How we test cars Car visibility
As cars get safer and stronger, our view of the road seems to be getting worse. Vehicle blind spots account for around 1% of all road accidents, and around 25 deaths a year.
So does being well-protected in a crash have to come at the expense of being able to see cyclists, pedestrians and other road users properly? We've tested more than 100 top-selling cars to find out which allow you perfect vision, and those that could leave you driving blind.
View from the driver's seat
Today’s cars are a lot safer in a crash than they were 20 years ago, but a common complaint with modern cars is that visibility has suffered as a result. Windscreen and door pillars have become far bigger, while today's car stylists also seem to favour designs that restrict visibility.
It’s not only the view forward that’s suffering. All-round visibility is generally worse than it was around 15 years ago, as highlighted by our shots from the interior of the 2009 Vauxhall Astra, and the version made in 1997.
This makes manoeuvring difficult, and it’s also detrimental to your rear three-quarter view, which is crucial for changing lanes, pulling away from a standstill and emerging from acute junctions.
In fact, some cars are so bad they've been banned from being used in leaner driving tests. These include the Ford StreetKa, Mini convertible, Toyota iQ, VW Beetle convertible and many other soft-top cars.
Visibility: how we tested 100 cars
Which cars allow you a perfect view, and which are a pain to park? The Which? test team found out when they tested visibility from the driver's seat in more than 100 cars.
Every car that passes through the Which? Test Lab is assessed in a specially designed visibility rig, using lasers, digital cameras and sophisticated computer software to rate visibility from the driver’s eye position.
By fixing a camera at a typical driver’s head height, using a fixture in the front seat, we can pan a full 360 degrees around the car’s interior, logging how much of the view is clear window and how much is obstructive – including the pillars, roof and headrests.
We also carry out a ‘line of sight’ test to work out whether you can see any low bollards, pets or other hazards while parking – this is affectionately known as the ‘sausage dog’ test.
Aspects such as the view in the mirrors, the size of the swept area of the windscreen, headlight beam pattern, reversing sensors and windscreen reflections all go towards our overall visibility score.
Perfect vision: the top 10
The Smart ForTwo has the best visibility of all cars tested, mostly because it lacks B-pillars (between the front and rear doors). The Fiat 500 has impressive visibility too, despite having a B-pillar.
Like the C4 Grand Picasso, Citroën's C3 Picasso has a split front windscreen pillar to give the driver an improved three-quarter view. The raised driving position in Ford’s Galaxy MPV also brings benefits for the driver’s line of sight, as it does to a lesser extent in the VW Golf Plus.
The Hyundai i10 has relatively narrow front pillars, but this seems to have affected its Euro NCAP rating: just four out of five stars for adult occupant protection, unlike five-star rivals such as the Fiat 500.
At the other end of the list, convertibles such as the Porsche Boxster, BMW Z4 and Lexus IS 250C rate poorly, though obviously their view improves considerably once the roof is down.
Sports coupés like the Nissan GT-R also don't fare well, while the coupé-like shape of VW's Passat CC also restricts the driver’s view. And there are major issues with Honda’s Civic, whose split rear screen does the rear view no favours at all. Another medium car, the Chevrolet Cruze, is also hindered by large roof pillars.
The generous proportions of luxury cars such as the Porsche Panamera, Volkswagen Phaeton and BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo tend to make it difficult to judge their extremities. Their lowly ranking here does prove that money can’t buy you everything.
|Make and model||Judging vehicle extremities||All-round view||Windscreen wiper clearance||Pillar thickness||Which? visibility score|
|Smart ForTwo Coupe||65%|
|Citroen C3 Picasso||58%|
|Renault Grand Scenic||57%|
|Seat Ibiza SportCoupe||57%|
|Citroen C4 Grand Picasso||57%|
|Audi A4 allroad||57%|
|VW Golf Plus||56%|
|BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo||40%|
|Lexus IS 250C||39%|
|VW Passat CC||36%|
|Percentage of total mark||5%||35%||5%||35%||100%|
Carmakers are increasingly turning to electronic devices to make up for the loss of visibility in modern cars. Check out our guides to rear-view cameras, parking sensors and self-parking systems. Many cars also now have blind spot mirrors, which use cameras to detect objects in your blind spot and alert the driver by a warning light and/or beep when something is in the danger area.