Panoramic sunroof pros and cons

Looking to brighten your driving experience? The sky's the limit with a panoramic sunroof. Check out the pros and cons of a glass roof here

James Wilson
Apr 27, 2021

A panoramic sunroof is a desirable feature on a modern car for many drivers. It is easy to see why, as glass roofs fill the cabin with light and allow passengers to see out - perfect for helping those in the rear to feel less hemmed in. Or for distracting children and reducing how often you hear 'are we nearly there yet?' from the back seats.

Panoramic sunroofs are not without drawbacks, though, as they can negatively affect the practicality and even running costs of a car. So keep reading to get a feel for whether having a car with a panoramic roof works for you.

While panoramic sunroofs come in a range of shapes and sizes, they are generally all large rectangular panes of glass that span most of the width of a car’s roof. We say ‘generally’ as there are some oddballs out there, such as Tesla’s panoramic windscreen, which combines a windscreen and sunroof into one expansive piece of glass that curves up and over the front seats.

Some panoramic roofs, meanwhile, are long enough to extend over both front and rear passenger areas and some come with the ability to be opened (at the press of a button or flick of a switch) letting in lots of fresh air on hot summer days. Those that are both extra long and openable are normally split into two sections of glass - one part is usually fixed while the other can slide open. Such panoramic roofs are very desirable but complicated to make - as a result they typically cost more than smaller fixed panoramic roofs as an option on new cars.

Irrespective of which type of panoramic roof a car comes with, most include a blind to keep out sunlight when it isn’t wanted. Some models, such as the Kia Sportage, have electronic blinds while other cars use sunshades that require manual effort to open or close.

There are also manual blinds that open with the panoramic roof but do not close with it. This is because the glass pane pushes it as it opens but is unable to pull it back into position when it closes. A setup like this is most commonly found in smaller cars (such as the Fiat 500) where it is possible for a driver to reach the sun visor in its fully-open position while in their seat.

Pop-up wind deflectors that go along the front edge of the hole left by an open panoramic roof are commonly found on upmarket cars from brands such as Mercedes. They appear when the roof is open and are designed to reduce wind noise in the cabin.

Happily, though, you don't need to blow the budget on an expensive upmarket car to get a glass roof. There is a wide range of makes and models that are available with a panoramic roof so there should be something to suit most budgets. Cars with a panoramic roof include the likes of the Audi A3, Kia Sportage, Volkswagen Tiguan, BMW X3 and Ford Fiesta.

What are the differences between a panoramic sunroof and a regular sunroof?

Panoramic sunroof

Regular sunroof

Larger size

Only cover a portion of the roof above the front seats

Always made of glass

Can be made of glass or painted metal/plastic

Not always openable

Always openable (when over the front seats)

Heavy: can negatively impact fuel economy and performance

Typically less of an impact on fuel economy and performance

Roof racks can still normally be used

Roof racks can still normally be used

Some people use the term ‘moonroof’ to describe a glass sunroof or a panoramic sunroof. If in doubt whether any car you're considering has a sunroof - or a panoramic version - it's best to check with the seller, as this is not the kind of thing that can be easily added to a car.

Panoramic sunroof pros

Extra light. One of the biggest benefits of a panoramic sunroof is that it allows extra light into a car’s cabin - when the blinds are open, of course. As a result, a panoramic glass roof can make the interior of a car feel more spacious. Some even claim that a brighter cabin can help improve the mood of drivers and passengers.

Extra ventilation. Cars with opening panoramic roofs offer an excellent method of ventilating a cabin on hot or particularly sunny days. As heat naturally rises, opening up the roof is a great way to let hot cabin air escape. Similarly, when driving, opening a glass roof can result in less wind noise than opening windows, which means there is less to get in the way of enjoying your favourite dancefloor fillers. Additionally, keeping the windows closed can get more fresh air into the car while preventing young children from throwing things out of the window.

Extra visibility. Let’s not forget one of the main benefits of any glass is that it allows people to see what is on the other side. When parked, panoramic roofs allow a driver and passengers to star/cloud gaze to their heart's content. Similarly, light-based attractions such as the Blackpool illuminations, firework displays or even the Northern lights can be enjoyed from the comfort of a heated cabin. They can also help you to make sure you're not going to scrape the roof, if you're trying to take a particularly tall car somewhere with low ceilings, like a multi-storey car park.

