Being able to see around your vehicle is a fundamental and critical aspect of driving. Therefore, it’s best that you are given the best possible view out of your car, truck, or SUV for safety’s sake — but sometimes things don’t necessarily work out that way, and the structural demands of the vehicle overrides the ability to ensure adequate visibility.
Ever the authority on automobiles, Consumer Reports took a look at a number of various vehicles that both excelled and struggled to offer decent visibility. Here are the worst offenders, based solely on that criteria alone; would we recommend not buying these vehicles for that specific reason? Of course not — but it’s an important factor to take into account when cross-shopping among the competition.
Here are the five cars with the worst visibility, as reported by Consumer Reports’ panel of testers.
1. Chevrolet Camaro
The Chevrolet Camaro is known for doing a lot of things well. It’s aggressive, fast, stylish, and all at a reasonable price for what you get. However, one of the things it doesn’t do as well is offer decent rearward visibility. A high trunk lid and thick roof pillars create substantial blind spots facing back, and a long, high hood makes it difficult to judge the car’s proximity to surrounding objects if you’re newer behind the wheel — a large rear-view mirror doesn’t help improve the visibility out of the already narrow windshield either, Consumer Reports noted.
2. Mini Cooper S Convertible
The small stature of the Mini Cooper makes it a fine car for cities and tight spaces, but the convertible model falls somewhat short due to a few visibility flaws that hinder the car’s ease in traffic and urban settings. “Visibility is decent to the front and sides but poor to the rear,” Consumer Reports said. “The windshield is slightly short, impairing your view of overhead traffic lights. Shorter drivers couldn’t see the hood over the high dashboard. The glass rear window is small and up high, and the rear head restraints block much of the view to the rear,” it added.
3. Nissan 370Z
The Nissan (NSANY.PK) 370Z has a drool-worthy profile and design that makes the car appear to be moving fast at a complete stand-still, but that design comes at a price, and that price is visibility. Again, it’s generally decent up front, but the high haunches and rear roof pillars pose some big problems in the event that you ever need to actually back the car up. Further, the side windows are quite narrow, and the blind spot between the side and rear windows is quite substantial. “Large door mirrors help, but the car could really use blind-spot detection or bigger windows. At least a rear-view monitor is available, which helps,” Consumer Reports said.
Okay, admittedly, the visibility in the Porsche (POAHF.PK) is likely fine with the roof down. But convertibles like the Boxster are almost purpose-built to be driven with the top down, so when its up — say it’s raining or something — then drivers might run into a few issues. Roof aside, the Porsche’s “low seating position, high dashboard, and rear deck can make rear visibility difficult especially for smaller drivers of the Boxster,” Consumer Reports said, though “thin front pillars and good sized windows make for adequate visibility to the front and sides.” However, it’s that roof — and wind blocker when it’s down — that make rear-facing visibility troublesome.
5. Toyota FJ Cruiser
Just looking at the car, you know off the bat that visibility in just about any direction isn’t it’s strong suit. “The wide rear roof pillars and rear-mounted spare tire severely limit outward visibility in the Toyota FJ Cruiser, creating large blind zones that can be a problem when backing up or changing lanes,” Consumer Reports said, noting that a rear-view camera was optional. In other words, definitely get the damned rear camera.
Now that we’ve looked at the worst offenders in terms of visibility, let’s turn our attention to safe cars. Last week, we took a look at data on crash tests from The National Highway Traffic Safety Adminsitration, or NHTSA.
In a country where 33,000 annual traffic fatalities is considered progress, safety ranks high in the list of priorities for auto consumers. The NHTSA lists the results of its rigorous crash tests with breakdowns of ratings using a scale of one to five stars. Eight four-door sedans and hatchbacks of model years 2014 and 2015 notched perfect five-star ratings in each category, denoting exceptional performance drivers can expect if faced with collisions involving vehicles or objects on the road.
