There was a time when having a sunroof in your car meant that one probably went out of their way in flushing out a significant premium over the already hefty price for a luxury car. But with the ever so evolving market demands, the sunroof has become a must-have for many car buyers. Customers who particularly spend more than 10 lakhs on a car expect it to have a sun-roof these days. To some, it may seem insignificant but for most of them, the experience of owning a luxury car is incomplete without having a sunroof.
But how did sun-roofs come into existence in the first place? What is its origin story? How has it evolved into a ‘make or break’ feature? Let’s find out.
The Origin of the Sunroof
The first iteration of the sun-roof dates back to the early 20th century when horse carriage inspired car bodies were evolving to better suit the driver and passengers in a high-speed motor. Coup de Ville, a car body type from the vintage era had a fixed roof for the rear passengers and the driver compartment had an open cabin. These open cabins had part-time roofs which used to slide on to protect the driver on days of poor weather.
Later downs the years, cars adopted the Sedan body type which had one seamless metal roof enclosing the whole cabin. So in order to bring back the functionality of the Coup de Ville, Coach Builders began to fit sliding cloth or metal panels in the car roofs. So, the idea for a modern-day sunroof was born.
The First sunroof was the Nash car in 1937. It had a metal panel which capable of sliding out, bringing back the charm of open cabins.
Open roof cabins purpose started out as providing exposure to the surroundings to the driver. However, they soon became a thing of desire for the elite. Luxury Manufacturers like Bentley and Rolls Royce offered bespoke open roof options with the help of coach-builders. This enables the owners to enjoy the breeze while they chose to take the car out for a drive themselves.
Various innovations in sun-roof technology soon enabled the introduction of the sunroof to the mass-market cars. These innovations also led to the usage of glass panels, evolving from the cloth and metal panels.
Modern-day Sunroofs and its introduction In India
There are various types of sun-roofs which we’ll discuss down below. But the basic layout with all types of modern sunroofs is the same, a tinted glass panel housed on the roof with a sunshade matching the interior headliner on the inside.
The concept of sunroofs has existed in the international markets all through the 20th century. However, the Indian car market saw the introduction of this feature in the late ’90s and early ’2000s. This feature took off in India in the same way it originated, only available for luxury cars that too for an extra premium. German car manufacturers like Opel and Skoda were probably the first ones to sell cars with the option of the sunroof in India. But these were luxury cars which too many people couldn’t afford at the time.
Fact: The Hyundai i10 was one of the first cars from the entry-level segments to offer a sunroof in its top-spec trim. Hyundai sold very few numbers of this variant of the i10 in India.
The influx of the Sunroof with the modern SUVs and Crossovers
The Sunroof has never been a thing for small economy cars but has always been a desirable feature even for the ones who couldn’t afford cars from the executive class. This void was filled by the emergence of the feature-loaded compact SUVs like Tata Nexon, Mahindra XUV300, Honda WRV, etc. All these cars feature a sun-roof in their top-spec trim these days and make for a fine experience of the sunroof feature at an affordable price.
Despite cars like the Honda City and Hyundai Verna existing in somewhat the same price range and having the option of a sunroof, the hype for them has only picked up post the compact SUV/Crossover takeover.
Difference between Sunroof and Moonroof
We all remember arguing with our friends if this glass thingy on the car’s roof is called Sunroof or a Moonroof. Most people say they are the same things and they can be deemed correct as these modern-day roof windows have combined the features of the two.
But technically there is a difference. Sunroofs were originally body-coloured panels which were opaque and light could only enter the cabin if the panel was to slide away, titled open or removed entirely.
Moonroofs, on the other hand, has a tinted glass panel covering the roof window or running along the length of the roof. Moonroofs allow light to enter into the cabin without being opened. However, they have the option of tilt and slide opening as well. A panoramic moonroof is the best example of this type.
What you see in most modern cars today is technically a Moonroof as the traditional Sunroof is a thing of the past now.
Types of Sunroofs in India
Inbuilt Sunroof systems allow the retractable panel to slide in between a hollow section between the metal roof and the headliner. This enables the full opening of the roof as the panel completely disappears going into the hollow space. However, having an inbuilt sunroof system means the headroom will be compromised a bit. Some popular cars in India having Inbuilt Sunroof System are Honda City, Tata Nexon, Mahindra XUV500.
Pop-up sunroof systems generally have manual operation. The panel in the Pop-up tilts upwards from the rear end, allowing some extra ventilation into the cabin. The Pop-up feature is typically used for ventilation.
Spoiler type sun-roof combines the Tilt and Slide Mechanism. Instead of retracted in between the roof and interior headliner, spoiler sunroofs slide open above the car’s roof. They can also have a slightly tilted opening for ventilation. Spoiler sunroofs do not open completely like the Inbuilt sun-roof but prevent compromising headroom in the cabin.
Panoramic sun-roofs are multi-panelled and cover almost the entire length and width of the car’s roof. The panels are segmented into two parts for the front and rear seat and are made entirely of glass. If the sunshade below the roof is retracted, the passengers are greeted with a shower of natural light into the cabin as almost the entire roof is made out of glass. The front segment of the panel has a spoiler sunroof type opening. Hyundai Creta, Tata Harrier, and Jeep Compass are some examples of cars with panoramic sunroof in India.
The roof of the car is integrated with a foldable fabric for the panel which folds back to open the roof. These are also known as Rag-tops and is an old tradition which manufacturers used to follow in European and North American countries. This type of roof configuration made for a more practical alternative to the convertible cars. One can choose various aftermarket options for Foldable rooftops.
Top-mount Sliding Roof
Top-mount sun-roofs use tracks to slide open the glass panel above the car’s roof without compromising on headroom. These also come with wind defectors which pop-up on the front side of the sunroof to eliminate wind noise.
This Type of sun-roof has photovoltaic solar panels made of glass. Solar Sunroofs have the same tilting and sliding mechanism as every other type of sun-roof. The only difference is when these panels are closed they store energy from the sunlight to power the electronics inside the car.