Cars have been displaying sunroofs as a feature in certain models since the 1920s, but the design of the sunroof has changed over the years. There are many different types of sunroofs for cars, each with its own benefits and design appeal that they offer to the look and driving experience of the car.
A sunroof is a method of adding class and style to a car with a functional benefit. A sunroof can be fixed or made to be opened, using various methods and mechanisms to retract the panel. Some sunroof types are integral to the design of the car, while others can be an aftermarket fitment.
Sunroofs are a design feature in many modern cars that bring a feeling of freedom and sun on your skin feeling to driving your car. Various types of sunroofs have been created that provide different levels of exposure to the elements and bring a new dimension to the overall look of the car.
Types Of Sunroofs
Sunroofs began as a status symbol in cars, where the exposed driver indicated that the owner sitting in the back of the car was wealthy enough to have a chauffeur.
Early cars with this sunroof style had an open-air driver compartment and an enclosed passenger section. This style became known as a Coupe de Ville design and was the beginning of the modern sunroof.
As cars became more commonplace and used in inclement weather, a better solution was needed to protect the driver and other passengers in the car.
Increased speeds of modern cars demanded a sunroof that could be adjustable or closed completely at high speeds to prevent noise or discomfort for the car’s occupants.
The demand in the market for different sunroof designs has led to several models that are incorporated into cars using various means, providing comfort to the occupants without compromising the aesthetics of the car.
Sunroofs have become so popular that many car manufacturers include them as a feature or an optional extra in car designs such as hatchbacks and SUVs. In the early days of the sunroof, it was seen as a feature for sportier models rather than standard urban cars.
Car manufacturers found that adding a sunroof into the car design increased the public appeal and increased car sales.
Sunroof designs incorporate manual models, which require the car driver or passenger to open or remove the panels by hand or electric and electronic models.
The electric and electronic models have features such as single-press buttons to open and close the sunroof or for the sunroof to close automatically when the car ignition is turned off.
1. Pop-up Sunroof
The pop-up sunroof is one of the easiest sunroof designs for a manufacturer to include in a car’s design. There are no moving parts in this mechanism other than the locks to hold the panel in place.
The driver manually opens or removes the pop-up sunroof, which has two basic settings. The sunroof can be tilted open from one end to partially open the sunroof to let fresh air into the car. The second option is to remove the sunroof and store the panel in the car’s trunk or a compartment designed to store the panel.
Pop-up sunroofs can be installed in almost any car design since the panel can be adjusted to the roof size, and there are no motors or opening mechanisms that must be hidden in the car’s bodywork.
This type of sunroof is often marketed as an aftermarket installation option for cars, but it has also been included in the design of some prestigious cars, such as the Porsche 944 and the sporty Mazda RX-7.
2. Tilt-And-Slide Or Spoiler Sunroof
The pop-up sunroof is somewhat inconvenient since the sunroof cannot be fully opened or closed without exiting the vehicle and removing or replacing the panel.
The tilt-and-slide or spoiler sunroof combined the pop-up and sliding sunroof ideas to provide a more convenient opening mechanism that can be operated from within the car.
The spoiler sunroof can be tilted, like the pop-up sunroof, and left in this position to allow air to access the car’s interior. Once the sunroof has been tilted, it can be slid back above the car’s roof to open the sunroof.
This design does not allow the sunroof to be opened entirely since the slide mechanism only allows the sunroof to open to about 60% of the total opening.
Some spoiler sunroof models are manually operated, but most modern cars that use this design incorporate electrics to open the sunroof and slide it back.
The spoiler sunroof is a good design for smaller compact cars with limited roof space and cannot accommodate other sunroof designs.
The sunroof remains tilted as it slides over the car’s roof, which gives it the appearance of being a spoiler on the roof. This is how the design became known as a spoiler sunroof.
Spoiler sunroof designs are not typically suitable for aftermarket installation and are usually incorporated into the car’s original design and fitted in the factory during the manufacturing process.
3. In-Built Sunroof
The in-built sunroof is a completely different design from pop-up and spoiler sunroof designs, but an in-built design can incorporate some of the features of these two designs.
An in-built sunroof usually has a tilt feature, allowing the rear of the sunroof to be popped up to create a small opening in the roof.
One of the attractive benefits of an in-built sunroof is that the sunroof can open completely, offering a better aesthetic from the inside and outside of the car. The design also incorporates express opening and closing functions similar to spoiler sunroof designs.
The express opening and closing features allow the sunroof to be opened or closed with an extended press of the operating button. The sunroof then opens or closes completely and automatically.
The in-built sunroof design slides the sunroof into a compartment between the metal roof of the car and the interior headliner. The additional space required by the sunroof results in a loss of headroom inside the car. The design of cars where this sunroof is installed is usually modified to add additional internal headspace to cater to the storage space needed.
Consequently, this design is not suitable for all car types, and it is usually installed at manufacture rather than as an aftermarket fitment. The roof’s size and shape must also accommodate the entire sunroof panel in the rear part of the roof.
The original in-built sunroof design used a metal panel painted the same color as the rest of the car’s roof. Later designs used glass or perspex panels, which has not become the preferred style for this sunroof type. The 1960 Ford Thunderbird was one of the first cars to use this sunroof design.
