Auto Tech

Lexus ES Digital Outer Mirrors to be a world first

Toyota's luxury brand says it will beat Audi to market with an interesting new tech feature, albeit just barely.

Lexus

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. 

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, camera-based 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 totally unchallenged. Indeed, Toyota's luxury brand isn't the first to detail the availability of new 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 system during 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, in an official press release about the tech, Lexus said, "The digital mirrors will make their debut on the new ES, which will go on sale in late October." While it was initially unclear if early examples of the new generation would be available fitted with the optional tech, a Lexus spokesperson contacted by Roadshow reached out to company officials in Japan and was able to confirm that the ES will offer the mirrors starting at launch in late October. 

If Lexus makes good on that promise, they will beat Audi's E-Tron to market. 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.

Update 10:04 p.m. PT: Story updated to reflect confirmation from Lexus that these new mirrors will be available for sale on early production ES models being delivered in October.