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CR: Visibility Quite Good In Small Cars, Appalling In Trucks

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2010 Camaro in rearview mirror

2010 Camaro in rearview mirror

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When you're out on a test-drive, it can be easy to get rather lost in the way the vehicle responds, the sound of the engine, the supple leather, or the trick features. But for your own safety and that of others, look around. Can you see well enough to be confident when backing up or changing lanes?

If you can't see what's around you when you're backing up, what if your kids or neighbor kids were playing in the driveway?

We've certainly wondered that when testing some new vehicles, especially high-shouldered crossovers, as well as some trucks, and that's what Consumer Reports has had in mind as they've been keeping tabs on visibility—and measuring it in a consistent way—since 2002, and last week the publication summed up its findings from a wide range of vehicles, in which it measured blind-zone distances for both a 5'-1" driver and 5'-8" driver.

Among the best: the 2007 Saturn Sky Redline, 2010 Mazda MX-5 PRHT, 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata, 2008 Smart Fortwo, and 2008 Volvo C30. Among new vehicles that are currently unchanged from the time of test, the best vehicles would include the 2011 Mazda MX-5, 2011 Volvo C30, 2011 Toyota Yaris, and 2011 MazdaSpeed3.

Big trucks give you blinders

Note that all of these are small-car models. Shorter drivers tend to believe that getting a larger, taller vehicle will help them afford a better view out, but that's the wrong line of thinking. Small cars, as CR points out, have the shortest blind zones typically, while large pickups have the longest ones. And of course the higher window ledge, generally the larger the blind zone. In the case of large pickups, blind zones can span 40 feet.

Rounding up the worst: the 2006 Jeep Commander, 2007 Chevrolet Avalanche LT, 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche, and 2008 HUMMER H2.

While vehicles can at times vary in visibility from year to year, due not only to trim and equipment changes but also due to changing head restraint designs, most of these observations span several model years.

To test blind zones, CR has the driver look over his or her shoulder, out the back window, and reverse until they can no longer see the top of a 28-inch-tall traffic cone. The difference was shocking: smaller cars and roadsters were under ten feet in many cases (just three feet for the Miata), while some trucks and SUVs were many times that. With the third-row seat in place, a 5'-1" driver couldn't see the cone until they were 69 feet away.

Shorter drivers beware

These issues can be even more pronounced for shorter drivers, with a cavernous, almost claustrophobic feeling on some vehicles that can block or partially block huge swaths of outward vision.

As The Car Connection reported last week, the federal government plans to phase in new rules for rearview cameras beginning in 2012, with a mandate for September 2014.

Rear-view cameras are still often only included with navigation systems, with large in-dash screens, and cost $1,500 or more. CR points out that Honda, with its 2011 Odyssey, forces shoppers to step up to a top-trim model, at a $6,000 premium, in order to get the rear-view camera. However in-mirror rear-view monitors are becoming increasingly common. Full-size pickups also have relatively low rates of camera installation, and the feature is often hidden within top option packages.

CR has one other important point: Even if you do get a camera system, don't keep your eyes on it too much; look around, use it as an additional tool, and don't expect it to solve all the issues of a vehicle with poor visibility.

The best solution is to buy one with good outward visibility in the first place.

[Consumer Reports]


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Comments (5)
  1. I'm frightened getting in my Dodge Caliber everyday. the rearward and side visibility is horrible. With more cars on the road, it would seem that visibility would be of paramount concern.

  2. I don't agree at all. I have a Jetta and a Dodge 3500 long wheel base truck and I find the visibility from the truck is far superior. Maybe Consumer Reports don't know how to use outside mirrors? The worst visibility is out of the high-belt line cars such as the Camaro. With the truck you are sitting above the majority of the traffic and can see the traffic situation much better. As usual, Consumer Reports are off on a tangent.

  3. I don't believe anything Consumer"COMMIE"Reports says or does with their testing regardless of product. They are bias and more than likely paid off especially by their "CASH COW", Toyota.

  4. I agree with above guy, that is what mirrors are for, and with the proper wide angle spots, the mirrors are far superior to turning ones head, which is never the proper thing to do in traffic. What idiots !!!

  5. As far as I'm concerned they're looking at the wrong things, and this being CR I'm sure they're doing it just to push Sec LaHood's backup-camera effort. But the real crime has been the loss of FORWARD visibility.
    Sit in the car, then have someone walk around from the left front door to the right front door and mark (a) how far in front of the vehicle the driver can see the ground, particularly at the front corners and (B) any area masked by pillars, mirrors, etc.
    The current trends toward high beltlines, Japanese product (e.g. Prius) pushing the A-pillars out to the front bumper (often with those crappy useless little A-pillar portholes) and Euro product with tall hoods for EU pedestrian-collision protection has ruined forward visibility.
    Even a smallish car like a Nissan Leaf feels ten feet wide when you haven't the slightest clue where the right front fender is.

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