ANYONE who owns a Land Rover Defender, Jeep Wrangler, Toyota 60 or 75 Series, or any Patrol up to GQ would agree their standard OEM halogen headlights leave a lot to be desired. Even on high beam the yellow candles in my Jeep had me leaning out the driverís window with an LED handheld torch. But replacing the globes with better quality units (or using HID inserts) simply puts superior globe technology into a Neanderthal-styled lens and reflector assembly, so that wasnít an option.
I wanted the best possible light for night driving, with great performance, reliability, a quality build and no gimmicky accessories. After much research I settled on a good olí USA brand to adorn my American icon, JW Speaker. The company is highly respected in the USA for building exceptionally good quality LED lights and, thankfully, JW Speaker has designed a suitable RHD LED upgrade replacement that meets the regulatory Australian Design Rules (ADR) requirements.
The light cannons arenít just for Defenders, Wranglers, Toyotas and Nissans, either; the JW Speaker 8700 Evolution J2s will give sparkling new eyes to any vehicle in existence that runs a seven-inch round headlight. The 8700 J2s got the nod as Wranglers are notorious for LED light conversions having a flickering problem, often requiring an additional harness with a dedicated control unit to alleviate this annoying problem. Not so with the 8700 J2s, as the R&D team took the time to build everything right into the light. Better yet, the unitís main wiring harness is mostly plug-and-play, meaning thereís no conversion harness to plug into the factory headlight harness. The other reason was its design construction. JW Speaker use a projector rather than a reflective lens, which allows a very smooth spread of light across the road, with a defined cut-off edge to avoid blinding oncoming drivers Ė a real plus if youíre running a lifted fourbie.
When choosing lights, donít be fooled into believing huge output figures are the best way to judge efficiency or performance. Sure, a higher number will mean an improvement in the light intensity, but itís how well the design optimises that output and translates it into usable distribution and spread that improves forward and peripheral driver visibility.
The 8700 J2s produce 750 effective lumens for low-beam and 1260 for high-beam. This is not to be confused with raw lumens, which is more than twice as much. While not explosive, this is where the 8700 Evolutionís lens design is at the forefront of the game. Excluding the cool-looking Daytime Running Light (DRL), the light assembly has a separate lens dedicated for low- and high-beam directional focus, as well as a set of D lenses on each side which provide exceptional peripheral lighting.
These things arenít cheap at a RRP of $550 each, but when you scrutinise the attention to detail, design and features you can see construction is first class and thereís a reassuring robustness. They are mounted into a solid heavy-duty diecast housing with cooling fins to keep temperatures in check, and thereís a clear, unobstructed polycarbonate lens designed to take the knocks from off-road driving.
Solid-state electronic internals mean little chance of a light shaking itself apart over corrugations, and the wiring harness is resin-sealed to the main body, giving them an IP67 rating, which means they are protected from dust and capable of withstanding a decent dunk in water.
These little sparklers also look great. The dark lens and black fascia gives the Wrangler hooded eyes, with intimidating futuristic holographic projector styling.
On our first drive, the JW 8700 Evolution J2s were nothing short of stupendous. The visibility on low-beam is astonishing, with brilliant peripheral lighting and clean, crisp illumination of the road. What was also impressive was the depth of illumination, while that clean cut-off point didnít allow stray light to bleed into the eyes of oncoming drivers.
Hit the high-beam and the dual-burn operation combines both the spread of the low-beam lens and the impressive punch of the dedicated high-beam lens, to reach deep and wide into the darkness ahead.
These lights are costly, but consider what can be spent on good quality driving lights and LED bars. What becomes the better investment: high-quality headlights offering superb illumination, or extreme-powered driving lights for occasional use (and which continue to suffer the mediocre performance of OEM headlights everywhere you drive)? For those on a budget, it should be a no-brainer. Plus, you can always add driving lights later.
If your 4x4 is still running old-styled halogens and you want to lift those antiquated, tired lights to the next level, thereís a whole new world out there youíve probably never seen before.