I’ll admit it — my brow furrowed after first glimpsing the digital side mirrors adorning the Japanese-market 2019 Lexus ES. Strange, foreign, and unnecessary, the automaker’s new “Digital Outer Mirrors” seem like an answer to a question no one asked, but obviously someone did.
My next thought was how this would meld well with automakers’ infuriating tendency to outfit their concept vehicles with narrow, useless blades jutting from the leading edge of the side glass. Thinking it over, I realized Toyota’s little mirror-scrapping experiment has too many upsides to ignore.
Offered only on the next-gen ES in Japan, Toyota Motor Corp. plans to use the limited roll-out as a litmus test, with the possibility of wider availability in the future.
We’ve already seen dual-function rear-view mirrors already, with drivers allowed to flip between a traditional reflection or a wide-angle video feed of the car’s aft environs. It’s a feature I found more useful than annoying in recent high-end GM vehicles. Still, replacing side mirrors with two 5-inch screens located at the base of the vehicle’s A-pillar is an extra measure of radical. It’s yet another feature that compels us to never look outside our vehicles.
But how much do we really see in our side-view mirrors?
Toyota’s system contains a camera shrouded by a narrow fairing, with the automaker claiming it’s impervious to snow and raindrop accumulation (and quieter at highway speeds). Not restricted by surface area like a mirror, the camera provides a wider field of view, while the screen places the blind-spot monitor more prominently in driver’s field of view. One has to wonder if shoulder checks are on the verge of extinction. More importantly, the camera/screen combo — free of raindrops or some other accumulated muck — can peer through the dark, as well as provide the same type of parking guides as a backup camera.
Despite my rampant traditionalism, it’s the night vision function that won this writer over. Nothing unnerves me more than making a simple right-hander at night, especially from a stop. Why? There’s bike lanes everywhere around Casa Steph, and describing the reasons why would only prompt a rant. Certainly, all road users and pedestrians must remain alert to their surroundings, but some cyclists prefer to go about their lives with the phrase “He’s supposed to see me” floating through their minds. The right-hand turn is often where steel meets bike, especially when the vehicle is accelerating away from a stop.
Please don’t send me hate mail, militant bike lobby (that includes you, sporty guy who almost smacked into the side of a bus after berating me for stopping at a stop sign, then proceeding to make a left-hand turn, signal on, through the intersection you were blowing through at 25 mph.) Oh right, I promised not to rant.
Anyway, your local Lexus dealer won’t have any of these trick camera-mirrors available when the next-gen ES goes on sale this fall, but it might not stay that way. While I harbor concerns about the potentially distracting nature of the screen’s placement, it seems to be the way the industry’s heading.