The 5 O'clock Shadow: Blind Spots, Spotted


Visibility is underrated. A nasty blind spot is the sort of thing that becomes problematic by the fourth or fifth lane-change on the drive home ... from the dealership where you just bought your car. Properly positioned side mirrors help, of course, but for the best chance of detecting that Jetta camping out at your 5 o’clock, nothing beats narrow roof pillars, large mirrors and tall windows. Blind spot warning systems are great, but they cost thousands of dollars and are still a rare option.

What about common cars — specifically compact crossovers, whose trendy rooflines and undersized windows can do a pretty good job obscuring the next lane’s traffic? At the Chicago auto show, we checked out 10 popular models to rate what works and what doesn’t. Our report card, with photographic evidence, follows.

2009 Nissan Rogue: D
The Rogue (above) doesn’t have so much a blind spot as it does a blind district. The D-pillars could hide city skylines — perhaps even entire landforms. They’re locked in some kind of close combat with the C-pillars, and the rear-quarter windows have become casualties of war. The blocky second-row head restraints don’t help, and neither do the tapered second-row windows, smallish mirrors and short rear window. There’s also a ceiling-anchored center seat belt for the second row; when installed, it dangles in your rearview mirror. At least it’s slung to the driver’s side and away from the 5 o’clock view.

2009 Honda CR-V: D+
Honda’s D-pillars are nearly as gargantuan as Nissan’s. The rear-quarter windows are significantly better, but the squatty side mirrors are worse. The curl-over second-row head restraints stow mostly out of the way, but the center seat belt is anchored in the ceiling on the passenger side. It dangles in your rearview mirror, but at least it lines up with the D-pillar. The CR-V’s visibility beats the Rogue’s, but that’s like saying boarding group six on your plane ticket beats group seven.

2009 Kia Sportage: C-
One of the smallest crossovers in the bunch, the Sportage’s snug cabin makes the side and rear windows seem closer and, in effect, larger. That’s not to say it’s a greenhouse: Bulky C- and D-pillars obscure the view out back, and the third-quarter windows are pretty useless. The side mirrors are economy-car sized, and unlike the CR-V’s ceiling-anchored seat belt, the Sportage’s doesn’t quite line up with the D-pillars. The second-row head restraints, though small, still block your view.

2009 Jeep Liberty: C
Jeep gets an award for tallest head restraints. Even when lowered all the way, they obstruct what’s otherwise a pretty decent view: The side and rear windows are amply tall, and window pillars are narrow all around. The center rear seat belt is anchored in the seatback — where all of ‘em should be — leaving the view straight back unobstructed. The side mirrors are adequately large, too. Were it not for those head-sized head restraints, Jeep might have beat a few more contenders.

2009 Volkswagen Tiguan: C
Like the Sportage, the Tiguan’s compact dimensions make the windows seem closer and larger. Unfortunately, the D-pillars are fairly outsized, and the rear head restraints encroach on straight-back views. The center belt mounts in the seat, but the side mirrors put style over usability: They’re curvy but small. The Tiguan’s outward styling may be affable, but you’ll pay a price from within.

2009 Saturn Vue: C+
Add a third car to the snug-is-better approach: The Vue’s, er, view benefits from a smallish cabin, bringing the windows a bit closer all around. Unfortunately, that means everything else is closer, too, so the pillow-sized rear head restraints nearly eclipse the D-pillars, which are themselves of significant girth. The rear-quarter windows are tall but narrow, but the side mirrors and second-row windows are large enough to facilitate easy traffic checks. The center belt mounts in the seat, helping inch the Vue to midpack status.

2009 Mitsubishi Outlander: B-
The three-row Outlander has faraway-seeming windows toward the rear, but they’re large enough to make up for the distance. The curl-over head restraints don’t nest all the way into the seats, but they should line up with the chunky D-pillars for most drivers. Narrow C-pillars, a seatback-anchored center belt and amply sized rear-quarter windows help Mitsubishi’s case. The side mirrors are tall, and even though they could be wider the Outlander’s overall sightlines put it in the group’s better half.

2009 Ford Escape: B
The Escape’s mirrors are large, graceless contraptions, but they do the best job of showing what’s nearby — which, last time we checked, was what mirrors are supposed to do. Large rear windows and narrow D-pillars help, though the C-pillars seem unnecessarily thick. The center belt mounts in the seat, but the head restraints perch like pigeons on a power line — OK, overweight geese on a power line — muddling sightlines from 5 o’clock to 7 o’clock. Had Ford used curl-over restraints, the Escape might have given our winner a run for its money.

