By on July 13, 2011

Wards has a fascinating piece on the recent evolution of the A-pillar, starting with the aesthetic novelty of the B5 Passat and ending with the various roof crush and head-impact safety standards that are creating ever-larger and more vision-obstructing pillars. But is the added passive safety worth the trade-off in visibility, and therefore active safety? A researcher equivocates:

We lack quantitative models that express the safety cost of vision obstructions. We’ve worked on it, but it’s difficult to see the relationships in crash data. People are highly adaptive, and any vision effects are buried in other larger effects due to exposure and driving style.

Inspired by the write-up, I found that the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (Australia) has its own annual forward visibility rating system, and that it refused to give a single 2011 model-year vehicle a five-star rating (in a rare display of respect for the five-star system). Without a rating system of our own, I thought TTAC should embrace the subjectivity of the subject matter and pool its collective wisdom to help the automakers understand which vehicles need an A-pillar diet. Which vehicles feel the least safe in terms of forward visibility? Which need window inserts and which need to just slim down? Or have we reached the point where we need A-pillar cameras?

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106 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Which Cars Need Less A-Pillar?...”


  • avatar
    rpol35

    This is a very real problem. I don’t own any real current design cars but I can say that the current Impala and the first generation Durango (1998-2003) are disasters in this department. A tremendous size vehicle can hide behind the A-pillar in both of these vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      windswords

      We own a first generation Durango (2003 115,000 trouble free miles) and neither my wife nor I have any visibility problems regarding the A pillar. We did rent a Chrysler Pacifica which is part Mercedes and it had very large A pillars. So large that I almost pulled out in front of a car to my right at a stop sign. The car was almost totally hidden by the pillar.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      We have a 2000 Durango and neither of us have any problems with the A pillars in it. Our Cobra replica has very little visability issues with the chef’s knife sized A pillars but I wouldn’t want one without a roll bar. :(

      My old Ramcharger would lose a car at an intersection behind the rear view mirror the way it was positioned.

      • 0 avatar
        cdotson

        I have a Ramcharger and I’m tall (6′-3″) and I never had an issue with the rearview mirror except it falling off the windshield. I do prefer to angle the little post all the way upward as far as it goes before adjusting the mirror for visibility though. My buddy’s same-year full size Bronco had a rear view mirror that was mounted nearly in the vertical center of the windshield, a feature common on Ford trucks of the mid/late 80s. How anyone saw around those is beyond me.

        The Ramcharger had miniscule A-pillars compared to any modern-era vehicle I’ve ever been in and I’m sure at least some of that is because the plastic doesn’t completely obscure the body-color metal of the pillar (a feature I strongly miss in modern car interiors is uncovered painted metal). The C-pillars in that truck were pretty bad, but the worst fail was putting the spare tire in the passenger-side rear window where it blocked more vision.

        My 2002 Ram has huge a-pillars. I nearly pulled out in front of a car in my neighborhood because I completely lost an Avalon in my right-side A-pillar. I blame the grab-handles which are very handy, but to be as rigid as they are must be fairly large.

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      Pretty much all of GM’s current lineup has huge A-pillars.

    • 0 avatar
      theo78-96

      You blame American’s reluctance to wear seatbelts for thick A pillars.

      Manufacturers are forced to make cars with absurdly deep dashboards, so that unbelted passengers don’t hit the windscreen during a crash.

      That means the A pillars need to be thicker because of the greater distance between the firewall and the passenger seats.

  • avatar
    carve

    Most cars are getting huge A-pillers and huger C-pillers. I always love the visibility of my old Jeep Cherokee…absolutely fantastic. I think a lot of people who haven’t driven such a car in a while forget what they’re missing.

    My suggestion is to use high-strenght materiels, such is 4130 steel or even carbon fiber, for anything above the belt line. This will not only increase strength (and hopefully reduce thickness), but also lower cg, decreasing the chance that the car will roll over in the first place.

    Another idea I had was asymetric pillers. They could be thick in one dimension, and thinner in another. The thin part of the piller will be oriented to provide maximum visibility to average-size drivers.

    • 0 avatar

      Cherokee, heck yeah. Not sure about Libbie, but Wrangler is ok… Not great, but better than many, for now. FJ was disappointing, despite pillars being very upright in it.

    • 0 avatar
      vbofw

      Baruth and Ed continue to hit upon the things that matter.

