Sunglasses are sunglasses, right? If you’re serious about safe driving, the answer is a resounding no. You can’t just slap on a pair of clearance carousel drugstore shades and expect a great behind-the-wheel experience; nor does spending $300 on top-of-the-line sunglasses necessarily get you the best sunglasses for the road. You’ll want to spend less time looking in the rearview mirror to see if they match your hair and more time concentrating on negotiating that hairpin turn like you were related to Fangio. If you’re as keen in the brain as you are behind the wheel, look for three essentials when choosing driving sunglasses: (1) Polarized lenses to reduce glare and filter appropriate light levels; (2) curved lenses to protect in front and to the sides; (3) thin temples to free up peripheral vision. Once you have those, by all means try your best to look like James Dean. While you’ve been fixing your hair after this morning’s romp in the twisties, we’ve rounded up five great options that hit their marks.
Oakley Plaintiff Squared Polarized
Best Driving Sunglasses for the Muscle Car Motorhead: If you want great coverage for a mug that’s at the larger end of the spectrum, the Plaintiff Squared Polarized is an excellent choice. A lightweight Oakley C-5 alloy saves the discomfort of a bulky frame bearing down on your face, ensuring you spend more time roping through the gears than adjusting your shades. The high-tech titanium hinges were actually modeled after automotive leaf springs from performance cars to provide extreme flex and great comfort, and their high base curvature means that the large lenses wrap around and provide greater coverage — a big boon behind the wheel. The appropriately thin temples and earpieces even have a racing theme of sorts, with a contrasting stripe that runs the full length of the concave channel. Most importantly, the Plutonite lenses filter out 100% of UVA, UVB, UVC rays and even harmful blue light up to 400nm. (Opt for additional Iridium coating and you can reduce your glare even more.) Your Camaro ZL1 was a nice purchase to complement these, we think.
Smith Optics Showdown Polarized
Best Driving Sunglasses for the Convertible Owner: The showdown is shaped like a classic aviator, but with the addition of a nice curvature of the frame and lenses for an altogether different look that works perfectly for top-down driving. We’re not exactly sure how Smith made the lenses fit within the spartan stamped stainless steel frames, but they’re nearly flush, providing a smooth and uninterrupted look that also holds up well in wind. One of the lighter pairs in the group, the Showdown is barely noticeable on your face, a good thing when you’re negotiating high speed traffic or cresting a hill as the sun tries to hit you square in the eyeballs. As always, we love Smith Optics’ unconditional lifetime guarantee. But that doesn’t hold up when you accidentally sit on them in your vintage roadster.
Eyefly The Haight Polarized
Best Driving Sunglasses for the Cost-Conscious Driver: Newcomer Eyefly doesn’t seem to be pulling any punches when it comes to high-quality, competitively priced sunglasses. This squared-off aviator puts a slight spin on tradition with a revised look, curving the lenses and thinning the temples — perfect for driving. The Haight sells for a mere $94 with prescription lenses. You can also get polarized lenses for a little more, and it’s worth every penny. Since they’re a bargain, you can go grab that lusty Jaguar E-Type you saw on eBay.
Serengeti Livorno Polarized
Best Driving Sunglasses for the Italian Racer: Serengeti might just be the driving sunglass monarch all others are trying to dethrone. The new Livorno Polarized makes use of Serengeti’s light-sensitive photochromic lenses, and the injected nylon frames are both incredibly comfortable and flexible (even fitting well inside a track helmet). While most plastic-framed sunglasses tend to have overly thick frames and temples that make them poor for driving, the Livorno’s frames are thinner, lending to great visibility. A departure from the military/aviator look results in something that’s both chic and a tad sinister. You can envision yourself in a pair of these while helming a black Ferrari 512TR. Now go make it happen.
Maui Jim Kapalua
Best Driving Sunglasses for the Trackster: Maui Jim sunglasses don’t fall into the bargain category, and at $269, the Kapalau’s carry an unsurprisingly steep price tag. Still, they are quite possibly one of the lightest, most comfortable driving sunglasses you can find. Consider them the Ariel Atom of sunglasses: everything you need and nothing you don’t. Going frameless provides untrammeled visibility; titanium alloy temples and bridge are both sturdy and comfortable; curved rectangular polarized lenses offer full protection and are saltwater safe, just in case you need to take a dip after you cruise the Pacific Coast Highway. You’d think there’d be more to these sub-$300 shades, but sometimes less is truly more.