By on June 4, 2013

pillaraaa

Today, I’m going to talk about SUVs. This will annoy some of you out there in readerland because I’ve talked about SUVs a lot lately. First, I posted a story about hybrid SUVs, which was largely ignored by the automotive community but caused me to chuckle several times as I wrote it. Then, I posted a story about the BMW X5, which was also largely ignored by the automotive community, with the exception of BMW X5 owners, who passionately defended their SUV’s honor in the face of lease jokes.

But listen up, because today’s topic is far more interesting than either of those. It’s about D-pillars.

A little background. The D-pillar is the fourth structural pillar on a modern automobile. You, being a car enthusiast, probably already know this. But when I put “d pillar” into Google, one of the suggested results was “d pillars of Islam.” So, just to be clear, this article is about cars. Or, more specifically, SUVs.

When I was a child, (this was approximately 15 years ago, or – if you ask my girlfriend – last month, when I spent $40 on a Cadillac beach towel) SUV D-pillars were tiny. And when I say tiny, I don’t mean “slightly smaller than they are now.” I mean: D-pillars were actually the size of one of those empty paper towel rolls elementary school art teachers always seem to be collecting.

These days, that isn’t the case, as modern D-pillars are absolutely enormous. I noticed this because I’m currently driving a Hyundai Santa Fe press car, which has gigantic D-pillars. It also plays a song when you turn it off, which is another major difference from old SUVs. Back in the 1980s, the only thing that happened when you turned off your SUV was that you were now able to hear your passenger.

To prove my point about D-pillars, I present to you this photo comparison:

pillar1a

On top is a 1980s Jeep. You’ll note the Jeep’s D-pillar is only about 13 pixels wide. Meanwhile, the bottom photo is of the all-new Hyundai Santa Fe. I took it this morning after I ambled out of bed, wrapped in my Cadillac beach towel. In this photo, the D-pillar is 367 pixels wide. Clearly, we have an epidemic.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Why the hell does this matter? or maybe: Hmm… that Jeep looks nice. I wonder what they’re going for on Craigslist. If you’re thinking that, we have something in common, because this article has been heavily delayed by Craigslist browsing with the search term “cherokee -grand.” But if you’re thinking the former thing, the answer is simple: visibility.

You see, some drivers – and I’m not going to name names, because I don’t want to point fingers, but it’s the baby boomers – believe a lane change cannot be properly executed without a) signaling, and b) removing your eyes from the road for as long as physically possible to look over both shoulders, and possibly behind the vehicle. These drivers spend about 20 minutes a day looking backwards. These drivers need small D-pillars.

Because of the immense safety concern presented by the enlarging D-pillars, I’m curious about precisely what is causing them to grow. I have two theories:

1. Style. It seems that automakers view the D-pillar as a growing source of stylistic expression. This may be because the rest of today’s crossovers look so similar that the D-pillar is the only opportunity for any distinction.

To prove this, I present two exhibits. One is the Lexus RX. The first-generation model, you see, had a D-pillar that was sized like the aforementioned paper towel roll. But the second-generation RX lost this feature in favor of an enormous D-pillar, possibly designed so that baby boomers would stop considering the RX, thereby lowering Lexus’s average buyer age.

pillar2a

Exhibit two is the Infiniti JX, which may also be living under the alias QX80, or possibly QX60 – no one’s really sure. The JX, which is largely bland, especially when you’re driving it, offers a kinked D-pillar, almost as if to say: Don’t forget about me!

pillar4

2. Safety. Yes, that’s right. I believe that the growing D-pillars – themselves a very dangerous element of automotive design that could only be rectified with some crazy course of action, like mirror adjustment – are an element of safety.

You see, back when that Jeep was new, nobody was doing roof strength tests. These days, however, both the NHTSA and IIHS carries them out. In fact, doing well on roof strength tests is basically essential to receiving top marks from those agencies. The result is that everyone is beefing up their pillars to pass the tests, thereby earning great safety ratings.

Sadly, no one carries out visibility tests, which leaves our over-the-shoulder lane changers with a serious problem. Fortunately, I have a solution: a used Cherokee. Because in Craigslist photos, the D-pillars are even fewer pixels wide.

@DougDeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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139 Comments on “The Growing D-Pillar Epidemic...”


  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    I really like the standard 2-box SUV body style, which is getting to be less and less in the market.

    Yesterday I went to the Jeep dealer to buy my third window regulator….. Anyways, I browsed the lot while there and checked at GC’s. I’m really not digging them much. My two biggest complaints is a windshield that is too steeply raked, thus a dash/interior that looks too much like a car and not a proper SUV. Then there is the back/D-pillar.

    I love my Liberty CRD. But future replacements are looking slimmer every year. I like having the SUV for long trips and pulling our camper, and I’m really thinking about a old Grand Wagoneer as a replacement one day; the only thing that might stop me is fuel economy.

    • 0 avatar
      AJ

      I have a KJ in my garage… not a CRD… but still it’s really nice and has been a problem free SUV. It drives great, and it’s awesome in four-wheel drive. I have to say I do wish I had waited to buy the CRD. Too bad Jeep has been unable to have a similar priced and sized SUV with a diesel.

    • 0 avatar
      millmech

      +1 I don’t like the horizontal windshields. They look WRONG + I guess you have to have the “rat on a stick” to clean them.

  • avatar
    ash78

    Thoroughly entertaining and accurate, Doug. And don’t forget about the unnecessarily raked D-pillar (your Lexus RX serves this example well) that says “Hey, I’m sporty and don’t mind that I’ve made you lose a few cubic feet of storage for no reason than to imply a fastback design in an otherwise utilitarian platform, the truth of which won’t quite be obvious until the first time you shut the liftgate on you new Pottery Barn accent chair, whose price just went from $1,199 to $1,999 due to the replacement cost of the factory-tinted, defroster-equipped, antenna-laden rear glass in your car.”

