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 a Kia Stinger, 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 consider before they tick that particular 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 clarity of the sky – which will determine how strong the sunlight is. Here in Australia, we regularly see summer daytime temperatures in excess of 40c (104f), combined with crystal clear blue skies allowing the strength of the sun to reach simply murderous levels.
On days like that, leaving any vehicle out in the sun for 15 minutes or more will see interior temperatures sky-rocket, but a panoramic sunroof equipped car will obviously be the hottest of the lot, because the heat from the sun overhead essentially has a direct path in. You’d think tinted glass would help somewhat, but sadly in our experience it makes little difference. Tinted glass works on the principle of absorbing UV rays directly instead of allowing them to pass through into the interior, and essentially creates a large, black, super-heated element across the top of the vehicle.
The retractable cloth sunshades fitted directly below the panoramic sunroof do prevent some of this heat from transferring down into the cabin, but this also means that an incredible amount of heat will build up in the space between. This heat can radiate through into the cabin for quite some time after you’ve entered the vehicle and started 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 it.
2. Reduced headroom
Now we wouldn’t blame you for thinking that optioning a panoramic sunroof in your vehicle would give you more headroom, but this simply isn’t the case. You see, 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 50mm (2 inches).
Retracting the sunshade or opening the sunroof 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, and clear the headliner. The only other alternative for tall drivers is to recline their 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, you definitely should test 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
Car 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 items (such as the engine, gearbox and fuel tank) as low as possible, in order to improve vehicle stability and handling.
So 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 like this. Having a panoramic sunroof fitted to your vehicle could be the equivalent of having an additional passenger in your car – permanently.
4. Added complexity and noise
While this may sound like a similar issue to the weight factor I mentioned above, it is an important issue to consider in its own right. Panoramic sunroofs introduce added complexity to a vehicle. Where there was previously just a sheet of metal and a headliner, suddenly you’ve got two or more heavy glass panels; electric motors, switches, 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 also positioned directly above your head – with the potential for all sorts of rattles, squeaks and flexing noises to develop over time and annoy the hell out of you while driving. It is also worth noting that raindrops hitting a glass roof are louder, too.
A conventional steel/aluminium roof is not only quieter, but most importantly contains nothing behind the roof lining that could rattle or break in the near 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 sunroof 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. In most vehicles, 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 sunroof equipped vehicles – you only have to check the comments below for proof of that. But perhaps they live in more forgiving climates, or the systems employed in their vehicles are better designed than the ones I have dealt with in the past. But knowing what I do now, the next time I 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 fitted is extremely appealing, but do consider my warning that the reality of owning a car with a panoramic sunroof might not live up to your expectations.
Do you own a vehicle with a panoramic sunroof? If so, what are your thoughts?