      I’m guessing for many of the B&B, better visibility in the existing rides is a key reason behind delayed upgrades to something new. My MK4 Jetta [same gen as the aforementioned B5 Passat] has outstanding a-pillar visibility, plus the increasingly rare big greenhouse which allows the driver to look DOWN to the road through the driver side window. If you lean a little, you can see the starboard lane lines.

      My unscientific visibility test for spotting acceptable new vehicles is being able to see a good chunk of the driver’s steering wheel.

    • 0 avatar
      rpol35

      +1 to carve

      As I mentioned up top, I don’t drive current design cars and one of my not too current cars is a ’91 Cherokee; the fantastic visibility is out-of-sight! (no pun intended). I am teaching my son how to drive on it and even he immediately commented on the “enhanced” visibility, especially compared to the dismal view from our ’06 Impala.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      SAAB did this in the 900s, with a pillar that was triangular in section. One point of the triangle points at the driver. It effectively reduced the apparent width of an already thin pillar.

      Subaru already uses high-strength alloy in its pillars, including a boron insert in the B pillar, IIRC. Forester ads used to tout how emergency responders had a harder time cutting roof off wrecks, but it was worth it, because they didn’t have to so often. At a recent auto show, the Forster was the only car I test-sat that had satisfactory visibility. Quite open and airy, actually. Other automakers will probably chose to save with cheaper steels, and gan customers because the thicker pillars will look safer…

  • avatar
    pannkake

    My Honda Element is pretty bad. It’s really easy to miss a pedestrian at an intersection. I hope the introduction of high strength steels in newer cars reverses this trend.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      +1 for the Element, I’m always extra careful around pedestrians. I give Honda a bit of a pass, the Element gets very high rollover safety ratings despite the lack of a B-pillar, but frankly I’m more afraid of nailing some pedestrian I didn’t see than of being crushed in a roll over.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        I ride a bicycle on our local walk/bike path and where it intersects with the main roads (at intersections, not in the middle) and it can be a problem. Many, many current cars just cannot see you. It may be simple driver distraction (cell phones & etc.) but even in my own vehicles I have lost motorcycles at intersections.

        I would love to ride motorcycles or even have a small scooter for errands, but I fear I will be squashed by some 17 year old kid driving dad’s Suburban.

  • avatar
    SecretAznMan

    New Explorer felt extremely claustrophobic despite its size.

  • avatar

    The Buick LaCrosse has a terribly large A-Pillar.

    While we’re at it, let’s reduce the height of these rump trunks so we have better rear visibility as well. A car as large as the Taurus should not have a gun-slit rear view.

  • avatar
    tced2

    An A-pillar camera would require a whole new set of driving skills. Where would the image be? Would the image provide a seamless view forward? Looking at tiny image and integrating it with the real-world view would be difficult to do in day-in and day-out driving.
    My suggestion would be better strength materials which allow slimmer A-pillars.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    I wonder if the cars that did worse on Australia’s scale are disproportionately involved in motorcycle and pedestrian crashes.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    The BMW 2002 – with its pencil-thin A-pillars – would probably be awarded six stars if they still made it today.

    • 0 avatar
      findude

      +1. I logged in just to mention the ’02 then saw this post. I’ve been driving a ’74 lately and it’s really making me want to curse our newer cars.

    • 0 avatar
      rehposolihp

      And the 335i convertibles would be awarded far fewer. The whole ‘has to support the weight of the vehicle on this + headrests’ thing kinda bulks them out.

      But I’ve seen worse on cars with proper roofs.

    • 0 avatar
      ShortNap

      Or the classic Saab 900, for that matter.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      While it’s “replacement”, the 1 series, should at best get 3.

      I say the next 2002 “replacement” needs active rollover protection hoops in the front, like ‘verts have had in the rear since who knows when. Then they can make greenhouse pillars of more appropriate dimensions.

      Sans that, use steel for the A pillars at least. And take visibility into consideration as much as weight. There is a tradeoff, since thin wall, large volume sections achieve a given stiffness at a lower weight than thicker wall, lower volume ones. Too much focus on lower weight up high (for low CG), while theoretically dynamically beneficial, becomes a detriment in road cars. In a race car going 100mph+ the tradeoffs are different.

      Carbon fiber is no solution either, since the reason it can result in such great stiffness to weight ratios, is that it’s lightness allows for very high volume sections for an given weight. When it comes to max stiffness per volume, steel is still king.