    Just saying.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      It really isn’t a fastback. It’s a trick to the eye. But if you look at the RX directly from the side, you can see the true nature of things. While the D-pillar is more heavily-sloped than the C-pillar, the wrap-around rear windscreen ends things by following the same (less-steep) slope of the D-pillar. But because of the roundedness of it all, I’m sure you do lose a bit of interior space compared to something with a more-conventional shape. And yes, it probably costs more too…

  • avatar
    love2drive

    I always assumed the later versions did better in the wind tunnels.
    That and metal is lighter than glass, to reduce overall weight. Could be totally off base though.

    More importanly, why no picture of the Cadillac beach towel (preferably not wrapped around you – just the towel…)

  • avatar

    I’ve talked to some people in the business here who point their fingers squarely at VW (Golf) for this trend. I know I’m talking passenger cars, but they say the thick C pillar in the Golf gave consumers the impression of sturdiness and was a major cause for its success. In Brazil, and elsewhere, Fiat cars have been getting thick pillars so as to ‘copy’ this VW design element. Fiat studies show consumers equate thin pillars with flimsiness.

    This is not the case. Don’t know about the 80s, but nowadays all you’d have to do is use special steels and you could make pillars as thick as a toothpick. Don’t really know about costs either, but from what I understand this has more to do with design choices than technical issues.

    • 0 avatar

      Very interesting and I could totally see it. The Golf IV really had an enormous D-pillar and yes, it really did make the car seem sturdy.

      • 0 avatar
        Defender90

        I agree – MkIV was where I first noticed it, at least. But I didn’t think it made it seem sturdy, I thought “That makes it look ugly and vaguely van like”.
        I now drive a MkIV (I’m repairing the Defender OK?) – now think it’s quite nice looking, but would be prettier with a smaller “D”* pillar.

        *Actully I think that should be “C” pillar as it’s a hatchback we’re talking about here.

    • 0 avatar
      ash78

      I tend to agree with you, but in the context of the US, most people have no idea what a Golf is. The Jetta outsells it by an order of magnitude.

      VW does tend to dictate a lot of design by their sheer size and commonness in Europe and much of the world. Beyond design, even Honda (in the US) used the Passat to benchmark the 2000-era Accord because they couldn’t figure out why they kept narrowly losing the comparison tests.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Oh BS! I bet if you showed the average person in the US 10 cars without badges, and said “pick the VW Golf” that 80% of them could do it.

        • 0 avatar
          ash78

          Corey, maybe if you live in DC, but remember that VW is still under 5% of the national market. Under 2% in most of the US.

          People could pick the VW by its common design elements, but I highly doubt most could blindly describe it as a hatchback.

          (we’ve had 4 Golfs in the family over the past 20 years. I have two Passats now, or as the average person knows it, The Jetta.)

      • 0 avatar

        That is a fascinating tidbit about Honda and the Passat. I’ve been a VW owner most of the past 25 years and have long noted that Japanese car companies frequently compare their products (in TV and radio commecials) to the products of other Japanese automakers or those of US brands. Never have I witnessed them compare their products to the VW in the same segment. In a more recent context, I have yet to notice Japanese carmakers comparing their products to Korean ones. I have surmised that the Japan-VW comparison did not favor the Japanese and that the Japan-Korea comparison is avoided for cultural reasons.
        YMMV.

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          They didn’t include VW in comparisons because their consumers didn’t include VWs in comparisons, so why suggest it? Why create a competitor where none exists? Using a yardstick known for abysmal quality would have made them look weak. As for not including Hyundai, this almost certainly comes back to not wanting to elevate Hyundai to the level of competition. It may well be considered a competitor in the eyes of semi-informed buyers, but there’s nothing in it for Honda or Toyota to acknowledge lower priced alternatives.

        • 0 avatar
          ash78

          Watch Carefully — it’s by design. The Japanese are milking the “European cars are expensive and unreliable” thing for all it’s worth, and I can’t blame them. Never mind that almost all modern cars are pretty equally reliable when compared with the yardstick of 15 or 20 years ago.

          VW still has amazing initial quality. Emphasis on initial. The Japanese rule the US because they were the first to figure out (and perfect) the notion of the ultra-low-maintenance car. This notion isn’t as important to Europeans, who often point to VW as their pinnacle of reliability. Very ironic.

          /also a longtime VW guy with a love/hate thing

          • 0 avatar
            CelticPete

            Yes this is pretty much the entire Japanese angle nowadays (outside of Mazda) – buy our cars because they never break down and last forever.

            I guess its a good angle – but most cars seem decent enough to me nowadays. According to TrueDelta there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of diference between most makes and models. I think its the advent of computer design..and modern electronics. It’s really boosted overall relability.

    • 0 avatar
      jz78817

      “This is not the case. Don’t know about the 80s, but nowadays all you’d have to do is use special steels and you could make pillars as thick as a toothpick.”

      this is quite an exaggeration. Modern high-strength steels aren’t *that* much stronger.

      • 0 avatar

        Guilty as charged. Probably! I’m not an engineer and have no idea, but from what I’ve been told and could gather from my conversations on the issue, even to keep up with current safety standards, the use of special steels would allow for pillars not much thicker than those on 80s’ cars.

        • 0 avatar
          jz78817

          see, the thing is, it isn’t simply the sheetmetal structure that drives pillar thickness. A-pillars are so bulky in part because they now have to accommodate the forward tethers (and sometimes even the inflators) for the side curtain air bags. Which also requires that there be retention mechanisms inside there so the airbags don’t blast the A-pillar trim into your face. As for thick C- and D-pillars, at least in SUVs and minivans the ducting for the rear HVAC runs through at least one of them. Ditto the drain(s) for the moonroof. And possibly/probably also airbag tethers and inflators.

          in short, there’s a lot of shit packaged in and near the pillars. I don’t think there’s a grade of steel in existence to offset that.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      In general, there’s more metal surrounding the windows than in previous ages…and that includes the D-pillar. Conversely, the trend of leaving metal to frame the doors is also just about gone, in favor of allowing the door-shot lines to merge with the black plastic around the windows. The only holdouts on that last trend seem to be from Chrysler Group, like the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I shall nominate the following for the last SUV with a slim D-pillar:

    2012 Nissan Pathfinder

    • 0 avatar

      As I was writing this I noticed there are still a few cars that have them reasonably sized. Current Tahoe. Most Land Rovers. Basically anything that hasn’t adopted the “windswept” look and is instead still clinging to boxy.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      No…not so fast.
      The Subaru Forester has one of the last slim Ds as well and still seems to get the high crash ratings.
      This great veiw from this car is one of the reasons I will consider the turbo this fall.

