Battlestars: What's Behind You Does Matter
By: Kim Reynolds

Backing a large vehicle such as a minivan, truck, or SUV can be a perilous adventure, but how much can we not see? To find out, we measured our five SUV's rear vision as seen through the center mirror, using the height of an average four-year-old (about 37 inches) as our standard for comparison. Each vehicle was considered in two configurations--with all seats and headrests ready for passengers and again with the second- and third-row seats folded out of the way to give the best possible view. To further dramatize these best- and worst-case scenarios, when the seats were up, we intentionally captured the vision-blocking consequences of center headrests, whereas, with seats stowed, we allowed a realistic smidgen of off-center viewing to peer around such things as the rear-wiper placement.

As you can see, the Tahoe offers the best view. Conversely, the Expedition can be a genuine rear-vision struggle, seats up or down. In the Ford's case, the culprit is its tall, view-obscuring power third-row seatback, a problem exacerbated by the lack of a driver-accessible switch for lowering. Of our group, only the Nissan Armada was equipped with a standard reverse-sensing device. Surprisingly, only the Ford also offers such a system, even optionally. The system uses radar to detect the distance to the nearest object in harm's way of the bumper, giving off audible beeps that increase in intensity as the object draws nearer. The Armada's sensor sounds off at 6.5 feet.

Our advice? If available, pony up for the reverse sensors (they're available in the aftermarket as well), and remember that, ultimately, it's your job to know the path is clear before slipping the shifter into "R."