      Interestingly enough, Porsche claims to have chosen steel over aluminum for the Panamera for just these kinds of reasons. Just another reason why it, along with the Raptor, is the coolest car to emerge in the last few years :)

  • avatar
    patman

    My wife’s 2007 Impala could use an A-Pillarendectomy – I’m constantly having to bob my head around to see what is on the other side of it.

  • avatar
    talkstoanimals

    I want to say the Camaro, but it’s more than just the A-pillars with that one; it’s the whole durned greenhouse that’s out of whack.

    My old Titan had some gigantic, vision blocking A-pillars. The VW GTI’s are a bit zaftig as well.

    • 0 avatar
      Dukeboy01

      +1 on the new Camaro. If anything the B pillar is even worse. The same can be said for the Chevrolet HHR. Oversized pillars can be worked with as long as the side windows and windshield are extra large as well. The problem is that the cool chopped- down look of the windows on the Camaro and HHR make the pillars seem even larger. It feels like you’re driving in a cave.

    • 0 avatar
      lowmanjoe

      A BIG +1 on the Titan’s A-pillars. I’ve lost cars and some of the smaller trucks at 4-way stops behind those things, to say nothing about pedestrians and cyclists. But it does appear strong enough to build a bridge with…

    • 0 avatar
      jplane

      +1 to the Camaro. One of the big reasons I bought the mustang!

  • avatar
    spinjack

    2008 Highlander. Massive A-pillar placed exactly where a car might be located while I’m making a left turn in neighborhoods or parking lots.

    Also, related though slightly off topic, the rear view mirror in a ’95 Civic was placed such that it could hide entire tractor-trailers located off to the right.

  • avatar
    rentonben

    It’s not just the thick metal in the A-pillars – there’s the ring of black paint on the glass that’s an inch wide at the edge. If they stripped the cabin plastics down and got rid of the glass paint, my view from my Saturn Ion would have about 3 extra degrees of visibility from the drivers position on the left hand side.

    • 0 avatar
      paul_y

      THIS!

      I had removed the headliner of my xB a while back (long story), and along with it, the plastic cladding on the pillars, and visibility (which is already excellent in that car) improved noticeably.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    G8

  • avatar

    in a rare display of respect for the five-star system

    At least it’s not thumbs up and thumbs down

  • avatar
    drylbrg

    I was surprised by pedestrians and cross street traffic more than once in my 2005 Mustang because of the pillars and that car isn’t usually on the list of top offenders so the ones that are must be horrible. I’d nominate the Camaro as the worst offender when it comes to a lack of visibility.

    • 0 avatar
      talkstoanimals

      Now that you mention it, my 2010 Mustang was also pretty bad in the A-pillar department. Fortunately, it rarely got driven since it spent most of its time in the service department…..

      • 0 avatar
        drylbrg

        The rear 3/4 view was pretty bad too, but at least it had large mirrors to help with that. My ’71 Camaro has huge C pillars but the side mirror (there’s only one) is tiny. To change lanes safely it’s best to hit the gas so that you’re sure that you’re ahead of anybody that was in the huge blind spot.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    “A” pillar visibility? Lots of cars hide behind my 2004 Impala’s, especially around certain curves in my area. “Up periscope”!

    I still have issues with the “B” pillar! “C” pillars? Don’t ask.

    As to your initial question, Ed: ALL CARS need thinner A pillars!

  • avatar
    jco

    this can all be solved by giving us back the triangular vent window!

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Your photo demonstrates how bad the Prius is. I feel like I am driving a vacuum cleaner with tunnel vision. Man, you would think Honda would figure out that A pillars this thick don’t belong in fancy golf carts like the Prius.

  • avatar
    Acubra

    Of the worst examples available – 05-10 Grand Cherokee. Not just a pedestrian, the whole friggin’ 18-wheeler can hide there, given the right approach angle.

  • avatar
    ajla

    …the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (Australia) has its own annual forward visibility rating system, and that it refused to give a single 2011 model-year vehicle a five-star rating…

    I’m guessing Ford doesn’t sell the Transit Connect in Australia.

  • avatar
    Tree Trunk

    The Prius isn’t great in that respect, but still vastly batter than Chevy HHR that has tiny view holes between the massive pillars.

  • avatar
    Dukeboy01

    In response to the original question asked:

    Which cars need less A- pillar?