  • avatar
    BlanketSlayer

    You truly have a gift for writing Doug.

    And I could not agree more with the blind spots. The Explorer is a major offender of this.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the nice words!! I recently had an Explorer press car and it was nowhere near as bad as I thought. Ford also has that incredibly useful “Rear Cross Traffic Alert” system which further mitigates it. I actually think I skipped the single worst car, which is the new Kia Sportage. I love how the Sportage looks, but the D-pillar is so thick they didn’t even fit a rear window!

      • 0 avatar
        Skink

        Don’t know how you’d have occasion to find the Explorer’s rear cross-traffic alerts to be anything but redundant and bothersome, what with your perfectly adjusted rear view mirrors.

        Why bother lamenting poor rear quarter visibility by means of looking through C to D glass if so looking is so lame? I hate the huge D pillars because they’re too much about form over function.

        One of the reasons my wife and I bought a 2014 Subaru Forester was the best in class visibility out its C to D glass. Seriously. All around with that car, the visibility is tops. Low beltline, at the A to B front window corners, heck, even through the moonroof big enough for a pope, even if he thought it too ostentatious. Yeah, we use our mirrors, too. It doesn’t take that long to whip a glance over one’s shoulder.

        By the way, as for the Golf, aren’t you referring to its C pillar?

        Notice while the first Lexus mom ute’s D pillar was thin, its C pillar was thick.

        We’ve been discussing thickness of pillars only in their north to south dimensions on north- or southbound vehicles. Also worth discussing is the east to west thickness on the same north and southbound cars, in that a thick pillar intrudes more on that crucial rear quarter view. We eliminated the Equinox from consideration in part because those thick C and D pillars (both ways) made the rear quarter view virtually nonexistent.

        Unmentioned yet in this conversation as I write is the fraud of daylight openings.

        • 0 avatar
          Skink

          “Notice while the first Lexus mom ute’s C pillar was thin, its C pillar was thick.”

          Meant to type D pillar thin, C pillar thick.

        • 0 avatar
          niky

          It’d be easier if the Explorer’s side mirror coverage didn’t suck. But it does. Cognizant of the fact, Ford offers blind-spot mirrors for the Explorer… which merely cover up useful mirror space and are too small to see anything in.

          Wide arse car. Narrow arse mirrors.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            I have more issues with the Explorer than that. It is overpriced, and it also has subpar reliability ratings despite being made up of corporate Ford parts that perform relatively-well in other vehicles.

          • 0 avatar
            niky

            MyFordTouch isn’t reliable… anywhere… but yeah, Ford seems to have an unusual number of problems with the Explorer.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        exactly…a fine car except for that rediculous lack of veiw.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Baby-Boomers? I’m proud to say “guilty as charged”!

    Yes, I look over my shoulder a lot, mainly because I’m legally blind in my left eye. I need those small convex mirrors in addition to having to look because I don’t want to be a danger to anyone else.

    I change lanes as seldom as possible, and on my commute, stay in the curb lane.

    So far, I’ve done quite well. Having cars that afford an acceptable view out of certainly helps, too. In other words, you won’t find me driving a Camaro anytime soon!

    • 0 avatar

      Ah, but what the Camaro lacks in driver visibility it makes up in manhole-cover-like trunk accessibility. It look to me as though it would be awkward just to load a case of beer into that car…cans…empty ones!

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    You can barely even call that a D-pillar on the Santa Fe. Its like a C-D combo pillar. Why did they even bother with a window?

  • avatar
    olddavid

    I cannot decide whether your tongue is firmly planted in your cheek, or your foot firmly planted in your mouth. The D pillar argument, on its own, however, is relevant. Being a member of said demographic, we actually had a program you of the so-called “X” variant were only vaguely exposed to – driver’s education. It was a program our parents demanded of government, and it was incorporated into the curriculum and occurred during the school day. They wanted rote learning, so repeated over and over for us to physically look over our shoulders when changing lanes. Ergo, many still retain this autonomic response. Who could anticipate the advances in collision and lane wandering warning systems? The fact we didn’t have the sense or spine to demand the same education for our children is an argument for a different forum, but no one would challenge the benefit of a better educated and experienced drivers pool. I suppose some will ask that design be mandated for safer visibility in the EPA and DOT model. I, however, would argue that market forces are usually more efficient for lasting change.This puts me in conflict with my progressive brothers, but sagging sales is the only way to get the top floors attention. So, if you don’t like the trend of high beltlines and thick pillars, bitch loud and long when purchasing your next new vehicle, or, better yet, don’t buy them as currently built. Style is a fleeting thing, probably the easiest change in the building process. If there is a market for Pacer-like greenhouse visibility, some smart car guy will figure out how to get it built and sold. We just have to let them know we want the damn things. No more slit windows or clown cars.

    • 0 avatar
      zaxxon25

      Is there a third choice of an oblong piece of anatomy planted within a bodily crevice?

    • 0 avatar

      All very true. Do you not think that you can see your blindspots with proper mirror adjustment? Just a question – I’ve always found that adjusting the mirrors correctly accounts for 99% of blindspot issues – and I’d rather leave the 1 percent to chance than turn around on the freeway and look over my shoulder. Seems like that’s an even bigger potential cause for an accident.

