The design style that’s great at reducing rearward visibility

Volvo has just pulled the covers off its all-new, 2018 XC40 crossover, and boy, Volvo clearly knows how to design a compact crossover with style and class. But one design feature strikes my eye as oddly satisfying – the massively thick D-pillars. Positioned over the rear wheels, the wide sheet metal connects the roof to the body, but is far beefier (visually, at least) than it needs to be in order to maintain the roof’s structural integrity. Clearly, it’s a stylistic piece.

In my view, the thick D-pillar helps give visual weight to the XC40’s rear, helping offset the perceived weight under that long, flat hood. Admittedly, I’m liking the XC40’s rear pillar best when split between the white body and black roof. But that doesn’t discount what’s got to be a hampered rear view. It’s a great thing the XC40 comes standard with Blind Spot Monitoring or else lane changes would be a nightmare. Of course, Volvo isn’t the only automaker putting form over function with its pillar thickness. I’ve compiled a list of SUVs and crossovers that feature incredibly thick D-pillars.

Continue reading for more.

D-Pillars Gone Mad!

Lexus RX

2016 Lexus RX
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Wow, just look at that thing – that D-pillar is so thick it nearly engulfs the C-pillar into a single piece. There is a tiny window between the rear doors and the tailgate, meaning the RX has a large blind spot should the driver try looking over his right shoulder. Yet, Lexus designers attempt to make the window larger from the outside with a piece of piano black plastic and chrome trim to give the RX a floating roof design. In practice, it’s sort of a neat look and is something not seen before the last decade.

Read our full review on the Lexus RX.

2017 Jeep Compass

2017 Jeep Compass High Resolution Exterior
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Jeep’s newest two-row crossover, the 2017 Compass, uses a thick D-pillar, as well. Like the Lexus RX, the Jeep Compass utilizes black and chrome trim work to accent the sheet metal covering the back quarters of the greenhouse. While this blends the roof into the lower body rather well, the result is a large hunk of non-transparent material that obstructs good rearward visibility. Aside from the inherent visibility downfall, the thick D-pillar certainly marks a vehicle as being a part of the modern age. It’s doubtful this style will remain vogue within a few decades, though.

Read our full review on the 2017 Jeep Compass.

Nissan Murano

2015 - 2016 Nissan Murano High Resolution Exterior
- image 548777

Nissan is a big purveyor of fat D-pillars. Many of its vehicles share this trendy design style, including the Maxima sedan and this, the Murano. Competing in the mid-size, two-row crossover category, the Murano is a surprisingly loveable machine that far exceeded my expectations when I spent a week behind the wheel. Aesthetically, the Murano’s curvy fenders and falling roofline are juxtaposed to the handful of sharp angles strategically placed around the exterior design. Of course, the Murano’s designers gave it the thick D-pillar treatment, discreetly hiding a window within the streak of black that runs from the rear windows and wraps around the tailgate. Like the others, chrome trim is used to separate the body’s bright paint form the dark accent splitting the roof from the body.

Read our full review on the Nissan Murano.

GMC Terrain

2018 GMC Terrain High Resolution Exterior
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Here’s a bit of back-story: the 2018 Volvo XC40’s D-pillar design seemed so straingly familiar the instant I saw it. Then it hit me – it looks very similar to that of the 2018 GMC Terrain. While not a dead match, the pairing served as the inspiration to explore this D-pillar topic.

Comparisons aside, the new Terrain looks mostly appealing, especially in GMC’s range-topping Denali form. Yet, regardless of the trim level, the Terrain features that kinked beltline and sloping roof. Like the Nissan Murano, the GMC Terrain comes with a tiny window above the rear tires. They serve no function other than to let in a marginal amount of light and hold embedded antennas for the AM/FM radio. That’s those squiggly black lines seen from the inside on the driver-side window.

Read our full review on the GMC Terrain.

2006-2016 Jeep Compass

2007 Jeep Compass
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Yet another Jeep Compass makes the list, but this time it’s the first-generation version and its mid-cycle refresh that came in 2011. Both first-gen body styles used the thick D-pillar styling. In fact, placed side-by-side, the 2018 Volvo XC40 seems like its D-pillar design most closely resembles this almost unlovable series of Jeeps. The first-gen Compass even used the oddly placed C-pillar door handle for the rear doors – a consequence of the flared haunches over the rear tires. The overall aesthetic of these Compass models, especially from the rear three-quarter view, is that of squared-off angles that are just curved enough to seem droopy and just straight enough to seem uninspired. Perhaps it’s clear I consider the 2006-2010 Jeep Compass to be one of the most hideous crossovers to have ever rolled down America’s streets – and the D-pillar is only a small part of its problem.

Read our full review on the 2006-2016 Jeep Compass


So, here’s the deal: It seems the thick D-pillar trend is here to stay, at least for a little while. Sure, the whole “floating roof” style is a welcomed break from the three-box design of most traditional SUVs, but its intrusiveness to outward visibility and interior cargo storage volume are its biggest detractors. Perhaps we’ll look back someday and gawk at the style like its tall fins on a wide-body Cadillac of the 1950s. Maybe it’ll be so widespread throughout the industry that thick D-pillars become an accepted part of natural vehicle design, much like the twin-grille design has become on modern vehicles’ faces. Only time will tell. At least we can pinpoint an interesting element of design and its spread over various models and brands.

So, what do you think? Do you like the big D-pillar and floating roof stylings? Do you think it will stick around or become the modern-day equivalent to fins on a 1950s land yacht? What about any vehicles I missed? Let us know in the comments below.


Volvo XC40

2018 Volvo XC40 High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the Volvo XC40.

2014 Volvo S60 Polestar Exterior
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Read more Volvo news.

Mark McNabb
Mark McNabb was a contributor at TopSpeed from 2013 to 2018. Growing up, Mark always had a mind for tinkering on random items throughout his home and dad’s garage, including a 1953 Ford Mainline and 1971 Corvette Stingray.  Read More
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