Best car headlight bulbs 2018

Upgrade your headlight bulbs before the clocks go back with these top buys

LED and laser lights are appearing all over the latest models, but technology dating back to the sixties is still the most common on UK roads.

While halogen headlamp bulbs aren’t the last word in automotive lighting, producers have continued to develop them. Several now promise 150 per cent more light within the beam pattern than a standard bulb.  Marketing hype or real-world gains? To find out, we took 10 top performers to the newly revamped Philips light tunnel in Aachen, Germany.

How we tested them

As in our last test, we’ve upped the ante to find the best as performance gaps narrow. This time we rated the single-filament H7 bulb used for dipped and main beam in a VW Passat headlight. We’ve retained our Figure of Merit (FOM) formula, combining light readings at 50 and 75 metres in front of the car. As this depends on alignment we also assessed the whole beam, measuring maximum light, how much was over 30 lumen, plus beam length. We checked maximum bulb output to ensure samples were within legal limits; all were.

As in our tyre tests, to fairly reflect performances results were converted to percentages. The best is rated at 100 per cent from an average of two bulbs’ results. And prices quoted (for a pair) played a small role in these safety-critical items. To prevent filtering, samples were bought online or selected from multiple packs.

Verdict

Philips’ RacingVision retains its H7 crown despite our revamped test procedure. Ring completed the rest of the podium with the Xenon130 retaining its runner-up spot, just beating the 150 version.

  • 1. Philips RacingVision
  • 2. Ring Xenon130
  • 3. Ring Xenon150
  • ReviewsPhilips RacingVision

    Price: £28.99
    Beam rating: 100 per cent
    Rating: 5.0

    Even in our revised test, the RacingVision is still the class of the field and, as in 2016, by a clear margin. It topped all but one test, and would have finished further ahead solely on our old Figure of Merit ratings, scoring 198 with the next best on 163. It looked good in the tunnel, too, with a bright hot spot close to the dipped-beam cut-off and the hard-to-hit 75-metre measurement. Top performance, although claimed lifetime is around 200 hours.

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    Ring Xenon130

    Price: £24.99
    Beam rating: 94 per cent
    Rating: 4.0

    Despite claiming 130 and 150 per cent more light than standard bulbs, the two Ring Xenons in this test were hard to separate. This version of the GE-made bulbs had a one-lumen advantage in the Figure of Merit measurement. The positions were reversed when finding the brightest spot by a similar margin, and beam lengths were identical, at 97 metres. Even the difference between the two samples was similar. A slight edge in the tunnel plus a price advantage put this Xenon130 bulb ahead.

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    Ring Xenon150

    Price: £29.99
    Beam rating: 93 per cent
    Rating: 4.0

    We’re sure that Ring would have liked to have seen this 150 per cent version of its GE-made but Alite-branded H7 bulb have a clear advantage over the 130, but it remains a top performer whatever the claims. Consistency was not great on either version and the best of each would have pushed our Philips Best Buy harder. No surprise, then, that we could not see a difference between the two in the tunnel, with both having wide hot spots and smooth foregrounds.

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    Osram Night Breaker Laser Next Generation

    Price: £32.99
    Beam rating: 90 per cent
    Rating: 4.0

    If there were an award for the longest name, this Osram would be a shoo-in. The brand new Next Generation of the Night Breaker Laser is the company’s first 150 per cent bulb, and whatever it has done to improve the original has worked. It needed longer than rivals to burn in, possibly due to the unique laser process that leaves a stepped band and its name etched on the glass. Consistent across all tests, it was a match for the two Ring entries.

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    GE Megalight Ultra +130

    Price: £27.99
    Beam rating: 87 per cent
    Rating: 3.5

    There was precious little to choose between the next four bulbs, which were a touch behind the leading quartet. Our champ among the H4 fittings, the plus 130 per cent GE, could not repeat the result in H7. It was a clear step behind the RacingVision this time, with a 139 FOM rating. Its beam was almost 20 metres shorter, although it had the advantage when we measured the amount of light more than 30 lumen in the full-beam test. There was a clear cut-off on the light tunnel wall and build quality was excellent, with two similar samples.

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    Halfords 150% Brighter

    Price: £30
    Beam rating: 87 per cent
    Rating: 3.5

    It says Alite on the base, as the Ring pair does, but they are produced by GE, and yet again we have seen little difference between Halfords’ 130 and 150 per cent extra bulbs. The final result may have been the same, but there were differences across the tests. This version has the edge in the maximum brightness assessment while falling a little behind in the more than 30 lumen rating. The chain-store bulb’s biggest problem was beam length, where it only topped the struggling GT Ultra.

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    Philips XtremeVision G-Force

    Price: N/A
    Beam rating: 86 per cent
    Rating: 3.5

    THIS is so new we had to pick our samples from dozens of bulbs, and it takes a different approach to development. While most recent advances have focused on brighter or whiter light, this has been developed for durability. Light output is the same as on the company’s XtremeVision 130 (prices are expected to be on par as well), but it is more robust and should last longer when driven over poor roads. The result was two well-matched bulbs, which were up there with all but the very best.

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    Lucas LightBooster

    Price: £21.90
    Beam rating: 84 per cent
    Rating: 3.5

    It’s been a while since veteran British brand Lucas has appeared in our tests, and we sourced this from eBay rather than the usual online bulb retailers. It would also seem Lucas has kept up with the latest technology because this lamp, which promises 130 per cent extra light, is a match for similar rivals. Consistency between the samples could have been better and the bulb was not as sharp as some in the tunnel. It also looked a touch darker and its FOM result bettered only the GT Ultra.

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    GT Ultra 120

    Price: £19.99
    Beam rating: 74 per cent
    Rating: 2.0

    Part of online retailer Powerbulbs’ offering, this is very easy on the pocket: not only is it the cheapest on test, but you also currently get another pair of bulbs free. Even so, it doesn’t offer much for the money next to the top bulbs. It may only promise 120 per cent extra light, but that equates to the shortest beam on test, at 86 metres. Two bulbs with a big difference in performance, perhaps due to geometry problems, meant the worst FOM on test, at 110. You could see the lack of punch in the tunnel, particularly on the weaker sample.

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    PIAA Hyper Arros

    Price: £26.99
    Beam rating: 74 per cent
    Rating: 2.0

    Another poor performance from PIAA, but at least it was closer to the top performers than when we tried the company’s twin-filament H4 bulb last year. In its defence, the Hyper Arros only claims 120 per cent extra light and is more aimed at a whiter beam than outright light on the road, thanks to an all-over coating. But you have to give up a fair bit of performance to get a styling gain. Maximum brightness was the worst on test, as was light across the beam. The difference between samples was also the biggest here.

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    Have you changed to an aftermarket bulb and noticed a difference? Let us know in the comments below.

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