Make Light of Winter

Bulb test
28 Nov, 2007 12:04pm

Which headlight bulb provides the best visibility and safety? We assess 30 lamps in the UK’s biggest test...

Give yourself a better chance of staying safe this winter by upgrading your car’s headlights. Around £30 will buy you a pair of state-of-the-art bulbs which can dramatically improve your night vision, as well as reduce the risk of a collision. All the latest electronic in-car safety features – such as anti-lock braking, traction control and stability programmes – will count for little if you can’t see where you are going.

It’s important to fit the right bulb because, as our test shows again this year, buying anything but the top names is a lottery. Some cheap units produced worrying degrees of glare for oncoming drivers, as well as very low levels of light on the road and major differences between lamps. Getting the headlights aligned as you fit new bulbs is essential.

For this year’s test, we concentrated on the single-filament H7 – the most popular halogen bulb in Europe. Performance versions have been around for some time, offering 30, 50 and 60 per cent more light 75 metres in front of the car. But the past 12 months have seen the arrival of 80 and 90 per cent versions. Do they work? We test the leading standard, plus 30, plus 50 and higher (we list them as 50 plus) and blue bulbs, as well as one designed for off-road use, to deliver our verdict.

The test
Philips’ 75-metre light tunnel at its plant in Aachen, Germany, allowed us to measure beams accurately, and see the patterns displayed on a simulated road. We assessed pairs of each bulb, and adjusted our Volvo V70 test car’s headlamp each time until there was no glare for oncoming drivers.

Our beam rating is a combination of the light at 50 and 75 metres in front of the car, and an average of readings from two bulbs. Build geometry and light output were also measured against EC regulations. Prices are for a pair of bulbs, and were taken into account only where there were big differences, as costs can vary wildly. We have listed our sources as a guide.

Light show: best vs worst

Seeing clearly

On the road, the difference between the best and the worst bulbs was enormous. Adjusted to prevent glare, the Classic Professional barely reached 40 metres, with a mass of distracting light just in front of the car.

Peripheral vision was a little over six metres either side of the driver.
Our Best Buy, the Philips X-treme Power, illuminated the road over 90 metres away with a 20-metre-wide beam and a bigger spread of usable light ahead of the test Volvo. That’s easily the difference between having a collision and avoiding one.

Feeling blue?
While one section of our test is devoted to ‘blue’ bulbs, the best deliver white beams and headlights. These products were created around seven years ago to imitate the then new gas-discharge xenon or HID systems which were appearing on top-of-the-range models from BMW and Mercedes, giving off super-bright beams and adding a blue tinge to the headlights.

Most halogen imitations use the latest technology to boost light output. And they need it, as the colour change from yellow is achieved by coatings or filters which rob light from the beam. In poor-quality units, the result is low levels of light and a kaleidoscope of colours around the edges. In this test, ‘blue’ bulbs performed mid-way between the plus 50 and plus 30 untreated samples.


Head and shoulders above the rest in this test was the Philips X-treme Power, which put in a performance no rival bulb could come near.

However, if you want to spend less than £30, go for the Philips Premium. And for those who prefer the white look, the best is from Narva. Just bear in mind the trendy blue coating has an adverse effect on bulb performance.

The standard entries from Bosch and Halfords get our vote. But most of the build and beam issues were in this class, and it’s well worth upgrading to a plus 30 or 50 plus unit to ensure decent quality.

1 Bosch Premium
2 Halfords Value Twin Pack

Plus 30
1 Philips Premium
2 Bosch Xenon Power

50 plus
1 Philips X-treme Power
2 Philips Vision Plus

1 Narva Range Power Blue
2 Philips BlueVision

Disqus - noscript

I thought it would be a great idea to upgrade my headlight bulbs ready for winter, as i have to do a lot of driving through country lanes and back roads at night.
I spent half a day trying to locate some Phillips X-treme Power bulbs in H1, only to be told by Phillips that they're not available in H1. "Brilliant" (no pun intended) so i fitted a set of Phillips Vission Plus bulbs, but i can't see any difference, just £20 less in my pocket.

Maybe when they do test bulbs, it might be a good idea to make sure they're available, in a wide range of sizes, and stocked in the UK.

anyone know a decent bulb that might make a difference?


This "replacement" globe industry would have to be one of the biggest cons out there in car replacement parts, the BEST Globes are the OEM ones, or Buy the type/style and wattage the original maker put in, all these coloured, and white light globes are rubbish and are just a coloured filter which REDUCES your lights intensity...

If you've ever driven a 2005 Volvo V50 with standard OEM bulbs on a dark country lane you'd know that an upgrade isn't just desirable, it's essential - unless you place a very low value on your life.

I've tried a number of replacements and so far Halfords 90% bulbs have been the best but I'm gong to try some Philips xtremes next.

I totally agree with Kanko, having just said goodbye after 4 years to my Volvo V50, which had truly appalling headlights. I drive 60 miles daily on mainly country lanes and often wondered if Volvo's thinking is that by having really bad lights you are forced to drive so slowly you couldn't possibly have an accident!

i live in NY USA and ordered my h1 philips x-treme power in october, free shipping and received em in 7 days. love em, very bright :)

It down to EU mark, of should i say the bar is not high enough in the first place. Talk to Kia in this case, but it goes to all car makers, they fit what they can get away with.

Department of transport, say it , they might do harm to wiring and lens. The EU mark bar should be raised in the first place.

Folks, I have a 08 vectra and fitted the Philips xtreme. They are the worst ever and only focus a beam about 10M from the car. It was a nightmare driving on unlit roads so have had to take them back out. It may be the lens on the vectra but clearly not suitable. Avoid a costly mistake like mine