More than two dozen cars currently available to buy – including the popular Nissan Micra and Renault Megane – only offer drivers a limited view of the road around them, according to Which? testing.
The consumer champion uncovered 27 new and used cars that are available to buy that received only two stars out of five for visibility in its expert tests, including popular models from mainstream brands Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan, and even people carriers and SUVs that only offer a limited view of the road.
Thicker pillars between windows, particularly at the rear, have become increasingly common on modern cars, often to help them pass ever more stringent Euro NCAP safety crash tests. While robust bodywork is important to protect occupants in a crash, car manufacturers need to strike the right balance between this and being able to see out clearly.
The Nissan Micra (£13,647*), has very thick rear pillars. Black gloss paint disguises just how thick they are from the outside, but from inside the vehicle Which? researchers described being confronted by an almost visor-like rear view of the road.
For help manoeuvring, parking aids are available on the Nissan Micra, including a rear view camera and rear parking sensors – but only on higher-spec models. For an alternative small car with good visibility, Which? has found that the Volkswagen Polo GTI is a better option.
Meanwhile the styling of the Renault Megane (from £16,734*), gives it what researchers liken to a letterbox-like rear window. High rear seat headrests obscure the already-limited view still further.
Rear parking sensors come as standard on all but the entry-level Megane, and some also fit a rear-camera. This isn’t a substitute for better all-round visibility though and for the same size car Which? has found that the Ford Focus offers the driver a better view of the road.
Coupé-style rooflines that taper towards the rear of the car are becoming increasingly popular among crossovers and SUVs. The £40,000 plus Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupé has a sweeping roofline that leaves space for windows at a premium in the rear of the car, with the result being a compromised view.
The GLC Coupé includes a reversing camera and Active Park Assist (which identifies a suitable parking space) as standard. But parking aids should be an assist, not a lifeline, as they could fail and leave the driver relying on a limited view of the road. For a good all-round view of the road, the Audi Q5 could be a better alternative and comparable in price.
The Dacia Duster is the cheapest SUV available to buy new at just under £11,000. Reversing around a corner in the current Dacia Duster, which anybody taking their driving test before December 2017 may have been tested on, would be particularly tricky. The thick pillars towards the rear risk obscuring hazards behind the car.
Rear parking sensors and a colour rear-view camera are a benefit, though not a substitute for good direct visibility – but they only come as standard on higher-spec models.
Arguably, the need for good all-round visibility is greatest in the city, where there may be more cyclists and pedestrians. However, rear visibility from city-car Smart EQ Fortwo leaves much to be desired according to Which?’s tests.
Priced from £19,099* this all-electric drive is a good choice for short city trips, and the Smart EQ Fortwo’s tiny size and maneuverability make it ideal for navigating obstacles and narrow city streets. Fortunately, rear parking sensors come as standard even for the entry-level model.
All models that come through Which?’s lab have their visibility assessed scientifically, not subjectively. Every car here had its visibility measured using a camera that is placed at headheight in the driver’s seat and rotated 360-degrees. We then measure how much the driver’s all-round field of vision is impeded by obstacles such as window pillars and headrests.
Which?’s professional lab tests revealed that there are far more cars with good all-round visibility than bad – 243 new and used cars available to buy have been awarded four-out-of-five-star visibility for the driver. Whereas 413 get a mediocre three out of five stars and 27 get a poor two out of five stars.
Lisa Barber, Which? Magazine Editor, said:
“Many of these cars will come with driver-assisted technologies as optional extras, such as parking cameras. These are good to have but they should not be a substitute for giving the driver a good direct view of the road.
“Good visibility alone does not make a great car. A car needs to pass our independent tests with flying colours to be awarded a Which? Best Buy. We’ve found cars with four-star visibility that are so disappointing in other areas that we’ve given them Don’t Buy status.”
Note to editors:
*New car prices are based on what people pay, sourced from 500 different franchised dealers each month, sorted by region, to provide accurate real-world data. It covers all major manufacturers and is representative of on-sale models per manufacturer.
In addition to being driven every car assessed by Which? goes through our rigorous and independent lab tests, which include our objective method of assessing all-round visibility using a camera that rotates 360-degrees. This is done from the driver’s position to see how much their view is impeded by blocks to their vision like car pillars and seats. Obstructions to the driver’s rear view are usually the main problem area.
Driver-assist technologies like parking cameras are taken into account in our visibility tests, alongside factors such as how well obstacles can be seen in mirrors and the quality of headlights, but the visibility rating is influenced most by the 360 visibility measurement. A good parking aid is very useful, but it shouldn’t be a substitute for giving the driver a direct view of the road.
The 360-view image below taken at the lab of the Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupé shows how seriously obstructed the driver’s view is around the car. As you can see, there are large obstructions of the driver’s view across the rear of the car.Cars tested at the lab are right-hand drive versions, so images from the driver’s position are a mirror image of what a driver in the UK would see.