Here at The Autopian, we love automotive dead-ends. From pickups trucks made out of junked cars to fiber optic light indicators, few things thrill us more than vehicles and features that went absolutely nowhere. However, sometimes a feature dies because it’s supplanted by something that performs a similar task in a better way. The exact definition of better may vary, but sometimes the automotive relics of the past are hiding in plain sight. Case in point? The marvelous rearview mirror sun visor.
Going way, way back to when auto-braking cars were pure science fiction, one of the most underrated luxury features on the market was a tiny third sun visor to cover the windscreen around the rearview mirror. Everyone knows the annoyance of having the sun shining in their face through an area impossible to block, and these mirror visors aimed to combat that with varying success.
Likely the most mainstream example is the mirror sun visor available on the popular Mk4 Volkswagen Golf and Jetta. This tiny little visor normally sat neatly tucked in front of the overhead console until it was time to deploy it, in which case owners would flip it forward to block the windscreen area above the rearview mirror. Simple, genius, and most importantly accessible — you didn’t need Mercedes Benz pockets to enjoy this third visor.
However, the Mk4 Golf was far from the first car to offer a mirror visor. W124 Mercedes-Benz E-Class models had it back in the 1980s, and W126 S-Class models got it even earlier. In real life, the W124’s middle visor is remarkably sturdy for such a small trim piece, but that shouldn’t be terribly surprising. If anything, it just matches the rest of the car’s peerless quality and vision.
Even Japanese automakers got in on mirror visor mania, with Lexus offering this simple feature in the original SC coupe. Admittedly, the third visor in the SC could’ve been a little deeper due to the rake of the glass, but under certain circumstances, this tiny little visor was plenty enough.
Despite the brilliance of the third visor, it also added cost and complexity to every car so equipped. Each unit would need a visor, a hinge, and associated hardware, adding precious cents in cost. A few dozen cents here and there doesn’t sound like much, but multiply that by hundreds of thousands of cars, and the money adds up quickly. As such, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that the third visor never really caught on in the mainstream — or did it?
In the modern digital era, new cars are more complex than ever. Desirable features such as advanced driver assistance systems and rain-sensing wipers require a litany of sensors, and automakers often don’t have much choice on where to put them. You want several of these sensors to be forward-facing, well-protected, as high up on the car as practical and as centered as feasible. The obvious solution? Place them inside the top of the windscreen, right next to the interior rearview mirror. However, these sensors can’t be exposed from the inside because that’s ugly, so they’re typically hidden under a smooth plastic shroud. A shroud that more often than not conveniently blocks light from around the rearview mirror.
From Chevrolets to Subarus, pretty much every new car now comes with a convenient piece of plastic acting as a fixed third visor, preventing glare from leaking through the space between the top of the rearview mirror and the top of the windshield. They don’t all form a seamless band in combination with the sun visors, but adjustable third visors rarely did either.
[Ed note: I love the third visor and have long mourned its disappearance so, credit where credit is due, this is something I’ve seen in dozens of cars and it didn’t occur to me once that this basically does the same thing. It’s also exactly the kind of thing Thomas would notice. – MH]
Long live the mirror visor in whatever form it takes. From flip-down pieces to plastic used to hide sensitive components, the mission of keeping glare out of our eyes is both noble and caring. Could a similar objective be achieved with a wider frit band? I suppose it could, but making a dedicated part is just plain cooler.
(Photo credits: eBay seller, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Chevrolet)
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