    All of them. At least all of them manufactured since 2005 or so.

  • avatar
    jjster6

    Driving a DTS the other day, turning left at a T corner, I missed a motorcycle coming from the right. The A pillar blocked my view. I saw him once I started moving and stopped in time to let him pass. I don’t like the way objects can disappear behind the A pillar. My 2009 civic was even worse.

  • avatar
    relton

    Actually there’s no rocket science involved with this.

    If the angle of obscuration is less than 6 degrees (a complicated measurement, but not that bad in the design stage) the pillar will be narrow enough for both eyes to see arond it.

    Move your finger in front of your face. There is no place you can put it where you can’t see around it.

    A pillars are already directionally designed. They do try.

    The black paint is protecting the adhesive used to glue in the windshield from UV rays. If the adhesive weakens, the windshield is no longer a structural part of the car.

    The larger pillars are not for roof crush standards, they are to increase the torsional stiffness of the body. Roof crush was met with far smaller pillars in years past.

    And, finally, there is absolutely no excuse for large A pillars on convertibles other than cheapness, since convertibles are completely exempt from roof crush standards. Also, A pillars on cars without roofs add nothing to the torsional stiffness of the car.

    Bob

  • avatar
    86er

    It’s styling wankery. As Psarhjinian points out, many minivans have relatively thinner A-Pillars, so it’s not all about safety.

  • avatar
    montgomery burns

    “which cars need less a-pillar?”

    I don’t know about that but we definitely need more cowbell.
    Come on guys feel the space, it’s all good but we need more cowbell!

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I sat in a Camaro, 300C, and I believe a Corvette, at the recent Mpls/St Paul auto show and thought they were all pretty bad and wouldn’t want to own one (even if I could afford them). Now I understand what everybody is talking about when they say they feel like they’re in a bunker. I guess I’ve never owned a car with egregiously bad visibility. Even my current car, an econobox by anybody’s standards, has decent visibility all the way around (at least to me).

  • avatar
    Marko

    The Passat might have been the most influential design of that era, but weren’t there a few other designs from a few years before, including the Inifiniti J30 and Oldsmobile Aurora, that had similarly angled A-pillars?

    As for my contribution: Chevy Camaro and Ford Taurus. For the Taurus, why, oh why, did they make such a large car feel so cramped?

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      The Chrysler 300C effect was being copied – people feel safer in a “bunker” with tiny side windows – a styling choice.
      Oh and it’s cheaper to use more ordinary steel to form the pillar.

  • avatar
    tced2

    I started driving when all cars had vent windows located at the front of the front windows (the triangular shaped one). There was a flat strip of metal about an inch wide that blocked your vision a bit. The first car I drove that had no vent windows – a ’66 Riviera – the effect of removing that strip of metal was somewhat dramatic.

    • 0 avatar
      MrBostn

      My family called those “vent” windows “fly” windows. They were great for letting small amounts of air in during the winter or rainy days.

      Unfortunately they made it easier for people to break into cars.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        When I lived down south, a coworker and a Mobile native called those “cat” windows. I guess because cats could climb in and out of the car?

        I never did ask him the history of that name.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Some parts of the country called them “cozy wings”. We called them “wing windows”. GM’s “Astro-Ventilation” was the replacement when they dropped the vents. Who were they trying to fool? Cost-cutting was all it was. What’s next? back windows that don’t roll down? Ooops! they done already did that…sad…gotta get back to 2011 now.

        Now I feel better…I think…

  • avatar
    KitaIkki

    Some automakers are starting to pay attention to this. A good first step moves the side view mirrors away from the A-pillar. The new 2012 Subaru Impreza has good visibility all around.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Who needs less A-pillar? Nearly all new cars but the A4 is especially bad as its made worse by the large side mirrors which all but obfuscate a critical view when turning left.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      Side mirrors block your view? How low are you sitting in your car? Pretty much any car on the market today (including the A4, I believe) has the outside mirrors just above the bottom of the side windows, which should cause minimal blocking of the view.

      If you are low enough that the mirrors block your view, the instrument panel cowl will likely do the same.

