6 reasons to avoid a panoramic roof


There’s nothing I love more than the look of a vehicle with a panoramic sunroof. Whether you’re looking at the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class or the more lowly Kia Optima, vehicles equipped with full black tinted glass roofs simply look the business. I especially like the contrast between the dark roof and lighter paint colours, such as a beautiful snow white-pearl or light silver metallic.

Most people would tend to agree with how good they look, but having owned a panoramic sunroof equipped vehicle for the past 3 years or so, I feel there are some important issues which new car buyers need to know about before ticking that box on the options list.



1. Increased heat entering the vehicle

This might seem obvious, but a panoramic sunroof creates a massive window (literally) through which heat from the sun can enter your vehicle. The severity of this issue depends on your location in the world, how hot the summer temperatures are and also the clearness of the sky, which has an affect on the strength of the sunlight. Here in Australia, we regularly see summer daytime temperatures in excess of 40c (104f), with crystal clear blue skies allowing the strength of the sun to reach simply murderous levels.

On days like that, leaving any vehicle (sunroof or not) out in the sun for 15 minutes or more and interior temperatures will sky-rocket, but a panoramic sunroof equipped car makes the situation even worse, with heat from the sun overhead essentially having a direct path in. You’d think tinted glass would help somewhat, but sadly it makes little difference. Tinted glass works on the principal of absorbing the heat itself instead of allowing it to pass through into the interior, essentially creating a large super-heated element across the top of your vehicle.

The retractable cloth sunshades fitted directly below the panoramic sunroof do reduce the amount heat which transfers down into the cabin, but also enable an incredible amount of heat to build up in the space in-between. This heat continues to radiate through for quite some time after you get in and start driving, meaning your vehicle’s air-conditioning system has to work a lot harder to bring the cabin back down to a comfortable temperature and then maintain that temperature.



2. Reduced headroom

You’d think that optioning a panoramic sunroof in your vehicle would give you more headroom, but usually this is not true. The additional space required for the panoramic sunroof’s motor mechanism and sunshade rollers means that your car will most likely have less headroom compared to if you went without it. Sometimes the difference can be as much as 5cm (2 in).

Retracting the sunshade or opening the sunroof itself often doesn’t fix the issue, either, as the opening itself doesn’t go far enough across in relation to where the driver’s head is located. Put simply, taller drivers would have to tilt their head on an angle towards the centre of the car in order to have their head positioned within the panoramic roof opening, clearing the head liner. The only other alternative for tall people is to recline the seat back further in an attempt to gain more headroom, but this can create ergonomic issues relating to steering wheel and pedal reach.

So if you’re rather tall, do try out the seating position in a panoramic sunroof equipped vehicle before you decide to order or purchase one. You’ve been warned!



3. Added weight where you don’t want it

Manufacturers work hard to reduce the weight of their vehicles as it pays dividends when it comes to acceleration, braking and fuel economy. Where possible, they also try to position heavy objects (such as the engine, gearbox and fuel tank) as low down in the vehicle as possible, in order to improve vehicle stability and handling.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that a 100kg+ (220lb+) glass roof running across the very top of the vehicle isn’t exactly the best idea. The reason they weigh so much is due to glass being a heck of a lot thicker and heavier than steel or aluminium roof panels, not to mention all the additional reinforcing bars, electric motors and drainage channels required.

Think about it another way. Having a panoramic sunroof fitted to your vehicle is essentially the same as having an additional 100kg+ passenger in your car permanently.



4. Added complexity and noise

While it may be similar to the weight factor I mentioned above, this is an important issue to consider in its own right. Panoramic sunroofs introduce added complexity to a vehicle. Suddenly you’ve got two or more heavy glass panels; motors, channels and rollers for the sunshade; plus the main motor and sliding mechanism for the sunroof panel itself.

Aside from all being parts which could break or go wrong, they’re all positioned directly above your head, with the potential for a myriad of rattles, squeaks and flexing noises to develop and annoy the hell out of you as you drive along. It is also worth noting that rain drops hitting a glass roof are a heck of a lot louder, too.

A conventional steel/aluminium roof is not only quieter but most importantly there’s nothing hiding behind the roof lining that could could rattle or break in the future.



5. Reduced structural integrity.

When it comes down to it, a panoramic sunroof is essentially a giant hole in the roof of your vehicle, and while they do contribute to the structural rigidity of the vehicle, it’ll never be as good or as strong as a vehicle with a conventional roof. It is also worth considering that, by design, the rubber seals themselves are not 100% waterproof. While the rubber seals do keep the majority of the water out, panoramic sunroofs rely instead on water drainage channels within the roof of the vehicle to keep the moisture out.

