Polestar 4 manages to split the Internet with one innovative and possibly very iffy idea

Polestar 4 manages to split the Internet with one innovative and possibly very iffy idea
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The attractive, white, all-electric 4-door coupe sat hidden under shimmering gold fabric for most of Wednesday morning at the New York International Auto Show before Polestar revealed its new 4-door EV, the Polestar 4, and presented an innovation conundrum: does a car need a rear window?

This was Polestar’s big innovation for its new EV: removing the rear window and instead placing an HD screen camera on the spoiler and projecting that image on the interior rear-view “mirror”. Of course, that mirror is now a display.

“It’s not just for the cool looks and the design of it,” said Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath in his presentation, “it actually has an incredible functional benefit.”

Polestar 4

Polestar 4 under fabric (Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

Ingenlath explained that, unlike roomier SUVs, a coupe like the Polestar 4 would naturally have a lower roof and move the center construction beam over the heads of the rear passengers. The space back there can only be narrowed so much because you need a clear line of sight from the rearview mirror to the rear window. However, when you remove the rear window, it lets you move the beam back while giving your passengers more headroom.

Converting the rear-view mirror into a display offers another benefit. Instead of looking at a mirror and seeing your car interior with a relatively small portal to the outside world in the middle of it, the entire display shows only what’s going on behind your car.

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Polestar 4

Polestar 4 rear camera (Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

It’s not a crazy idea and not even that new. Years ago, I sat in a concept car with a rearview mirror that could switch between a traditional mirror and a video feed from one of the car’s many cameras.

A better view and more interior room sounds like a win-win.

However, comments online ranged from incredulous to disappointment. Most insisted that the $54,900 EV, which is expected to ship later this year, would be inherently less safe than a car with a rear window.

Some wondered if the Polestar 4 would even be street-legal. There are laws on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration books that, as of 2014, expanded the required field of view for all passenger cars. This was mostly done to reduce accidents where drivers had backed over children because they couldn’t see them playing behind their cars.

The rules, however, don’t address rear windows, just visibility. By that measure, the Polestar 4 might exceed safety requirements.

Others worried that the camera might get covered by snow, damaged, or even made less visible due to rain. I’d counter that the rear window on my sedan, which does not have a windshield wiper, is also pretty powerless against the rain.

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I’m not saying I love this idea. I can’t imagine teaching a new driver on the Polestar 4. Part of what you teach them is not to trust your mirrors. Yes, use them as a backup to make sure you’re aware of your physical surroundings and not about to change lanes into another car or that there’s no one standing behind you, but nothing beats seeing things directly. Turning your head to look out the rear window while you back up is good training for green drivers. It’s also the only way they learn about their car’s blind spots.

I understand that modern cars, especially EVs, have lots of cameras. I sat in a Lucid Air Grand Touring and saw cameras that could show me each wheel. Cameras like these, including all those on the Polestar 4, deliver valuable information that you can’t get by simply looking out a window and they can help with assistive driving features. However, as soon as we remove windows, we’re forced to rely on those cameras for crucial safety information. Perhaps they do offer a better and clearer view of the world outside our cars but I’m not sure they should ever offer the only view.

Finally, when Ingenlath first started describing the lack of a rear window and a “virtual view,” I assumed that the rear window glass might’ve been replaced with a giant screen that made it look as if you were looking out the back of the car. I know, the rear-view mirror display makes more sense, but I think I still like the idea of a giant display in the back, one that you sometimes have to look back over your shoulder to check.

@techradar

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