Sunroof vs Moonroof: What’s the Difference?

2020 BMW X7 interior moonroof
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A Roof With a View

The first cars, which appeared in the late 1800s, were open carriages with engines instead of horses. Soon enough, people realized they could enclose those carriages and stay warm and dry. But by 1937, when Nash Motors debuted the first sunroof, people realized that maybe they would like a bit of fresh air, but not so much as a convertible or roadster model would provide. 

A sunroof is a metal panel in the roof that can slide back or be removed to let in light and air. But what if you’d like to let in the light without also letting in the weather? Enter the moonroof, which first appeared in the 1973 Lincoln Continental Mark IV. This is a glass panel, usually tinted, with an opaque cover that slides out of the way. The glass might also open, like a sunroof, or it might not. 

These terms are used interchangeably by consumers and manufacturers both. Technically, most models today have glass moonroofs that also slide or tilt open. At U.S. News, we usually follow the manufacturer’s lead and use whichever term they do for this feature. 

A moonroof is usually an available option, and personal preference will determine if it’s worth the extra money to have the extra light and fresh air. One drawback, especially in smaller vehicles and those with sloped or coupe-style rooflines, is that the thickness of the moonroof will reduce headroom in the rear seats. 

There are dozens of models with sunroofs and moonroofs available. We’ll look at the most common varieties and some special mentions for vehicles that take the open-air roof design beyond the usual.

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