These drainage points can sometimes clog, potentially causing the drainage channels to overflow and leak water into the cabin.



6. How often will you actually use it?

People often purchase convertible vehicles because they imagine they’ll get the roof down all the time, but the reality is very different. Often it is simply too hot, too cold or too windy to drive with the roof down and as a result the driver eventually stops using it. From what I’ve seen, panoramic sunroof equipped vehicles often suffer a similar fate.

Like a convertible, a panoramic sunroof by design is an ‘all or nothing’ proposition. You can’t have the sunroof open unless the internal sunshades are completely retracted, meaning the entire vehicle is open to the sun. This makes it pointless to leave the sunroof open or tilted whilst parked (in an effort to vent hot air from the vehicle) as the glass roof will let in far more heat than the sunroof can expel.

In addition, sunroofs are often too loud to have open at speeds above 80kmh (50mph), unless you enjoy yelling at your passengers in order to have a conversation.


So, would you still option a panoramic sunroof?

Despite their flaws, some vehicle owners do love their panoramic sunroofs. Perhaps they live in a more forgiving climate, or the system employed in their vehicle is better designed than the ones I have dealt with in the past. But I do know that the next time I go to purchase a vehicle, I’ll definitely save the money and go without a panoramic sunroof.

They may look fantastic and the idea of owning a vehicle with one is extremely appealing, but do consider my warning that the reality might not live up to your expectations. Think long and hard about it before you pull the trigger on that particular option.

Do you own a vehicle with a panoramic sunroof? If so, what are your thoughts?



  1. I agree wholeheartedly with Sean’s comments, and add that a used car warranty does NOT cover panoramic sunroofs. Why not? When they go wrong, they can go very seriously wrong. I recently bought a 2007 Mercedes A200 Elegance from a reputable non Mercedes used car dealer and paid top dollar. On the test drive I did not notice undue noise but several days after purchasing it I detected a whistling wind noise. The roof appeared fully closed so I dismissed the roof as the cause. However, on opening and closing the roof several times it did not close fully on the rear right hand side. I took it to a panel beater who detected the closing mechanism was broken. Then took it to a Mercedes dealer who inspected it and told me it probably needs replacing. The cost $13-14,000 parts only add probably 2 days lablour removing head lining, removing, and refitting, the end cost could be $18,000! This is why you do NOT buy a car with a sunroof especially a BMW or Mercedes, and more especially NOT in Australia. Over time the plastics used deteriorate and fail. What did I do? I disabled the opening controls, and will NOT use it again. I have gaffa taped lid and sealed it off. I turned the water hose on full bore and there were no leaks. The cost $5.60. HEED SEAN’S ADVICE.

  2. Sorry to hear about your experience Patrick. I’m sure there are plenty of happy panoramic sunroof owners out there, but as you discovered, buying a vehicle with one does come with its fair share of risks. In your case I’d definitely look into taking the car to an alternative dealership or garage to see what they say, as the price you’ve been quoted is astronomical. If you can get it fixed cheaply and sell the car off you might get more money back than if you leave the gaffa tape on there. Good luck.

    • Funnily enough, after replying here i’ve started noticing a Mercedes-Benz ad appearing on websites I’ve been visiting, stating “Always request an authorised Mercedes-Benz repairer. Don’t compromise on safety.”

      • Hello Sean,
        Your comments about panoramic car ceilings are to the point. Not regarding exactly what we are talking here, but my plan is to make one 12 seater Mercedes pick up van with total glass roof and windows. There are many hurdles to this project. The biggest problem is harsh weather, The temperatures sometimes gets down to -40. I am a physician and also run a “Business of Kindness.” This glass – top van is to be used for our residents to get them out of the confines of the building during the long winter months.
        Please visit our website, and I would need your expertise to help me in this unique project.

  3. Well it depends on personal preferences, for me I can’t imagine the beauty of my Mercedes without the panoramic roof, it gives the car a looks and sexiness. Also it saves me on petrol because on a high way and urban drive I don’t open aircon, the sunroof bring in the cooler air with much lesser noise than when opened the windows. It terms of the risks of it gets faulty, I see no difference to it and the electric windows they can also be faulty. I don’t complain it terms of the sunlight when parked, if the blind is closed. In short I love my panoramic sunroof & if it gets faulty after my car is out of warranty, I don’t mind I will pay to get it fixed in Merc approved places to get it work properly.