      By the way: always tongue-in-cheek. Unless someone complains, in which case: foot-in-mouth.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Actually, it’s a bit more than a 1% blind spot left over, maybe as much as 5%. A lot can happen in that 5%! Also, there’s another reason we superannuated like to turn our heads when moving right: using our signals for a lane change seems to induce certain young people to rush up alongside us and cut us off. Turning our heads seems to get them to back off, plus we can see the driver clearly and provide a good description to the police when we report them for reckless driving (passing on the right when someone is moving out of your way is dumb).

      • 0 avatar
        Skink

        I think I believe in both glancing at my blind spots by briefly turning my head (not ‘turning around’ as if to throw my arm over the seatback to back up) and also looking in the mirrors. Even though I check the mirrors before every trip, I trust the Mark I eyeball most. Belt and suspenders? Maybe.

        Are there any studies that have researched the accidents caused by drivers turning to look at blindspots?

        While this is a worthwhile issue and merits discussion, I’m more worried about others being distracted by texting, phoning, GUI’ing, i-Driving, and navving.

        • 0 avatar

          Well, yes. I suppose the occasional over-the-shoulder look is better than the iPhone glance/text/web surf.

          • 0 avatar
            Skink

            One more thing that occurred to me and then I’m done.

            I have noticed on many merging and lane change occasions that drivers are leaning way over and peering closely into their left mirror to detect other traffic in their blind spot. All they’re focusing on is that outside mirror just a foot from their nose, to the exclusion of whatever else is going on. If only they could turn their head and get a quick, wide-angle view, they’d be able to immediately asses the situation and return their attention to what else is going on around them.

      • 0 avatar
        Toad

        How do you think drivers of commercial trucks and buses drive without being able to see out the back windows AT ALL?

        Convex mirrors.

        $2 each at WalMart (buy the larger size), stick them on the outside edge of your side view mirrors and your blind spot will be completely eliminated. Everybody I suggest this to who tries it can’t believe they never had them. Easy to use, especially for older drivers who have a harder time turning their head to see what is in their blind spot. Makes lane changes quick and easy.

        Try them; you will love them.

        • 0 avatar
          CelticPete

          I am always tempted to get some of those. That being said if you adjust your mirrors car and driver style (wide angle) it seems to cover the blind spot. I will admit when I rented a Challenger (holy blindspots!) I just drove quickly when I wanted to pass people..haha.

          How can the D pillar be that important – in lots of cars that’s just a trunk, no?

          • 0 avatar
            brettc

            I bought a set of aspherical mirrors for my Sportwagen because the stock mirrors sucked so badly. The B pillar even on that car is too large (probably because there are 10 airbags in there) so I was having problems seeing what was beside me without doing a long shoulder check. And long shoulder checks aren’t safe. So I spent $98 on a set of European aspherical mirrors and the problem has been solved! Probably the best $98 I’ve ever spent. Now I can glance over and see if anything is there, and I know it’s 100% accurate as long as they’re adjusted correctly. If aspherical mirrors aren’t available, the small convex mirrors are better than nothing.

          • 0 avatar
            redav

            Personally, I love the integrated convex mirrors that Ford has used the last few years. I think every car should have them.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        I don’t know. I like the more-expressive D-pillars on today’s cars, with the exception of the unsightly Infiniti JX D-pillar. I’ve driven a Murano for quite some time (which has an awkward “inverted” D-pillar) and I’ve never had any issue seeing what’s going on around me. And it doesn’t have blind-spot monitoring, either. But I’m just used to it. I guess I’d be overwhelmed with visibility if I drove, say, a first-generation Jeep Cherokee…

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Careful, there, olddavid! Pretty soon you’ll start telling dem kids about the hand signals we had to learn: arm fully extended to signal a left turn, arm cocked at a 90 degree up angle for a right turn, arm cocked at a 90 degree down angle for stop.

      I agree with everything you say, and we bought one of those boxy Jeep Cherokees when they were introduced in 1984. My wife and I both believe that “utility” means “box.” Sadly, we’re very much in the minority. Other than the never-changing Tahoe and Suburban, the only “box” CUV on the market today is the Ford Flex . . . and it’s a poor seller.

      • 0 avatar

        Land Rover LR4! Range Rover! Mercedes GL! And G-Wagen, for that matter! It seems the wealthy also still like the box thing… it is, however, definitely not the norm.

        By the way: in Georgia, those hand signals are still a perfectly legal alternative for your turn signals. No joke!

        • 0 avatar
          DC Bruce

          Enjoyed the piece, Doug! You’re right about the LR4 and the Range Rover (almost a box) and the G-Wagen (a “box in your face!” box). The GL? A sorta box.

          My daily driver is a Z3 roadster. With the top up, there’s a blind spot to die for! Fortunately, the car is small and you’re sitting just in front of the back wheels . . . so there’s not much to worry about.

          • 0 avatar

            Love the Z3. What engine and color? Stick shift I hope? I actually thought that was one of the better Bond cars, even though I would probably never openly announce that to a large group of car enthusiasts, or Bond enthusiasts, or anyone really :)

        • 0 avatar
          Skink

          Trooper! Which is our other vehicle.

          Gelandewagen has a tiny rear window.

      • 0 avatar
        froomg

        If you like tan, I found a virtually NOS 1988 Jeep Cherokee … with a 5-speed and I-6!
        http://www.garrenautosales.com/showroom.php?vid=248&count=0

        • 0 avatar
          olddavid

          Damn, I am so impressed by the lively discussions we have here. No one calling into question my heritage or Mother’s status when disagreeing with anyone else. This civility thing may not be completely out of favor, after all. I do have to be cognizant of my tendencies to want my lawn perfect, but when going overboard I really do appreciate constructive criticism. I’ve been with the same woman for 28 years, so I have some experience with admitting fault. I must agree that anytime you look away from the road it is a calculated risk. I also have found the convex mirrors a valuable tool because they give you your first indication of possible danger. Many viable opinions with varying points of view. I find that anyone adventurous enough to pay his own money to operate an AMG wagon has an opinion I am interested in hearing. That Porsche thing is impressive, too. Keep stirring the pot, Doug.

