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Lexus says ES Digital Outer Mirrors are a 'world first,' but there's controversy

Roadshow logo Roadshow 2018-09-12 Chris Paukert
a close up of a car: Lexus' Digital Outer Mirrors adjust their field of focus depending on what the driver is doing.© CNET Lexus' Digital Outer Mirrors adjust their field of focus depending on what the driver is doing.

The Lexus ES has never enjoyed a reputation for being a particularly high-tech automobile, but now entering its seventh generation for 2019, the new model is poised to change opinions. That was my conclusion when I drove the 2019 Lexus ES in July, and now, the Japanese automaker is taking things a step further with optional Digital Outer Mirrors, which the company claims is a "world first" in a production automobile. 

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Unfortunately, at least for the moment, the camera-based sideview mirror tech will only be available in the company's home market of Japan.

The ES' system centers around a pair of small cameras mounted on stanchions where the car's side mirrors would normally reside. Their view is shown on a pair of 5-inch screens shown inside, near the base of the front windshield. Lexus says the camera housings have been specially designed to curb rain and snow accumulation that could impede camera vision. The cameras also automatically adjust their field of focus when a turn signal is activated, or the transmission is put in reverse.

Lexus' Digital Outer Mirrors adjust their field of focus depending on what the driver is doing.

Lexus

For decades, sideview mirrors have been something of a holy grail for automotive designers. As well as looking sleeker, they tend to be smaller than normal mirror housings, enabling better aerodynamics and reducing a vehicle's susceptibility to wind noise. Concept cars displayed at auto shows have regularly used the technology since at least the 1980s, but cost concerns and market-to-market legal issues have stifled their commercial availability until now.

Interestingly, Lexus' claim about this being a production "world first" doesn't look like it's going to go unchallenged. Indeed, Toyota's luxury brand isn't the first to detail the availability of sideview camera mirrors -- Audi announced its forthcoming electric E-Tron SUV would get the tech as an option in select European markets back in May, and I recently got a chance to demo that systemduring a prototype ridealong over the summer

Although the official unveiling of Audi's crossover EV isn't scheduled until Sept. 17, the E-Tron actually entered production in Brussels earlier this month. However, initial deliveries in Europe aren't slated to start until later this year, and while the tech can be ordered, Audi reps reached by Roadshow could not confirm whether initial models will be sold with the tech. (The E-Tron won't be sold in the US until the second quarter of 2019 as a 2020 model.)

For its part, Lexus' take on the matter is similarly opaque. In an official press release about the tech, Lexus says, "The digital mirrors will make their debut on the new ES, which will go on sale in late October." Again, however, it's unclear if early examples of the new generation will be available fitted with the optional tech, or if the feature will filter in later. 

Lexus representatives did not immediately return Roadshow's request for comment.

Of course, who beats whom to market will likely amount to little more than marketing pedantry -- it's just cool to see the tech in production at all after all these years.

Unfortunately, at least for the moment, US buyers will be left out of the discussion entirely, owing primarily to lingering legality questions surrounding the removal of traditional glass side mirrors and the substitution of camera-based alternatives. Audi and other automakers continue to lobby for the legalization of this tech in the States, but at least for now, this tech remains forbidden fruit.

Starting a shade under $40,000, the 2019 Lexus ES hits US dealers this month -- wearing conventional power glass mirrors.

This was originally published on Roadshow.

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