and dropped the overall rating.
Osram Night Breaker Laser
Another recently launched bulb, it was a disappointing debut for the latest development from the successful Night Breaker line. Uniquely it has a curved, rather than straight, edged band on the glass to control the light, plus the name etched there, too. This is done with a laser giving it its name.
We were unsure whether the laser etching is the cause, but the beam looked less bright than rivals, and the definition lacked sharpness. It’s not what we’d expect from a plus 130 Osram bulb.
M-tech Powertec Platinum
Part of the online retailer Powerbulbs line-up, the Platinum claims 130 per cent extra light, but we didn’t really see that in the tunnel. The hot spot was less intense and some way from the key 75-metre measurement. In fact, it recorded the lowest reading at that point on test, and struggled to match the best at 50 metres.
The cut-off lines were a little blurred, but generally, this isn’t a poor bulb; rather simply outclassed in this company.
The future looks bright…
Philips H7 LED
Price: Around £160 (per pair)
Beam: 134 (BMW 3 Series headlamp)
LEDs are featuring all over the latest cars, including headlights, but the new technology can also be transferred to older cars. Philips has developed LED versions of the popular H7 and dip and beam H4 lamps.
These produce a beam that meets current rules for filament bulbs. In our test, the rating was on par with the winning RacingVision, but the light was whiter and much broader. It wasn’t as smooth, though; you could see the LED chips in one section. Development should see this improved as the benefit of around a 10,000-hour life (filament bulbs promise about 300 hours) means Philips would do well to pursue these and get the law changed to allow their use in Europe.