Headlamp bulbs tested

Headlamp bulbs tested
1 Nov, 2011 8:09pm Kim Adams

As the days get shorter, now’s the perfect time to upgrade your headlamp bulbs. We pick the best

Headlamp bulbs are putting ever more light on to the road, to boost visibility for drivers – the latest promise 120 per cent extra. These are big claims; the original performance bulbs promised 30 per cent more light, but how do these new bulbs translate to driving at night? We’ve tested the latest top-spec H7 single-filament halogen bulbs, plus cheaper performance and ‘blue’ styling lamps, to find out.

We were looking for how much light the bulbs delivered on the road 50 to 75 metres from the car, where the driver needs it most. This is where the claimed extra performance should be found.

To achieve this long beam, makers have taken the light output and construction tolerances to the limit, shrinking the glass envelope, the size, shape and position of the filament and coating bands to control a super-bright output.

When it works, you see a hot spot 50 metres ahead of the car; top choices shift this up to 75 metres. So which bulb is best to keep you safe in the dark winter months? We plugged in 50 at Philips’ light tunnel in Aachen, Germany.

The test

We used a VW Golf MkV headlamp, aligned to bring glare for oncoming drivers down to legal levels. Light was measured at two points 50 metres ahead of the car, plus on the kerb at 75 metres. To get a beam rating we added the 50-metre brightness readings and doubled the key 75-metre result. This was averaged over two bulbs.

We split the samples into three groups: those offering up to 50 per cent more light, those offering more than 50 per cent more light, plus blue styling bulbs giving the look of a high-intensity discharge (HID) xenon headlamp. All were bought or selected from multiple packs to prevent filtering. Prices are for a pair excluding delivery, although as bulbs are safety items, the focus was on performance.


One thing is certain – the latest-generation bulbs are far superior to standard versions, delivering around twice as much light on the road. The shining star is Philips X-tremeVision, but Halfords’ Extreme Brilliance pushed it hard. Philips also takes the up to 50 per cent win with VisionPlus.

It was a dead heat between the Narva and Autolamps Cobalt II coated bulbs. The latter gets the nod in the end as it’s cheaper and slightly more consistent.