Extra style. Panoramic roofs often come with some degree of tinting, with the glass being darker than normal windows. Not only can this help shield cabin occupants from intense sunlight but it can make for rather sleek and sometimes sporty styling - especially on cars which are painted in a lighter contrasting colour, such as white or silver.

Panoramic sunroof cons

Extra weight. Glass is heavy and putting a large panel on a car’s roof adds weight. The result is that for a car with a panoramic sunroof, fuel economy can be slightly worse than for a car without, as can performance, as the car has more weight to carry around. In cars where a sporty drive is less of a concern, this is less of an issue.

Extra complexity. Compared to a simple metal roof any panoramic roof adds complexity, which ultimately means there is more potential for things to go wrong. Panoramic roofs can also increase the chances of having a leak - although cleaning the exterior of a car regularly can go a long way to preventing this as it stops dirt and vegetation building up and preventing water from draining normally.

Extra expense. Being a desirable feature, a panoramic roof can drive up the price of a car - either new or used. This is especially true of new cars, where a panoramic roof might be an optional extra that costs £1,000 or £2,000. For example, a panoramic sunroof is just over £1,000 as an optional extra on a new Audi A3.

Less headroom. Adding in a panoramic roof can reduce the amount of headroom in the cabin - which is often most noticeable for taller passengers in the rear seats.

Example panoramic roof setups

As the world of panoramic roofs can be quite confusing, below are explanations of how four typical systems operate.

Audi A3 panoramic roof

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Audi launched a new version of its A3 in 2020 and higher-spec models are available with a panoramic glass sunroof. To be specific, it is an optional extra on S Line and Edition 1 trims but standard on Vorsprung specification.

The A3 is a great example of an opening panoramic roof that only extends over the front seats. Opening and closing the roof is done via a button in the roof (near the rear-view mirror). It can be pushed forward and back to slide the glass to and fro, or it can be pushed up to raise the rear of the glass a little or pulled down to shut it. There is also a retractable blind to keep out excess sunlight.

In addition to this, when approaching an A3 if you hold down the unlock button on the key it will lower all the windows and slightly open the sunroof. This is great for helping let hot air escape in warm weather. Similarly, holding the lock button shuts the windows and sunroof.

MORE DETAILS ON THE 2020 AUDI A3

Kia Sportage panoramic roof

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Most of the current Kia Sportage range (2, JBL Black Edition and GT-Line S trims) comes as standard with a panoramic sunroof. It extends over the front and rear passenger seats and the glass is split into two sections, though only the front section is openable.

Operation is similar to the Audi A3 above, with opening and closing controlled via a button which is fixed to the roof near the rear-view camera. Opening or closing the blind and sunroof can be done together or separately depending on whether the button is slid to its first or second position - the latter is for opening both at once.

Momentarily pressing the control button with the glass closed will tilt the rear of the glass up slightly. If you briefly press the sunroof button during opening or closing the sunroof will stop moving.

KIA SPORTAGE BUYERS' GUIDE

VW Tiguan panoramic roof

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The VW Tiguan is a similar type of car to the Kia Sportage in that it too is a medium SUV. A panoramic roof is available with all trims with 2021-on models but it is optional on standard, Life and R-Line variants but included on Elegance trim. The roof itself is very similar to the Kia Sportage sunroof in appearance and how it operates.

For instance, it extends above the front and rear seats, it is in two sections - although only the front part opens - and it has an electric blind that comes out underneath the glass. Some models, for example R-Line versions, even have LED lights that run along the length of the sunroof, which adds a bit of class at night time.

VOLKSWAGEN TIGUAN BUYERS' GUIDE

BMW X3 panoramic roof

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You can specify a panoramic sunroof across the BMW X3 range. This includes SE, xLine, M Sport and M trims. The glass itself covers the front and back seats and is split into two sections with an accompanying electric blind. The front section opens, while the rear section stays in place.

Opening and closing the roof is done using a switch located on the inside of the roof near the rear-view mirror. Assuming the roof and blind are closed, pushing the button backwards once will open the blind. Pushing it again will open the glass.

You can press the button twice - almost like a double tap on a phone - and both the glass and blind will slide out of the way. Sliding the button forward once or twice instead of backwards has the reverse effect. To tilt open the sunroof, the control button needs to be pressed upwards once. Repeating this will close it. If the blind is closed when the tilting function is used it will automatically open slightly.

BMW X3 BUYERS' GUIDE

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