2009 Toyota RAV4: B+
If the Escape is par excellence for side mirrors, the RAV4 is for head restraints. Its curl-over ones collapse neatly into the seatbacks, leaving the view mostly uncluttered. Too bad the center seat belt hangs from the ceiling — we were on such a roll back there with seatback-mounted belts. At least this one hangs from the driver’s side, obstructing only the straight-back view. The D-pillars are too thick, but the side mirrors are nearly Escape-size, the C-pillars are narrow and the second-row windows are large. Not too shabby, Toyota.

2009 Subaru Forester: A-
Tall windows, narrow pillars all around and the league’s largest rear-quarter windows make the Forester’s 5 o’clock view a sightline for sore eyes. The side mirrors are large enough, if not quite as wide as the Escape’s. Knock those head restraints down and anchor the seat belt in the seat, and Subaru would have a perfect score. As it stands, though, the Forester still takes top honors here, so if you suffer from lane-change paranoia, ask your doctor about Subaru. (Just don’t take it if you’re pregnant, nursing or may become pregnant.)

Interested in procedures? Here goes: For each test, we positioned the driver’s seat to a comfortable position, stowed any third-row seats and positioned the second-row seats as far back in their tracks as possible, if they were fore/aft adjustable. We moved second-row head restraints to their lowest positions and left any reclining backrests at their default angles — i.e., the first click when you bring them upright from a folded-down position. Two exceptions: The Tiguan and RAV4 had uncomfortably upright default positions for the reclining second rows; both expand the cargo area at the obvious expense of second-row passengers. Before judging either car’s blind spot, we reclined the seatbacks to an angle that roughly matched those in the other cars.

By Kelsey Mays | February 18, 2009 | Comments (23)
Tags: Safety



Add the new Toyota Venza and give it a D+. I sat in a Venza at a recent auto show and quicky marked it off my purchase list due to the terrible rear quarter visibility. Trendy fashion design has defeated function and safety in far too many new cars. Same goes for front and rear bumper design; one slight front/rear tap and the repair costs soar into hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. But we're looking cool when we drive the latest fad.


It's amazing what people find to whine about. If it's not tire size then it's the obstruction that pillars cause. How about just not buying the vehicle!


Kevin, no whining here...just stating a common-semse opinion. Buy one of these great vehicles if it turns you on. I made my point that I will not choose one of these designs for reasons previously stated. I'm happy we have lots of automobile choices for all potential buyers.


Um, Kevin...he said he will not buy the vehicle.

Thank you for the comparison as this aspect is rarely discussed in reviews with the exception of this site. I do have one issue to point out: you praise headrest designs which are the least intrusive but the very point of headrests is to protect occupants from whiplash and therefore headrests by design need to be positioned behind the occupant's head. So yes the RAV4 may have headrests which maximize rear visibility but at the expense of safety.

And why do manufacturer's insist on mounting seatbelts to the roofs!?

S Kassman

In some cases seat belts are mounted to the ceiling (not the roof) as it provides a stronger anchor point.

"Kevin" is right, there are too many whiners today.


Just get a mirror extender.

Good points, Watchdog. Head restraints that stay tucked away would seem less likely to be used -- though all the outboard ones here, including the RAV4's, sit at or can be raised to a proper adult height. One option: Allow the restraints to be lowered for better sightlines, but significantly compromise seating comfort when they're lowered. Volvo does this, with restraints that tip forward when lowered, rendering a very uncomfortable backrest unless they're raised. Some others at least design the restraints to protrude from the seatbacks when lowered, making it uncomfortable enough to encourage passengers to raise them on their own.

Another option is to leave the things up even when not in use. That reduces visibility but ensures protection. Barring innovative designs like Volvo's, the best option is probably for drivers just to make sure their passengers use the things properly. Bulky, non-curling restraints make this easier, but in the above examples, only the RAV4 and CR-V allow visibility and, provided a scrupulous driver, full restraint coverage.

One danger of bulky, removable head restraints is that drivers will do exactly that: remove them. I've lost count of how many times I've seen it. It frees up visibility, certainly, but at significant expense to crash protection.




does whining about some cars' poor reliability, others' poor ride/handling characteristics also irritate you? seriously, why do we bother to talk about cars' characteristics that can influence people's purchasing decisions on this ... wait for it ... car shopping blog!

the Forester has always been the practical-minded person's vehicle. my wife's '04 is very functional and reliable; it does wonders in the New England snow; and the visibility is one of the best. however, it's uncomfortable, handles poorly (got better after i threw out the crappy Geolandar tires), and has a stubborn auto trans. supposedly the new one is much improved. i just don't like the boxy shape.

anyone out there notice this annoying tendency for some people, seemingly predominantly those on cell phones, to lurk in your blind spot? it's as if that's the easiest place for them to pace themselves while mindlessly jabbering on the phone. sometimes tempting to "accidentally" cut them off ...