      • 0 avatar
        MadHungarian

        It’s a combination of bigger mirrors and higher beltlines. In my 2005 Town Car, I’ve got the driver’s seat adjusted fairly high, but the mirror still combines with the A-pillar to increase the blind spot at intersections. I also find myself feeling like I have to move my head to look around the mirror in close-quarters maneuvering situations like parking garages. Outside mirrors didn’t used to be that big. Seems to me though that I don’t get any noticeable benefit in rear vision in the mirror from the size that most mirrors were, say, in the late 1980’s. Also, many cars of the late 80’s and early 90’s had side beltlines lower than the cowl, and that kept the mirror lower down and not so much in the forward line of sight.

  • avatar
    Apollo

    2001 F150. Every time I’m at a 4-way stop on small streets I crane my head to see what’s to the left of me. The combination of thickness and verticality make visibility terrible. The A-pillar once hid an entire Econoline, and I’m routinely surprised to find full-sized sedans hiding behind it. I operate on a presumption that there’s almost always a car hidden there, and this has saved me numerous times.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    I find the A Pillar in our 08 Grand Caravan very obstructive, and the visibility in the Venza I test-drove yesterday was borderline horrible (which is particularly puzzling given that the Venza was specifically designed for Boomers, whom I suspect tend to prefer vehicles good visibility).

  • avatar
    holydonut

    IMO, there has not been an instance where I went “geez I couldn’t see somebody because they were behind the A-Pillar.”

    Maybe it’s because people are getting fatter – who knows.

    Call me crazy but I’d rather not die in a rollover than get decapitated in the event my car ends up on its roof.

    • 0 avatar
      SP

      The stakes are different, but the probabilities aren’t exactly matched either …

      You look past the A-pillar every day, but you don’t roll your car over every day.

      (I hope.)

  • avatar
    mhadi

    Volvo V/XC70 and S80 (since 2007) – massive A-pillars. Coupled with chunky outside mirrors for the XC70. Not a safe car in this regard.

  • avatar
    Mark_MB750M

    We have 2 Volvo V70s, a 2000 and a 2006, and the difference in the A-pillar (overall outward visibility, in fact) is obvious. The 2006 has much thicker A-pillars (maybe 2x), along with more angle to the windshield. The rearview mirror also seems to be low mounted as well, so that the view the the right is compromised. Plus the beltline seems higher. I guess this it to give you a cocoon feeling, but for a brand that emphasizes safety, this lack of visibilty seems odd. The 2000 has much better visibility all around.

  • avatar
    redrum

    People are highly adaptive, and any vision effects are buried in other larger effects due to exposure and driving style.

    This is a very interesting point. I definitely believe people compensate (consciously or not) for poor visibility by slowing down and being more aware of objects at the periphery of their vision. Benefits of better visibility could actually be cancelled out by relaxation that causes a drop in driver attentiveness. Just like when I rent a moving truck — I realize the brake and handling limits are nowhere near a regular car, and drive accordingly. Conversely, certain cars have been known to bring out the reckless side of drivers…

  • avatar
    obbop

    2004 Silverado.

    I quickly learned I needed to take extra care of my surroundings due to visual impairment due to A-pillar width.

    Tiresome but now an ingrained habit to avoid collision with traffic or vehicles of ANY type AND to avoid hitting “invisible” pedestrians.

    In reality, I believe Chevy/GMC not warning buyers to take extra precautions is a failure on their part and indicates, to me, a lack of concern for public safety.

    The Silverado is the only vehicle I ever had to take the amount of special extra care to drive safely and not be a threat to others.

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    Thanks for bringing up the things that matter, Ed. Such issues are ALWAYS overlooked by the mainstream media.

    Love you guys.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Most dorkboxes actually have pretty good visibility. Many minivans, the Nissan Cube and Versa, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Kia Rondo and so forth.

    Only after a highly sought-after designer’s pen and/or executive’s ego has kissed a car’s windscreen (as opposed to the low-level functionaries that get the boring stuff) does visibility suddenly become a problem.

    We can make (and buy) cars you can safely turn in. We just choose not to because such cars look silly.

    • 0 avatar
      Banger

      +1 on the Cube and Versa. Good visibility is why my wife fell in love with the Cube. She (and I) would disagree that the Cube is a Dorkmobile, but to each his own.

      -1 on the Toyota Yaris. I had a Yaris rental recently (which quickly earned the name “Yawnis”) and the rearview mirror blocked an unreasonably large amount of windshield space. The A-pillars weren’t so bad.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    One of my cars in High School was a ’73 Impala Custom coupe; a huge boat of a car with a huge curved windshield, impossibly thin a-pillars and frameless side windows. You could see out of that car for days… or at least to the end of the hood.

