Which Small SUV in 2017 Has the Best Rear Visibility?
A lot has changed since I last stacked up blind spot visibility among compact SUVs. For starters, those SUVs have become wildly popular: The Ford Escape outsells everything but the F-Series, while the bestsellers at Honda and Nissan are the CR-V and Rogue, respectively. On our last go-around, this was not the case.
Time for a rematch. I documented blind spots in 11 popular compact SUVs at the 2017 New York International Auto Show. Granted, blind spots are only one part of the visibility equation, and correct mirror positioning can help mitigate a bad situation. But there are a lot of factors that impact the over-the-shoulder view — windows, pillars, head restraints and seat belts — and the results are telling. Despite the proliferation of electronic aids to show what's nearby, there's nothing quite like clear sightlines to begin with — and few things get my goat quite like bad ones.
2017 Subaru Forester
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Forester topped our 2014 comparison thanks to its low beltline, tall windows and narrow roof pillars — something its rivals have yet to beat. The ceiling-mounted middle seat belt and tall head restraints (with no flip-down function) obstruct some visibility, but it's mostly smooth sailing in this Subie. It's also the Forester's third win in this comparison.
2017 Ford Escape
Narrow C-pillars (that is, the pillars next to the backseat; D-pillars are in the cargo area) and a vast rear-quarter window make the Escape an easy sell on the visibility front. The rear window is a tad small, but the head restraints flip down (inset) to clear up the view straight back — an important provision given their size.
2017 Kia Sportage
Like its predecessor, the redesigned Sportage combines C- and D-pillars into a single column, but little things — narrower head restraints, a middle seat belt that's anchored more out of the way — make it visually slimmer. Kia's setup nixes the rear-quarter window, but it keeps the side windows big and taper-free all the way back.
2017 Honda CR-V
The CR-V has a lot of rear-quarter glass, but chunky head restraints block much of it, and those restraints don't flip down. The tall side windows help, but the C-pillars could stand a diet. The rear window feels distant and small (or a little bit of both), and it's pinned between substantial D-pillars.
2017 Toyota RAV4
The RAV4 benefits from narrow C-pillars and flip-down head restraints (inset), but the latter feature helps visibility straight back more than over the shoulder. The rear window is small, and the rear-quarter windows taper at their base — an area where you want to see more, not less.
2017 Jeep Cherokee
The Cherokee has a large rear window, and the rear-quarter windows extend to the beltline to aid sightlines down low, but thick pillars hamper visibility around them. There's a lot of potential here, but those pillars — especially the C-pillar and its bulky sail panel — need shrinkage.
2017 Mazda CX-5
The redesigned CX-5 is one of the shorter SUVs in the class, an attribute that pays dividends in the rear window; it feels closer and larger than many others. Still, chunky C- and D-pillars obstruct a swath of your 5 o'clock view, and the triangular rear-quarter windows show too little down low.
2017 Nissan Rogue
The Rogue's C-pillars are more upright than some, but a tall sail panel keeps them thick. What's more, the Rogue's considerable length — 184.5 inches, second only to the new Tiguan — makes for a far-off rear window. The rear-quarter windows are reasonably large but sit too high.
2018 Volkswagen Tiguan
A considerable 10.7 inches' extra length gives the redesigned 2018 Tiguan a lower, more distant rear window, but at least it's a wide one. The rear-quarter windows would be more usable if the bulkier head restraints didn't interfere; unlike in the last Tiguan, those restraints don't flip down.
2017 Hyundai Tucson
The Tucson's D-pillar might deserve its own Twitter handle. It swallows territory behind the rear head restraint, fanning out to join the C-pillar in a sort of tag-team chokehold on the rear-quarter window. With its steep rake and chunky sail panel, the C-pillar has a lot of bulk, too.
2018 Chevrolet Equinox
Like before, the Equinox's massive C- and D-pillars ensure the sliver of rear-quarter glass between them is useless. At least Chevrolet shrank the SUV's Stonehenge-sized head restraints to tidier dimensions for 2018, and they flip down (inset) to help the view straight back — though not necessarily over the shoulder, where it's all D-pillar behind 'em.
All photos came from the shoulder of the driver's seat, adjacent to the head restraint with no camera zoom. In each case, I positioned the front seat and steering wheel to a comfortable driving position for my 6-foot frame. I adjusted any backseat head restraints to their lowest positions, accounting with additional photos for any restraints that flip down to improve visibility. I put any sliding backseats in their rearmost positions, removed any cargo covers and adjusted any reclining seatbacks to positions where I'd comfortably sit. Finally, I deployed any ceiling-mounted center seat belts — something drivers should do so any fifth passenger can easily buckle. As you'll note, seat-mounted middle belts have a clear advantage.