Despite all the changes going on in automobiles lately, one thing that's remained pretty consistent in every car I've driven has been the rearview mirror. We can check that one off now though, now that I've taken a test drive in a Nissan Rogue equipped with the new Smart rearview mirror. Due to roll out on the company's cars in North America next year, it's a simple augmentation that combines a traditional mirror with a video screen. Flipping the dimmer switch usually meant for night driving drops you into video camera mode, with a feed streamed directly from a 1.3MP camera mounted in the trunk that drops out the usual blockages from the car's interior for a clear view of what's behind you. Back up cameras are already common -- and highly necessary if you have my (lack of) parallel parking skills -- but is it time to change out something that's worked pretty well for the last century or so?
Based on my experience the answer is yes. Of course, I wasn't driving a race car like the Zeod RC which doesn't have a normal window for the driver to see behind in, but a common situation like transporting people or cargo can interfere with a normal mirror easily. According to Nissan's Steven Diehlman, the normal FOV of a rearview mirror is about 17 degrees, while its camera not only frees the view of the normal C-pillar obstructions, but also expands that to cover 48 degrees. The difference was immediately apparent just backing out of my driveway -- instead of having to turn my head to fill in the gaps between the mirrors, I could just see a fair amount of the street without shifting my viewpoint (there's still a normal backup camera in place that feeds the display in the console, complete with the Around View birds-eye vision).
It does take some getting used to though -- since the camera is right at the back of the car, everything is suddenly close up instead of 5-6~ feet in the distance. When you're stopped in traffic it means suddenly getting very familiar with the car behind you, and depending on the height and zoom (which are adjustable) you might be able to see all of it in the 4:1 aspect ratio mirror.
Still, it easily became a part of the drive and not a distraction, and since switching back and forth between operation as a regular mirror is so easy, it could let others drive without even worrying about it (the focusing delay seen in the clip is from my camera, not the mirror). In Japan, the add-on costs around $600, but we don't have a US price yet. Rolled into the price of a new car, it seems like a worthy feature, although I'm not sure if it would change my preference of which car to buy just to get it.