Here are the eight highest-scoring four-door cars bearing model years 2014 and 2015:
1. 2015 Volvo S60
It wasn’t long ago that the name Volvo was associated with all things safe and family-oriented. It turns out that image is still warranted in the automaker’s cars for the 2015 model year. In fact, Volvo has delivered impressive power and fuel economy alongside safety ratings with its E-Drive powertrains in the 2015 S60 models.
First, the overall five-star crash rating in both the all-wheel drive (AWD) and front-wheel drive (FWD) 2015 S60 models reflected perfect scores in front, side, and rollover tests. The NHTSA recommends available forward collision warning and lane departure warning for the ideal safety configuration. As for power, four-cylinder cars rarely have it this good. Volvo’s T5 Drive-E FWD ($33,300) offers 240 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet of torque while delivering a remarkable 37 highway mpg.
2. 2014 Cadillac ATS
This compact four-door sport sedan from Cadillac landed its perfect five-star rating with top scores in the suite of NHTSA tests covering frontal, side, and rollover crashes. The 2014 Cadillac ATS ($33,065) can claim the feat for both its rear-wheel drive (RWD) and AWD models. Fans of the GM luxury brand will await word on the upcoming 2015 ATS Coupe.
3. 2014 Audi A4/S4
Volkswagen’s Audi brand performed the best out of any automaker with four-door cars in recent testing by the NHTSA. Both its 2014 A4 four-door sedan ($33,400) and S4 performance variant ($48,100) landed perfect five-star ratings in frontal, side, and rollover crash tests in FWD and AWD models. After winning 2014 World Car of the Year for its A3, it’s safe to say the state of the Audi brand is strong.
4. 2014 Subaru Legacy
Subaru has been showcasing its 2015 Legacy in U.S. auto shows, but the 2014 model ($20,295) remains one of the most crash-worthy vehicles on the road. The four-door standard AWD drive model landed a perfect five-star rating in frontal, side, and rollover crash tests by the NHTSA. It’s also a Top Safety Pick Plus. In the upcoming model, improved exterior styling will accompany this safety-first design.
5. 2014 Ford Focus Electric
The oft-forgotten electric vehicle offering from Detroit notched perfect five-star ratings in the three-part crash test suite by the NHTSA. The 2014 Ford Focus Electric ($35,170), one entry in the lineup of the best-selling global nameplate, outperformed its gas-powered siblings in the frontal and rollover tests to hit the perfect score. Tests on the 2015 Focus and Focus Electric are expected later in 2014 ahead of the new model releases by Ford.
6. 2014 Audi S6/A6
To be fair to Audi, the automaker has four 2014 cars that landed perfect scores in every crash test and could have filled four separate slots on this list. They are being grouped numerically with base sedan and sport variant together, in this entry featuring a photo of the 2014 Audi S6 ($73,400). In both FWD and AWD drive models, the 420-hp S6 received five-star scores in frontal, side, and rollover crash tests by the NHTSA. The 2014 A6 ($43,100) also received perfect scores in both FWD and AWD model sedans.
7. 2015 Kia Optima
Few have laid eyes on the 2015 Kia Optima, but the NHTSA awarded the upcoming four-wheel drive, four-door sedan its highest rating in frontal, side, and rollover crash tests. Details of the new offering by Kia have been scarce, but it is expected to arrive on U.S. shores in late 2014 and will likely share design aspects with the recently unveiled 2015 Hyundai Sonata. As a reference point, pricing for the 2014 Optima starts at $21,500.
8. 2014 Tesla Model S
Much has been written and tweeted since Elon Musk claimed the NHTSA awarded the Tesla Model S ($70,070) better than five stars in safety ratings, which forced the agency to clarify such a thing wasn’t possible. No matter: The 2014 Model S received a perfect five stars in frontal, side, and rollover crash tests by the NHTSA. It may not be better than perfect, but perfect should suffice for consumers who want a green performance car.
As Musk continued to remind safety regulators and consumers during the flap over the 2013 Model S battery fires that followed, no driver or passenger has died behind the wheel of a Tesla to date. Even though that fact may reflect the small volume of Tesla electric vehicles on the road, it’s the most important statistic of all with respect to traffic safety.