          • 0 avatar

            Thanks for the kind words but more importantly I agree with your sentiment. The discussions here are (almost) always above-board and they ALWAYS contain interesting, useful information. Whenever I post an article I’m always excited to see where the comments will go…

      • 0 avatar
        olddavid

        Why doesn’t the Flex sell in larger numbers? I haven’t driven one, but the one owner I actually do know has used his to maintain his rentals. I’ve seen it loaded with equipment and/or people, and it seems to handle either with aplomb while looking very cool in the process. Is it just a styling thing? I cannot imagine power being an issue with the Ecoboost options available. My 20 year old son just shakes his head at some of my “pronouncements”, so perhaps it’s just a generational thing? The lines and equipment and materials are right in my sweet spot and I always take the time to go inspect it when he is working on his property adjacent to ours, and it has held up very well in two years. Any owners out there in the B&B cohort with an opinion?

        • 0 avatar
          Ubermensch

          The Flex doesn’t sell because of styling. Women HATE the thing because it looks like a boxy station wagon/hearse. I’m a dude and I love it. I just wish it was a half size smaller maybe having a two row version.

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        People use the old hand signals all the time when I’m on my road bicycle. They are always signalling for a right turn but don’t actually make the turn. Odd.

  • avatar
    Turkina

    Subaru Forester. Always has had a slim D-pillar and great visibility. Not to mention rescue crews had to learn how to crack one open with the Jaws of Life because of the high strength steel used in the design. You just need to build it right to survive rollovers, you don’t need thick pillars.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “Because of the immense safety concern presented by the enlarging D-pillars, I’m curious about precisely what is causing them to grow.”

    Rollover crush standards for light trucks. Nobody cared about them until Ford Explorers started capoiera’ing off the highways of America. It can be done with relatively thing pillars, but it’s quicker and cheaper to just throw more metal in the corners.

  • avatar
    lowsodium

    Forget just SUV’s. Cars have greatly increased too. Huge difference from my 87 bmw to my 08 135i. Visibility is pretty good in the 135i compared to modern cars, but the 87 has 100% visibility in all directions. You dont even need to turn your head more than 1/4 of the way to check a blind spot. Its so great to drive, my wife especially likes the visibility since shes short.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes. This entire article came about because of a conversation I had with a friend about how absurdly good the visibility is on the E30. However, there is a Top Gear (Ser 18, Ep 5) where they drop an E30 on its roof and the results are grim.

      • 0 avatar
        Skink

        With all groveling due respect to the rigorous scientists at Top Gear, is dropping a car on its roof an apt AND UNIVERSAL test the impeccable scientists at Top Gear undertake with ALL the vehicles they test?

    • 0 avatar

      I drove a rental 1-series convertible (new body style that is not yet in North America, I think) and of course the weather was terrible so I had to drive with top up. Convertibles are pretty bad in terms of visibility unless open but this was in a class by itself for blindness. When not looking around it just felt like sitting in a black pit. We have a 2009 328 and my wife raves constantly about the excellent visibility.

  • avatar
    panayoti

    Agree with Turkina about the Forester. No blinds spots, nada, zero, nil. And Forester was among the very first to pass the roof crush test. Now if they could ever get over their production planning issues, maybe more Americans would buy them.

  • avatar
    chuckrs

    If massive D pillars are a safety element, then wouldn’t equally massive A pillars at the other end of the vehicle – where the people are – be even more important? Please, don’t give the designers any ideas. I struggle with the A pillars in my cars already and wind up turning square corners to avoid curb rash or worse, mounting the curb.
    Mirror adjustment can compensate for the fat D pillars, but getting drivers to do that would need to start in that now almost extinct school subject, hands-on drivers ed.

    • 0 avatar

      Personally, I’ve noticed A-pillars getting bigger too. Not like D-pillars, but big enough to the point where they can hide entire pedestrians from my field of view.

      • 0 avatar

        Bicycles, motorbikes too. Because of the shape, the Fiat Idea minivan is particularly bad at this.

      • 0 avatar

        The new A-pillars hide cars just as well. Try it on an intersection, you’ll see. Hyundai Elantra is probably the worst offender of those that I drove recently, but frankly all modern cars are quite bad.

      • 0 avatar
        sckid213

        Agree on the A-pillars thing. I have a current gen Caddy CTS and the thick A-pillar, combined with big sideview mirror, make it tough to see pedestrians…or even other cars sometimes, as Pete mentions below. I often find myself craning my neck so I can see around the pillar to see if the car to my left has its blinker on, for example.

        The CTS also has ridiculously thick C-pillars. Backing out of a diagonal spot can be described as “say a prayer and inch out slowly.” I really wish I had a rear-view camera, but it wasn’t offered on my model year (they’re now standard). Would have saved me a recent parking lot fender bender.

        Oh well, I still like the car a lot. I always saw comments about visibility and kind of dismissed them, but I get it with this car. Can only imagine what the Camaro is like to drive.

  • avatar
    red60r

    Have a look at the tornado-chaser Yukon from Weather Channel, post-Moore, Oklahoma version. Roof crush strength is sure to become more of an issue. 3 chasers died in another twister a few days later, apparently in another SUV. Unusual circumstances to be sure, but 6,000-lb trucks do sometimes become inverted, even without that kind of stress. The first incident also points out shortcomings of airbags during a prolonged tumble — the bags aren’t meant to stay puffed up for that long. D-pillars that are as strong as they are made to look would be a start.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckrs

      The solution to that specific problem is installing a stout roll cage, not designing a vehicle for everyone that is tornado resistant when almost no-one needs that feature. The NASCAR folks could help and might also suggest helmets and real racing seat belts too.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      That’s over the top to say a vehicle needs to be designed a certain way because of a unlikely scenario, it’s like saying vehicles need to be air tight and withstand falling off a bridge into a major waterway and be able to withstand not taking in water, while yea it’s possible, it’s also not cost effective among other things.