... and Kevin and S Kassman just wasted our time and the "Comments" section whining about ... whining. good job!

I happen to value whining about things like visibility because:

1. it's rarely talked about, and

2. being able to SEE and safety are pretty darn important when deciding on a car purchase.


Kevin, wait until I will start my whining about tire size on the Venza. Good that you mentioned that.


I think head rests and tire size are two crucial elements when buying any car. The cost of tires can be extremely high and what's the point of buying a new car if the head rest is uncomfortable!!!! I insisted that my VW dealer let me take my Beetle for an extensive test drive or I wouldn't buy it. He did and I bought!


I guess if you never drive with passengers in the back then this would seem to be an issue.

Did anyone look at the lack of visibility when there are passengers in the rear seat?

Seems to me once you stick your buddies back there the visibility drops anyway. So this should be looked at as well shouldn't it?

Wain Chang

There's a real simple solution, just install a domed/spotter mirror on each side problem solved. by the way don't put a big one it makes your car look cheap. We been installing them in every car we ever drive
in fact once you get used to them, you won't even think of getting behind the wheel of a car with out them. with spotters installed you don't have to look over your shoulders. There's only one safer device out there to stay home don't go out at all. with the spotter you will never again rub your tires and worst your beautiful wheels on the sidewalk with a spotter you'll get a panoramic view. It's beyond me why more people don't use this amazing life savers.


Re Interior Rearview Mirror as Safety Hazard;

Are auto designers and engineers all under 5'-10"?

I am 6'-1" and I find a good number of autos (new ones included, such as Mazda 3) where the interior rearview mirror itself is a forward-vision blind spot. The interior mirror is often mounted too low and cannot be re-positioned high enough to eliminate the forward blind spot. Even with the driver's seat adjusted as low as it can go. Awkward to always have to bend down to look under the mirror to check the blind spot, such as at traffic intersections.

GM autos often have an interior rearview mirror that has a band of indicator lights, etc., along the bottom of the mirror, which lowers and increasing the size of the blind spot!

I have noticed that locally some Smart Car owners have removed the interior rear-view mirror altogether as it is such a hazard!


This is an article that just leapt out at me. I already knew that the Rogue had bad visibility at the side and back, but with these photos I can see the true effect of chunky C and D pillars.

Two friends who own the Ford Escape just take out the rear head restraints if they're not going to be carrying passengers. The design of the vehicle means that to fold the seats down you have to take them out anyway. An extra step but at least it improves the view.


sure wish I had read trhis before I bought my last on the lot 2009 SPortage 1/2/10.
Looked for 2 months for a car, then last night first experienced this blind spot issue. Going from a 1999 Subaru Forrester and a 2005 Scion makes it tough. Alos, Up high, I actually miss the extra interior backlight at night from cars around me.
SPortage '09 and '10 may not be best picks if yopu live where it is dark and wet A LOT of the year.
Oregon we call home.


Great, all of the cars I've been considering purchasing have low ratings. As a new driver, I don't think it will make sense to purchase any of those models (09' Rogue, 09' CR-V)with horrible blind spots. Help me!

It definitely depends on your size, how you sit in the driver's seat and how well you use your mirrors.

Have you thought of a Subaru Forester? It has very good reliability, good visibility and high safety ratings and resale.

If not, I still think you should try out the CR-V and see if you're uncomfortable.


Get a D-pillar.


I saw two references to attempts at mitigating the visibility problems:

1) mirror extender.

2) domed/spotter mirror

can anyone provide some links to some tried and effective mirror extender and/or domed/spotter mirror?

I like the big ol' mirror idea - I dont want scrunch my eyes to see, but would rather simply glance quickly to get my road info.

I found this link, but it seems to be for big ol' trucks - the honda crv was not in the list of compat cars. SO I'd liek to find a mirror extender for the little mirror that comes stock in the crv


My friend has 24" wheels and just dropped $2800 for a new set of them. He didn't even buy the most expensive set. Big wheels look nice but like all cars you can have looking nice or you can have ugly and practical.

I agree with you jack. But at the same time, there are products out there that look nice and are practical. You pay for what you get for in most things.


Great article! I agree. Visibility is critical, and new cars have vastly reduced rearward visibility! Thanks.

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