  4. I have a Skoda Yeti with a panoramic sunroof, which is only closed when parked..I love having it open, at all speeds, during all seasons; the only thing that makes me keep it closed is pouring rain! I open it to release heat when parked during hot & sunny weather, & all of my passengers who don’t have a panoramic roof mention how quickly the hot air rises out of the car – in fact, I have the aircon on (the cool air stays low within the car), & still enjoy the sunshine without feeling the roast.
    I have the roof open in winter to enjoy the sunshine & have the heater on – the warm air swirls around my feet to my shoulders & I still get to enjoy the ‘outdoor’ feeling.
    If it sprinkles, I check the cow hide – if it gets drips that don’t dry pretty much straight away then I reluctantly close the gaping hole in my roof.
    I make sure my Skoda dealer pays particular attention to the lube & drain cleaning requirements of my roof at each service, & I’ve hd no trouble at all.
    I will never have a tin can again; always a glass view upwards to enjoy the tall buildings in the city and the beautiful grandiose treetops of the forests. So much better than all my other cars. I am an avid motorcyclist though, so being addicted to wind & weather is in my blood hahaha!

  5. I live in Phoenix, AZ and here its not rare to see them hit 115 f with some days getting to 117 f. The local news did a short segment where they left a car outside during the day and put a thermometer inside and the temperature in the car reached 160 f something with a hot spot of 175 f ish on the dashboard/front of the car. So here is probably an even worse idea.

    • Yes, but they fail to mention that they also come with the ability to close off the panoramic glass by closing the screen as well.

      There are times that the sun is coming in at an angle that it creates a glare on my touch screen. So I just close the shade and presto… you have a normal car roof.

      This helps in deflecting the sun’s heat as well.

      • The article mentioned that even with the shade, heat builds between the glass and the shade. So no, sunroofs, panoramics or otherwise a, shade or not, will never be like a normal roof.

  6. Was thinking of buying the Hyundai i30 with the Panoramic sunroof…it is quite tinted and looks amazing. i have Googled and found that a lot of people love it but have also found that there have been a lot of cases where the tempered glass that they use for the panoramic sunroofs have exploded…im not entirely sure why they explode as i have seen videos of how they test it and it looked pretty safe…quite concerned now

    • Panoramic sunroofs can explode, but from what I’ve read it is quite a rare event and difficult to pinpoint the reason why in each case. There are many other things that can go wrong with a panoramic roof, and an explosion is probably the last thing I’d be worried about.

  7. I have been driving for 3-4 years now with a Mercedes-Benz A-class with the panoramic roof.
    It was a must-have after growing accustomed to the light in the car after driving a Alfa-Romeo Brera. Which had a very nice windshield that extended over the roof giving a ver wide viewing-angle. But it didn’t open up and.. heavy as that car already was, it added too much weight for it to be comfortable. (imagine thick wheels on a overweight car. Add glas panels to it. Riding on a rough highway.. Even the radio was drowned out of the noise that made…)

    The Mercedes is another story: the car is still light and agile. The use of the roof… it’s about 2 months a year. Where you can “air out the car” easily or just tilt the panel to get a little airflow. In the summertime it s amazing and it adds to a more voluminous feeling in the car. (my girlfriend has the same car without the roof, it doesn’t bother but it feels more… “cosy” in a way.)

    It boils really down to the brand and car-characteristics in my mind. The Mercedes is worth it for me. While the Alfa gave a better “viewing experience” while it made it quite uncomfortable to drive long times with it.

  8. Thanks for everyone’s comments. I am considering purchasing either a Nissan Murano or a Hyundai Santa Fe. Personally, I couldn’t care less about have a panoramic sunroof but my wife likes it. I had a melanoma several years ago and I am worried about the sun rays getting through. The melanoma was on the inside of my leg but I don’t have as much hair as I used to. So long as the sun shades are available and I can block out the sun coming in, then I am okay with the extra heat. I am guessing the only time I would have it open would be a night drive anyway. But my main concern is whether all cars with the panoramic sunroof have the sun shades to block out the sun. We have a Honda CR-V that has a regular sunroof and there is a sunshade which I always keep closed. I have no idea if the Murano or Santa Fe have the sunshades. I welcome any thoughts on my reasoning. Thanks in advance.