Gavin Green on improving humble rear-view mirrors

Published: 08 June 2012

If we exclude the tiny volume luxury car kings, the auto companies probably doing the best cabin designs right now are Audi, Jaguar and Volvo.

After a brief drive of the new and impressive Volvo V40 – the best Volvo I've driven – there was one particular stand-out cabin feature that raised an approving smile: the rimless rearview mirror. It is a small detail, of course, but a pleasing one. Many old cars - I'm talking  '60s and before - had dainty little rimless or chrome-bordered mirrors hanging from windscreen or header rail, or sprouting from dashtop like little silver flags. A friend's old Alfa Giulietta has just such a little jewel-like mirror, so did the XK120 Jaguar I drove in the Mille Miglia a few years ago.

Modern cars by contrast invariably have big heavy mirrors, invariably rimmed by cheap black plastic. They're more cabin carbuncles than jewel-like highlights, chunky plastic pendant not diamond solitaire necklace.

The V40's mirror is no delicate lightweight: blame auto dim and various electro gubbins that are all part of modern cars. But, from the cabin, you can't see any of that. Rather, there is just that single pleasingly styled rimless mirror, unencumbered by dowdy plastic frame.

Amazing how these little design details add up. Like the brilliant alloy rotary drive control, which levitates from centre console once engine is engaged, first shown on the Jaguar XF. Like the padded slush-moulding soft-touch plastic trim, now de rigueur in car cabins, which debuted on the Mk4 Golf. (Volkswagen still leads the 'mass makers' in cabin quality.)

We'll see more car makers go to rimless rear view mirrors. Either way, as auto makers fuss more and more about cabin quality – and about time too – so the humble rearview mirror is at last getting some design attention too.

By Gavin Green

Contributor-in-chief, former editor, anti-weight campaigner, voice of experience