  • avatar
    rwb

    My gen.8 Civic is very very very bad in this regard. Approaching some intersections that are at odd angles, the A-pillar can block an entire stretch of road and every car on it. Craning my neck to make sure I don’t get t-boned or hit something at a wide-open intersection has officially gotten old in my world.

    I blame the enormous windshield, primarily, as it wouldn’t be as bad if it weren’t as long, and that vestigial window frankly makes it worse, only having the effect of making the pillar seem wider at the bottom.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    The GM Epsilon cars suffer quite badly from thick-pillar-itis.

    The current E90 3-series has pretty decent narrow A-pillars for the times. BMWs may not be the acme of reliability, but they work pretty well as driving machines.

  • avatar

    Can’t believe this discussion has gotten so far without mentioning the New Beetle (the 1998-2011 version). The size of the A-pillar was one thing (especially the way it flares wider at the bottom), but it was even worse due to its unusually forward location relative to the driver. The result is you spend a lot of time bobbing your head around at intersections, looking for pedestrians and cars off to your left.

    • 0 avatar
      SherbornSean

      Great point about no one mentioning the Beetle. Of course, it’s easy to understand when you remember that 90% of posters are male.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      I don’t, and mine is as round as everyone elses’. The area beside and ahead of my left fender is fully visible up to 10 o’clock, due to the long door window. Continuing rightwards, there’s the left pillar. It’s wide, but the narrow side faces me, so it doesn’t seem so bad. Better, it appears nearly vertical to the driver’s viewpoint, so it’s narrow and short. The windshield is worth a premium ticket (more Cinerama than flat-screen, though). Over at the right pillar, you see the wide side but it’s pretty far away, due to the forward windshield placement. I prefer it to a Prius’s.

      The New Beetle has wonderful over-the-shoulder sight lines, making merging stress-free. The wide-eyed rear window makes backing a snap. My New Beetle is a lean, Cyber Green visibility machine. Show me a modern car with better visibility, and maybe I’ll buy it.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    I drive through the streets of Boston with the radio off and my foot hovering over the brake pedal. If some body walks into view from the A pillar. Its a bad thing. I dont sweat cars so much, but I reeaallly dont wanna hit a pedestrian. The A pillar is almost a foot wide on the Transit Connect.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    This is a huge issue, and the main reason I wouldn’t own almost every contemporary car. My wife wants a Prius, but resist, because it gives me tunnel vision. That’s dangerous, especially in the hybrids’ ideal world of urban densities, full of pedestrian and cyclists.

    The real A=pillar problem, since you asked, is their length, not necessarily their width. And that’s a function of the rake of the windshield. The sleeker and flatter they draw that critical contour, the longer the a-pillar must be– unless you add tiny triangle corner windows that add too much visually confusing framing. A steeper windshield has other drawbacks, too. It beams solar heat onto the long dash. When a windshield becomes sand or pebble-pitted, a long one has more area and a worse viewing angle, so will need to be replaced more often. If you sit tall in a car, as I do, the steep glass and low, close windshield headers seen awkward and confining.

    My New Beetle has one (actually, two) of the widest a-pillars ever, but I don’t find it an irritation. From the front seat view, they come down to the body fairly vertically, so they interfere with only a few degrees of sideways vision. Like the old SAAB 900s, the Beetle’s aerodynamics are aided by the compound curves of the windshield, not a steep rake.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Something missing that’s relevant to this discussion is the current fashion of eyeglasses with wide temples. Someone with such glasses driving a car with thick A-pillars would have dangerously little peripheral vision.

    Wheatridger mentioned the decreased visibility through a steeply raked, sandblasted windshield. The steeper the rake, the more light is reflected from below, and the less light comes in from ahead. Just compare how hard your eyes have to work between a car with an upright windshield and one with a steep rake. You’ll be amazed at the difference. Without knowing it, we’re straining to see through these steep windshields.

    It would be difficult to quantify this condition’s contribution to accidents, but it should be to determine if the mileage gains are worth it.

    In trying to reduce the reflections, we get vast expanses of dark-topped dashboards. In turn, this heats the interior air, requiring more use of a/c.