4. Folding Sunroof
Folding sunroof designs were more popular in Europe car designs than in the US. This design lost popularity in the US for several years but began gaining public interest again. The folding sunroof is known by several names, including rag-top, soft-top, and the more sophisticated sounding Cabrio coach.
The folding sunroof design offered a larger opening for the sunroof, which transforms the car’s look to be similar to a convertible.
The sunroof material is a soft fabric, which can be leather, but is more commonly vinyl. The fabric folds at the car’s rear as the sunroof slides back.
In some cars, this type of sunroof folds down completely into a hidden compartment at the rear of the passenger seats, tucking the sunroof out of sight. In other models, the fabric stacks at the rear of the passenger seats and remains in view.
The mechanism for folding sunroofs can be manual or electrically operated, with the most common method in modern cars being the electric option.
While the folding sunroof with the electric option can be used while the car is in motion, certain maximum speeds must be observed while closing or opening the sunroof. This precaution prevents the wind from damaging the sunroof and the mechanism.
This type of sunroof was popular in Europe on the VW Beatle and the Jeep Liberty in the USA.
5. Rail Mount Top-Slider Sunroof
Rail mount top-slider sunroofs are sometimes called top mount sliding sunroofs. This sunroof design had more popularity in Europe than in other parts of the motoring world. Many iconic European cars, such as the London Taxi, featured this sunroof style.
The rail mount top-slider sunroof has rails mounted on either side of the opening. The sunroof panel pops up, slides back over the roof, and remains parallel to the roof surface. An advantage of this sunroof style is that there is no loss in headroom inside the vehicle.
The sunroof is typically made from glass panels that slide over the car’s roof, and the rails have integrated wind deflectors to eliminate wind noise and reduce the possibility of leaks at speed.
The top-mounted rails of the design lend themselves to aftermarket kits that can be fitted to almost any car. As a result, the rail mount top-slider sunroof was made available as an aftermarket fitment suitable for any car with the right size roof.
In Europe, many top-slider sunroofs were incorporated into the manufacturing process and fitted as the car was built. The French Renault 5 had certain models with this sunroof as a standard feature.
6. Panoramic Sunroofs
The intention of panoramic sunroof designs is to maximize the upward view through the car’s roof. To achieve this, most of the roof consists of panels of glass or plexiglass. In some versions, there is a front and rear sunroof, where one may be fixed and unable to open, and the other can be opened.
Some manufacturers took the idea to extremes, of which the Lincoln XL-500 1953 concept car is a prime example. The Lincoln featured a bubble canopy over the full length of the passenger compartment, giving a completely clear view of the surroundings.
The mechanism used in sections of the panoramic sunroof that can be opened is generally the same as those used in the top-slider sunroof designs.
Panoramic sunroof designs have been used in various car models, from BMW Mini to Mercedes C Class, Tesla Model S, and even the Porsche Cayenne.
7. T-Top Sunroofs
T-top sunroofs, also called Targa sunroofs, have removable panels that open towards the car’s sides, leaving a central metal strip across the length of the roof.
The central beam across the middle of the roof and the panel across the top of the windscreen create a T-shape, which gives this sunroof design its name.
In some versions of the T-shape sunroof, the panels are not removable but are made from glass or plexiglass to provide a permanent view. In other openable versions, the panels must be removed manually and stowed in the car. These panels are usually made from metal rather than glass.
In contrast to the T-shape, the Targa version uses one complete sheet of plexiglass that stretches across the entire car width. This style removes the need for the typical cross-bracing of the T-shape.
Due to the specialized nature of these panels and that the designs are made to fit a particular car, these sunroof styles are not available as aftermarket options for fitment on other cars.
Some iconic cars have made these sunroof styles famous, such as the Pontiac Firebird, Triumph TR4, Porsche 911 Targa, and the Porsche 914. Less iconic cars like the Toyota Supra and the Honda NSX have emulated the trend.
8. Solar Sunroof
With more car manufacturers looking for green, eco-friendly forms of power, the solar sunroof was a step in this direction for some car manufacturers.
Most of the car makers that opted for this design were manufacturers of electric-powered cars. The solar sunroof operates as any other sunroof that is able to tilt or open, but the glass is embedded with photovoltaic or PV cells, similar to standard solar panels.
When the solar sunroof is open, it provides ventilation for the car cabin, but when closed, the PV cells generate power that runs the fans and internal cooling systems of the car.
The PV cells in the glass make the glass appear opaque or semi-transparent, making it impossible to see clearly through the sunroof glass.
The Toyota Prius, a hybrid model, is an example of a car that employs this technology in a sunroof, but other manufacturers such as Audi and Tesla have begun incorporating this type of sunroof in their electric cars.
9. Moon Roof Sunroof
Certain types of sunroofs are called moon roofs, which may be confusing to some people. Essentially a moon roof is any sunroof made from a material that allows a view through the sunroof when it is closed.
This description excludes a sunroof design that uses metal panels, which do not provide a view when closed. In many cases, the moon roof is a fixed, non-opening glass or plexiglass covering over the rear seat section of the car. An example of a moon roof of this design is the Aston Martin Lagonda Series 2, 3, and 4.
A sunroof can be a useful feature in a car to provide added ventilation as well as enhance the view and the driving experience.
Sunroofs designed as part of the car can add to the car’s aesthetics and create an iconic style, making the model more recognizable.
The popularity of sunroofs among the motoring public means this feature will be incorporated in future car models for years to come.