What's the difference between a sunroof and a moonroof?

I let in light, but I’m not a window. I used to be rare, but now I’m almost as common as a radio. What am I?

The answer is a sunroof — or a moonroof, depending on whom you talk to.

Before we get specific, let’s get into a little history. The sunroof has been around in some form or another since the early days of the automobile, and the name moonroof wasn’t thrown around until the 1970s. The two terms today are, for the most part, interchangeable.

The former is a retractable roof panel that lets light and air into a vehicle, and sometimes made from an opaque material. The latter serves the same function, but is fully glass and lets in light even when closed. Modern manufacturer-offered units are fully electric and feature manual or motorized sunshades that slide underneath to keep out the sun when unwanted.

Now that that’s cleared up (is it?), here are three varieties of sun/moonroofs you will most likely run into.

Honda Civic EX moonroof inside


The built-in sunroof is arguably the most ubiquitous of all the different types. The panel slides inside the metal roof of the car and out of view, affording a generous opening at the cost of some headroom. It only fits vehicles that have a large roof to accommodate the full panel, and usually also includes a one-touch open/close button, and a tilt operation that props up the rear half to allow air ventilation. This can be found on cars like the Honda Civic and the Mazda6.

2015 Lexus RC 350 spoiler moonroof outside


For smaller vehicles that can’t accommodate a built-in sunroof, the solution is a spoiler. I’m not talking about an aerodynamic wing, but a sunroof that slides up and overtop of, rather than into, the metal roof. It still normally has the same functions as the built-in, like rear tilt. This type works perfectly for two-door sport cars like the Porsche Cayman and Lexus RC 350.

MINI Cooper S panoramic moonroof


Found more and more on newer models, a panoramic moonroof features multiple glass panels spanning much of the roof area. Often the forward-most panel will open, while the rearward sections remain fixed. An advantage of this system is that it lets in a lot of ambient light, and can provide a particularly magnificent view on a clear night. Examples of vehicles with available panoramic moonroofs include the Hyundai Santa Fe and MINI Cooper.

Best green vehicles at 2015 Vancouver International Auto Show

2015 Vancouver International Auto Show
Visitors to the 2015 Vancouver Auto Show are treated to a wide assortment vehicles, including many green models. Photos by Benjamin Yong.

The 95th Vancouver International Auto Show (VIAS) is happening right now at the Vancouver Convention Centre, and is quite literally bigger, and better, than ever before. Exhibition space has grown by one-quarter this year, to 290,000 square feet, and for the first time the displays spill over to the upstairs ballroom. Fittingly, since it takes place in B.C., VIAS features a heavy focus on alternative-energy automobiles fuelled by diesel, electricity and even hydrogen. These are the green vehicles you’ll want to see.

Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicle Concept

Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicle Concept

You may have heard about Toyota’s production hydrogen fuel cell vehicle already on sale in Japan and about to hit the roads in the United States later this year. While no Canadian expansion plans have been announced yet, Toyota debuted the Fuel Cell Concept (FCV) that provided the inspiration for the Mirai for the first time in Canada.

The Mirai was actually tested in Yellowknife in -30 C weather to evaluate cold-weather effectiveness. The space-age looking sedan creates electricity by utilizing a chemical reaction between oxygen and hydrogen, refuels in about the same time as a conventional gasoline-powered car and can drive up to 500 kilometres on a single tank.

Audi A3 Sportback e-Tron

Audi A3 Sportback e-Tron

The A3 Sportback e-Tron, Audi’s first plug-in hybrid, made its first regional appearance at VIAS.  Besides a few badges and some minor exterior tweaks to the grille and rear bumper, this hybrid looks remarkably similar to the standard version. Power is provided via a 1.5-litre turbocharged engine combined with a 75-kilowatt electric motor making 204 net horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque.

Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon TDI Clean Diesel

Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon TDI Clean Diesel

VW is in Vancouver to prove that even with the crossover SUV craze taking place across North America, wagon’s haven’t quite called it quits. It’s been a good year for the Golf, reaping several industry awards, and the Sportwagon should continue that trend. The diesel powertrain provides plenty of torque and achieves great fuel economy rated at 7.5 L/100 km in city driving at 5.6 L/100 km on the highway.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

Although Hyundai also has a plug-in version coming, it is the standard Sonata Hybrid making the trip to Vancouver. As part of the redesign, the engine is a smaller and more efficient 2.0 litre vs. the outgoing 2.4. The battery pack has a 13 per cent bigger capacity, and now fits under the trunk floor so the rear seats can fold 60/40.

Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell

In addition to the Hybrid, the majority of the public had their first chance to get an up-close look at the 2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, the first mass-produced hydrogen-powered vehicle available to Canadians. Available to limited consumers through a lease program, the first lucky owners are a local couple living in Surrey.

Porsche 918 Spyder at 2015 Vancouver International Auto Show

Porsche 918 Spyder

Some visitors to Porsche Centre Langley have already experienced the spectacle that is the $1.3-million Porsche 918 Spyder in person. The hybrid supercar, one of three sold in B.C., uses two electric motors and a 4.6-litre V8 engine to achieve a top speed of 340 km/h.   

The 2015 Vancouver International Auto Show runs until March 29. More pictures below:

2015 Vancouver International Auto Show entrance

Stephen Beatty vice president, Corporate Toyota Canada

Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicle Concept rear

Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicle Concept side

Audi A3 Sportback e-Tron rear

Audi A3 Sportback e-Tron interior

BMW i3 and i8 at 2015 Vancouver International Auto Show

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid rear

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid cutaway

Hyundai Blue Drive