    If steeply raked windshields result in longer and therefore thicker A-pillars, surely the windshield could be curved to allow more upright A-pillars. Yes, this would impact styling. But if you look at any generation of cars, the public at the time regarded them as being attractive, while older cars generally look odd. So I’m sure we’d get used to such a minor style detail. Just as people somehow find current eyewear fashion attractive.

    • 0 avatar
      nrd515

      I can’t really think of any eyewear uglier than the present stuff is, except for the pointy cornered women’s eyeglasses of the late fifties/early 60’s. My sister had a pair that made me say, “You have the ugliest glasses I’ve ever seen!” the first time I saw them. My mom yelled at me, but my dad said, “Well, he’s right! Why did you let her buy the damn things!”. Sis cried, and well, I laughed, a lot.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      Good point about the glasses. And my Beetle’s vast dashboard is a solar-thermal mistake that looks to be much improved in the upcoming replacement.

      It will be a grater challenge to preserve upright-er windshields under future regulations. Passenger-safety regs discourage having any upward break at the hoodline, and mpg standards of 50+ MPG will demand every last ounce of streamlining– creating cars that fit the wind tunnel better than the human body.

  • avatar
    friedclams

    This thread speaks to the eternal popularity of motorcycles. No A-pillars to spoil the fun.

  • avatar
    bpme

    IIRC, Volvo did a concept car based on the C30 a few years ago which had steel lattice A-Pillars so you could see right through them. Same/similar rigidity, no blindspots. Seemed a great idea to me! Citroen’s C3 Picasso does as good a job as any currently by having a split a-pillar with glass in between the two parts to get a similar effect to the classic Saab 900. See: http://www.helpfindmea.co.uk/cmsfiles/resources/C3%20Picasso%20Interior%202.jpg

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Looks not that different from the Suzuki SX4. The problem with this solution is all the framing involved. Instead of two windows, there’s 2 1/2. Your mind has to integrate three views of varying size and shape. When the task is fast, accurate pattern recognition without conscious attention, simple shapes are easier to see and understand. Like the curve of the NB’s C-pillar– glancing over the shoulder in traffic, I can follow that arc back to its sharp conclusion at the beltline and know instantly that I’ve checked my whole blind spot for a merging hazard.

    One more visibility issue nobody seems to think of is the relationship between windshield and side windows. To a driver sitting within an aero-wedgie roofline. the side windows appear larger, brighter and more visually compelling than the distant, pinched windshield. There[‘s little to pull you eyes forward to the road, where they belong. Compare that to some 50s and 60s detroit designs, with windshield that curved upwards to form the front edge of the roof. What a different view that gives! That additional windshield height draws the eyes forward automatically, I believe.

  • avatar
    JMII

    As the owner of B5 Passat I can attest to the “smoothness” of its shape, it is like its molded from one lump of steel instead of several interconnected pieces. Our Volvo C30 has good forward visibility due to a low dash and low hood… not as good as my ’89 Prelude or ’85 Civic, but I don’t think many cars can hold a candle to those front views. However the view to the sides and rear is utterly terrible – now I know why Volvo sells blind spot detection systems! Between the location of the B pillar and stylish sides of the C30 you can’t see crap over your should in the the side mirrors. The rear mirror is tiny and the rear hatch is nothing more then a ships porthole, especially with the rear seat head rests in place.

    I also have a ’02 Dakota and the A pillars are pretty meaty but worst is the roof that slopes down before the windshield starts. Its almost like they wanted to save money on glass.

    I think the combination of high belt lines (and high hoods) plus these oversized dashes has really killed visibility out front in all modern cars. Mirror mounts and sail pillars have become huge as well, while the mirrors themselves have become smaller. Any car with an A-pillar triangle window just looks completely out of proportion to (see Pirus and newer Civics_

    High trunks are a problem as well, I’ve got a rental Galant this week for business and the rear deck slopes UP to meet the trunk making rear visibility bad in a car that otherwise has pretty good sight lines.

  • avatar
    SLLTTAC

    My 2012 Acura TL’s A-pillars are not only massive, but so deeply raked that I cannot see what’s ahead when turning right or left as the forward blind spot is huge. My Subaru Legacy’s thin A-pillars and large windows, by contrast, are picture perfect. Because of the Acura’s awful sight lines, I look forward to the end of its lease. I’ll never get another car with such compromised visibility.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    The original question is drawing a degree of agreement that’s rare on this forum, or any other. Lots of folks are upset at today’s plunging rooflines, and no one has spoken up to say this is not a problem.

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