  • avatar
    Toshi

    Honda used to care about such issues. Here’s a visibility diagram for a 1991-era Honda Prelude:

    http://i56.tinypic.com/11b16o6.gif

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Everyone changes lanes when possible these days, makes me feel like I’m playing a video game or something.

    The thing with “D” pillars is the same issue we have with cars, designersstylists are stealing dated cues from 70′s AMC’s (the Gremlin to be specific) and pasting them on without practical considerations, like the idiotically undersized greenhouses in modern machines.

    I don’t believe that safetys a big reason for it, I see somewhat niche newer cars on the US market that have nicely sized pillars, they were one of the things the Coda got right.

  • avatar
    amca

    And all those D-pillars are even bigger than they look, because they always make the glass way bigger than the actual hole in the body.

    Slim pillars, by the way, are one of the reasons I hold on to my 14 year old Porsche: I can actually see out the back.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    If the tailgate isn’t vertical (or dang near) you can just call them SVs, because the utility is gone – they’re just big hatchbacks.

    I drove Volvo 245 wagons forever – talk about visibility! When those no longer became viable, I switched to a 1st gen Scion xB, another car with great utility and visibility.

    Such a shame that the current xB has that GIANT D-pillar!

  • avatar
    JK43123

    A good example of how one kind of safety can impact another kind of safety.

    John

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Silly Doug! Who on earth would want to, you know, SEE OUT OF THEIR BIG, TALL WAGON when they can have the safety and security of a huge blind spot? Whatever’s out there will either be picked up by the various electronic alert doodads, and even if you do have a crash, there’s airbags for every part of your anatomy…and I mean EVERY part. :D

  • avatar
    crtfour

    You mentioned style as a possible factor behind the large D-pillar. But does anyone else think this trend is ugly….especially with the upwardly rising window lines? I think the worst offender is the Murano. I don’t like when one of those overtakes me on the road becasue it means having to look at the back of it.

    • 0 avatar
      Jacob

      I find those things truly ugly. This is the main turn off for me when looking at vehicles like CRV or RAV4. I suspect it’s another modern style fad. For some reason, in North America and many other parts of world, there is a new trend to emphasize style over substance. Another really annoying trend is how rooflines on wagons, coupes, and hatches are getting lower and lower. Soon you will have to be at most 5ft tall to sit on the rear seats. Oh, and those tiny rear windows…

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I think the steeply sloped beltline with the thick D pillar is ugly. I do not find the slope-y hatch ugly at all, and in fact prefer its looks (and aerodynamics) to the vertical window. (I do hate the looks of the Nissan SUVs–they are hideous. I also hate the diamond shaped gunslit rear window of Chevy SUVs.) I do not find a loss of utility because I so rarely stack so much stuff in the back of such vehicles that it becomes an issue.

  • avatar

    Oddly enough, Jeep Wrangler’s last pillar (C or D depending on number of doors) became smaller for MY2012, when Chrysler changed the hardtop supplier. Of course on Wrangler it’s not structural and the roll cage is supposed to protect the occupants. The said pillar is made of fiberglass. Still, here’s a way to buck the trend.

    • 0 avatar
      hf_auto

      Convertibles are exempt from the FMVSS 216 roof crush test, so the Wrangler might fall into that exception. It would only have to pass FMVSS 208 (crash survivability with instrumented dummies).

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    you next posting…The Matter Of The Shrinking Rear Window!!!!You THINK the car has a large rear window…then you get inside and it was all trickery and instead the glass is small!!!

  • avatar
    hf_auto

    Not only have roof crush requirements become more strict, increasing vehicle weight makes the test even harder on the pillars (FMVSS 216 is based on unloaded vehicle weight).
    I do a lot of visibility analysis in my job, and I find A-pillars to be the biggest issue. The thickness + rake of the windshields are the issue. My Volt is so bad I almost hit an F350 stopped in the middle of the road because he was hidden behind my right A-pillar when I rounded the corner. Pedestrians don’t stand a chance, I can miss them even with a forward/back lean. I’ve actually started (slowly) running some stop signs because it’s SAFER than stopping an potentially having someone enter the (huge) blind spot.

  • avatar
    Macca

    Always get a good laugh out of your articles – you have a real gift for combining effortless humor with cars, what’s not to like?

    I’ve noticed a technique that you seem to employ often (is it a literary device? I’m just a simple caveman) where you drop in some seemingly mundane detail or aside, only to bring it back later, with hilarious results. Here, it’s the Cadillac towel. In the X5 article, it was the potato-chip shifter.

    Keep up the good work.

  • avatar
    Jellodyne

    Visibility is decreasing every year — between the growing D pillar, the shrinking rear window and the rising beltline, it’s a race between developing self-driving cars and the point where we can’t see anything at all.

  • avatar
    slance66

    It’s pretty simple. Station wagons had small D pillars. Early SUVS like the Bronco and Blazer had large B pillars to look more like pickups, with seats in the bed, which is what they were. As the “SUV” evolved, there was really only ever one critical factor for an SUV, it must not in any way shape or form be considered a station wagon. In function it must be exactly like a station wagon, possibly with 4WD capability and increased ground clearance. As crossovers and SUVs have changed, and many are now sold in FWD mode (witness the recent MDX change) and they get closer and closer to the ground, the key element remains: these are not station wagons! So in order to show that they are not station wagons, large C pillars are required, thus signifying their “non-wagonness”. Heaven forbid that anyone confuse a FWD Highlander with a station wagon, its sales would plummet.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    The fat A pillars can be a challenge. They take the most pressure in a role over and do need to be strong. Citroen acknowledged this some time ago with their Picasso van. They split the A pillar in two with a triangle window in the middle.
    D pillars have absolutely no need to be bigger than the A pillars so it’s just about the style.
    One thing that does amaze me is how often other drivers will drive in the region of someones blind spot. I call it playing wing man or formation flying…

  • avatar
    grzydj

    Excellent article. I’d like to point out that Subaru gets a lot of attention for their lack of styling, but at least you can see out of them, forwards, and out the back.

