It’s estimated that only around one in 2,000 new vehicles in the UK have night vision fitted as an option, which makes it a rather unique feature on a car. Night vision is designed to improve road safety. It won’t make your car look better, or faster, or even more comfortable.
Oh, and it’s expensive.
On a BMW it costs around £1,700, it was available on 5 series models upwards until around sometime in 2020 when it disappeared from their options range. Furthermore, you also had to spec headlight washer jets at around £200 extra if you wanted night vision. The reason for this is the covering lens of the night vision camera (sat in the grill) has its very own washer jet, which obviously is part of the main washer jet system. You’d have though BMW would have factored this into the price – but they hadn’t.
So with a high price, and benefits, which do not make the car nicer to look at, faster or comfier, it’s not surprising it wasn’t popular.
Weird and Wonderful Quirks….
With a BMW (our testing car was a rather rare 6 Series Gran Turismo) the night vision can be activated by a button next to the front and rear fog lights. Upon activation, it will display on the main display screen in thermal imaging. It has an option, which will flash one headlight when it detects a human or animal, in an attempt to illuminate them to you. In theory, this seems a good idea, in reality, it looks like you’re flashing your headlights at people, who then look at you rather bemused. You can turn this off in the iDrive system (which we recommend you do). It would be fine if it only caught people walking down a dark country lane, but it does it in busy city centres too.
Another weird quick is that sometimes it shows a warning alert on the dashboard display of a deer, obviously letting you know it’s spotted a large animal. Something must be confusing it, as not once had a stray deer or any other large animal been roaming close to the road. It does it also for humans – and displays a red human figure on the dashboard – this works fine and is very useful. Ideally, you need a head up display (an expensive option) as you won’t always see this warning when you’re driving. Also, it tends to be rather selective when it “sees” someone.
The Real Benefits…
Despite the quirks of night vision, on BMW cars at least, there are some very good benefits. It has the ability to illuminate human figures in a distinctive yellow, making it very easy to see those walking or cycling well ahead of you. As it’s thermal imaging you can also see any form of heat, whether it be a chimney of a house, a bird up in a tree, a cat in the bushes, or something else you may not see on dipped or even full beam lights.
One of the times it really comes into its own, is when on rural roads, and you experience that dramatic reduction in medium to long-distance visibility as a vehicle approaches you and you have to dip your lights. A quick glance at the night vision display can give you so much reassurance before you drive “into the black” momentarily.
Night vision is also great when coming across hazards. On dark motorways, for example, a quick glance can help you see if any pedestrians are in the road at the scene of a broken-down car or collision.
When you have night vision you realise how much you actually miss – even with excellent headlights.
Your 4th mirror…
We like to describe night vision as your 4th mirror. You should not give it any more than a quick glance. As with mirror use, it should be used frequently and especially when approaching a hazard. As long as you don’t constantly look at it, it’s not a distraction, it’s a driver aid designed to give you information to help you plan and be safe.
- It lets you see things in the dark, well in advance
- Seeing early helps you plan early
- It gives you confidence with driving at night
- Vulnerable road users and animals are safer
- It’s a cool feature to mention when you decide to sell
- It’s expensive
- It has weird quirks and is not always that intelligent