  • avatar
    TW4

    Counterpoint: Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

    Wrangler Unlimited is a unique case since the structural D-pillar and the aesthetic D-pillar are actually unrelated pieces. The former is quite unobtrusive–a 3″ piece of steel tubing with 1.5″ of plastic and foam padding–while the latter is nearly as bad as the steel D-pillars you’ve referenced.

    Well, I suppose Wrangler is not really counterpoint, just a bit of evidence to suggest that the entirety of the D-pillar crisis is related to a stylistic market forces, namely the irrational obsession by American consumers to eliminate all sport and all utility from the SUV concept and replace them with disutility, poverty, and human suffering. Wrangler demonstrates that D-pillars need not be large, cumbersome, or blinding, but what would the neighbors think if you had exposed functional structures within the vehicle? Really, what would they think?!! You could lose your job and the Jones’ might think you’re unsuccessful and uncool if you had thinly disguised frame work in your vehicle!!

    When your job is to satisfy consumers who want their vehicles to have the sleek packaging and stylistic cues of their iPhones or their German coffee makers, functions like visibility fall by the wayside. SUVs become SINOs–SUVs In Name Only.

    • 0 avatar

      Hah! hf_auto mentioned above convertibles are exempt from the federal motor vehicle standards on roof crush safety, and we think the Wrangler might be included in that. So actually there’s a chance the Wrangler’s ‘functional’ pillars are the least safe of all!

      • 0 avatar
        hf_auto

        Just to clarify, convertibles are only exempt from one of two rollover tests.

        Convertibles are exempt from FMVSS 208 (it’s optional). The purpose of this test is to ensure that a solid roof leaves enough survivable space after a roll-over. You first smash the A-pillars to buckle them (simulating hitting a guard rail or tree), then load the roof with some multiple of the weight of the vehicle. After the test, you measure the space above each seat to make sure there’s still space for a person. With a soft top, that’s definitely not an issue. I’m an engineer, not a lawyer, so hard-tops occupy a bit of a grey area that I’ve never personally encountered. Personally, I would run the test on something like a hard top Merc SL but the Wrangler is sort of a… turgid top?

        Convertibles are still required to pass FMVSS 216- that’s the real (IMO) survivability test. This is the test people think of as a “crash test”. Instrumented dummies are put into vehicles that are crashed, one of the events is a roll-over. The convertible must conform to the same “injury criteria” as any other vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        TW4

        The exemption is certainly an interesting tidbit, and it weakens my argument to empirical evidence and experiential evidence. However, to imply that lack of testing is possibly equivalent to lack of safety in the case of Wrangler is a bit of a stretch. The vehicle is known for its ability to survive horrendous off-road crashes, and plenty of footage is available to suggest the reputation is warranted.

  • avatar
    azmtbkr81

    Soccer mom CUV/SUVs really have nothing in common with vehicles like the XJ aside from the SUV name.

    CUVs prioritize sleek, curvy looks and convenient purse storage nooks over functional concerns.

    The lack of visibility in modern “SUVs” is certainly an annoyance but the things I really miss are ground clearance, transfer cases, skid plates, 15″ rims, and A/T tires!

    I really hope that the auto industry takes cues from the success of the Wrangler and starts to offer capable SUVs again in the near future. My ’96 Bronco has been a great truck but is starting to show its age.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      I had no idea that the Bronco survived until ’96. I always felt like they disappeared in the early, early 90s. My parents had a Bronco II when I was a kid and traded it for an Explorer when they had their 3rd kid. Now that I have a kid of my own, they must have been off their rockers owning a 2 door SUV with two kids.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      The SUV you want still exists today, btw. There just aren’t nearly as many as their used to be. The 4Runner and FJ Cruiser still offer nearly 10″ of ground clearance, body on frame constructino, transfer cases (manually engaged, even!), short wheelbases, and 16″/17″ wheels. Most ship with highway tires, unfortunately, but that is an easy fix. You can even retrofit manually locking front hubs if you don’t trust the solenoid actuated hub locks. Nissan’s Xterra is of the same vein.

      I’ve had my 4Runner for 3 years and it takes an absolute beating without complaint. I plan on many many more years of great outdoors adventures in it.

      • 0 avatar
        azmtbkr81

        I do like the 4Runner, I’ve never been much of a Toyota guy but that may have to change since Ford doesn’t offer an off-road capable SUV and has no plans to do so in the near future.

        I actually bought a new 2007 Xterra and had a terrible ownership experience. It was constantly in the shop for major repairs and was nearly as thirsty as my previous ’91 Bronco with a 351 v8. I sold it a few months before the warranty was up and bought my current ’96 Bronco soon after.

  • avatar
    Matt Fink

    Literally all I could see on my way home today was ‘D-PILLARS’! They were everywhere. I wonder if others had the same reaction I did. It made a normal drive home quite fun. At one light I can up next to a 90′s Explorer with a d pillar about 1/2″ wide (5 pixels haha), next to a GTI with a d pillar about 10″ wide (300 pixels), and an SRX with a d pillar about 3 feet across. I felt like I was observing the evolution of the d pillar before my eyes. My wife did not seem to appreciate my thought provoking observation as much as I hoped she would. Nor did she care to learn what a d pillar was actually.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    While I love the slender A, B, C, and D pillars on My Land Cruiser, I have often wondered how they would do supporting 5000 pounds should I find myself on the roof one day.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Because I often drive a Nissan Murano, I’m not bothered by large D-pillars. But I’ve thought about the change in style of D-pillars at length. Here are some of the things I’ve noticed.

    1. Rear windscreens that wrap slightly around the sides of the vehicle are becoming standard fare. However, the additional glass doesn’t help you because it’s usually filled in with black paint and then covered with interior plastic trim.

    2. Rear spoilers are getting larger. Just look at the overwrought spoilers on the 2014 Acura MDX and 2014 BMW X5…which all come with extra pieces that make them taller.

    3. The rule of the parallel D-pillar is now shattered. With some exceptions, most cars’ D-pillars were parallel to the C-pillars. No more. In fact, a lot of the time, the D-pillars are made with a more exaggerated slope than the C-pillars, while the wraparound rear windscreen’s back edge follows the same slope as the C-pillars. It’s a trend that I believe started with the 2004 Lexus RX and has most recently been exhibited by the above 2013 Hyundai Sonata…

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    “It also plays a song when you turn it off, which is another major difference from old SUVs”

    ???!!!???!!!!

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      It’s a “Goodbye” musical-sequence that plays once you’ve turned the car off and opened the door. I believe it started with the Hyundai Equus, and is trickling down the line. Take a look at what happens in this Equus video once the car is turned off.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jKJRtaQKcI

    • 0 avatar

      No joke. Kyree is on it. It’s like that little three second Microsoft song you hear when your computer restarts. (Which, incidentally, was composed by Brian Eno, the same guy who produced U2 The Joshua Tree)

  • avatar
    bkmurph

    The huge D-pillar is one of the things I despised about the Acura MDX when the second generation came about. For a three-row crossover, the original MDX had exceptionally slender D-pillars.

    The Sportage and Santa Fe are patently silly vehicles.

    Suddenly I feel the urge to look for a first-gen RAV4. Its D-posts aren’t the paragon of thinness, but the general size and boxiness of the greenhouse would be well worth emulating.

  • avatar
    Summicron

    Credit Where It’s Due:

    Caravan/T&C twins are stalwart holdouts against this evil trend.

    With the rear seats stowed and the RVM turned 180 to ride higher in the mount, I have panaramic vision like nothing else I’ve ever driven.
    Kudos to their slender D-pillars.

    Gotta say I’ve found my new ride.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I know what my favorite time of year is…It’s auto show time! When all the auto manufacturers put their best foot forward with their latest debuts. I can’t wait to get online to see who’s offering the most advanced and stylish… “D” Pillars?

    …it must be a “boomer thing”

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    What’s worse than the small rearmost side windows of those SUVs are the fact that their openings are often even smaller than their glass area already is, making for what’s amounted to a small peephole. This is often the case even if those windows appear to be pretty big from the outside. This is even more egregious when that said SUV has a third row, so those rearmost side windows is actually functional, needed so that those unfortunate back passengers can see out of. The Kia Sorento is one of the worst offender in this case, its D pillar is huge! And the rearmost side window is tiny. It has a third row to, so it must be incredibly claustrophobic in there. Funny that it’s not mentioned here.

    • 0 avatar

      Totally agree on the Sorento, although I think the Sportage is actually worse!

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      How about the Honda CrossTurd and its mercifully-euthanized ugly cousin, the Acura ZDX!!! How anyone could drive one of those safely is beyond me!

      New Accord is just right–my 2006′s A-pillars were big enough that I nearly punted pedestrians numerous times, especially turning left. (Much less turning left from a side-street onto a heavier-traveled street, as in “where TF did that car that’s now ABSing to a stop at my 1:00 come from??!! OOPS!! ::sorry!:: :-( )

  • avatar
    L1011

    My VW Golf’s C-Pillar is huge (I don’t have a D-pillar) and makes checking the right side blind spot very challenging, so I completely agree with you: form should follow function.

    May I suggest a post about the use of the rear brake light as a turn indicator? I’m usually a small-government, less regulation kind of guy but I really think that the US should mandate that cars AND trucks make use of an Amber-colored turn signal in the back of the car to stop the use of the combined turn signal/brake light. I think this is an under-looked safety issue.

    • 0 avatar
      bkmurph

      +1 on the brake light/turn signal thing.

    • 0 avatar

      One of the most annoying things there is. I mentioned it in a post the other day about taxis, but it probably warrants its own article indeed.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      I had mentioned about the visbility of the W-body Impalas in a thread a couple months ago–the rearmost side-windows are nearly as useless as the ones on the CrossTurd I mentioned a couple threads up, and the “D-pillar” so-created is a PITA to see through. (Had a 2011 Imp for a week while awaiting delivery of my new Accord, which was a fleet special, judging from the non-OnStar ovoid, useless rearview mirror (the one with the little map lights underneath), like in an early-2000s-vintage Corolla or Prizm; between that and the HUUUUUUUGE center head restraint, forget about seeing to the back, and let’s say that I found a right-lane change to be a “get-as-far-ahead-of-traffic-as-I-could-and-pray” experience!

  • avatar
    redav

    I enjoyed this article. It’s something I’ve complained about many, many times.

    In addition to the thickness, the other significant complaints I have are the elevated/rising beltline, which makes the height of the back windows small (pointy, even) & the wrong sloping angle for the window. (Compare a Protege5 to a Mazda3 – the shape of the window should track the outer profile of the D-pillar. It not only improves visibility, but flat-out looks better.)

    Some of the worst offenders are the Nissan SUVs. I don’t know why they even bother with windows back there. But the same thing is happening with smaller cars & hatchbacks. I hate the panel van look of the Golf. The Mazda3 is a huge step back from the P5. The combination of high belt line with the increasingly sloped hatch on these cars seems to drive the truncation of the last window.

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    Another great article, Doug. Love the snarky attitude!

  • avatar
    racer193

    Thats what I came here to say. Im 33 and dont quite know which generation I fit into. When I took my drivers test you had to check your blind spots in order to pass, is this not a requirement anymore? and if not why is it not a requirement? With said pillars getting bigger one would think the shoulder check would be more important or are they leaving the checks to the systems? Soon the only driving we will be doing is driving off the driveway and getting the car lined up with the slot anf then the system will take over.

  • avatar
    racer193

    This was supposed to be a reply to old davids first post but for some reason it didnt post it in that conversation.


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