Saturday, February 17, 2018

Today’s Automotive Design Aesthetics: All-Time High, or All-Time Low?

Left: 1954 Chrysler Ghia Thomas Special. Photo by "Mr. Choppers"
(posted to Wikipedia).  Right: 2018 Ford Fusion (Photo: Ford media website).

Are you excited by the car designs you’re seeing today?

Or are the lineups, by and large, getting tiresome—because everything seems more and more alike?

The sad truth is that, today, with some notable exceptions, many models within a given category—sedans, crossovers, SUVs, even sports coupes—are tending to look dishearteningly similar.

To those of us who appreciate the breathtaking looks from the heyday of car design (which, for us, was roughly from the 1950s through perhaps the mid-1970s), the current generation of look-alike fastback sedans, for example, is sad to behold.

Yet there are a few gems hidden among all of the boredom. So here’s a stab at a Design Hall of Shame and Design Hall of Fame from the 2018 lineup.

2018 Car Design Hall of Shame

1. 2018 Ford Fusion.

We selected the 2018 Ford Fusion as “first on the worst list” not so much because we find it atrociously ugly—we don’t—but rather because the Ford Fusion for a number of years has stood out prototypical of “the lookalike problem” that plagues our era.

Fusions are in many ways nice cars, pleasant to drive. But they just look too much like so many other cars in their category, like Hyundai Sonatas. And don't even get us started on those grilles.

2. 2018 Chevrolet Cruze

Photos: GM and Toyota Media sites.

Ever notice how close this model looks to the current generation Toyota Corolla? ’Nuff said.

3. 2018 Nissan Juke.

Photo: Nissan media website.
Knee-jerk reaction upon spotting a Nissan Juke in a convenience-store parking lot recently was, "They have GOT to be kidding!"

Why does a vehicle that looks like this exist? And why would anyone want to own a vehicle called a 'Juke?' Does it play music when you put a quarter in it?"

Swap out the U in the name for an O, and they would have it about right. It's less wretched, though, depending on what angle you view it from.

The photo above is actually one of the more flattering angles. Biggest objection: it's one of a sea of more or less look-alike crossovers that have been flooding the roads in recent years.

What is the appeal of this vehicle? Maybe it's a millennial thing. Just what is it? A crossover? A hot hatch? A humdrum subcompact? It's hard to look at a design like this and not characterize it as some kind of postmodern self-referential monstrosity—a car with an identity crisis trying way too hard to meet the demands of a market that really doesn't know what it wants.

2018 Car Design Hall of Fame

We're not cynics. No, really. There's a lot of good to see in today's car designs as well. The best way to characterize today's lineups, really, is as a bewildering mix—so bewildering that it's hard to say whether the scale tips in an overall positive or negative direction.

When you boil it down, you can really look at the question in two ways. First, you can look at what the manufacturers make available. And there's a lot of good to see in that.

But the second way to look at it is to consider what the market is actually buying. Sadly, the latter is tending toward (1) the lookalike wedge-shaped Fusion/Sonata theme, and (2) the lookalike crossover theme. That's what makes your average roadway so unexciting these days. Nevertheless, here's a quick look at a sampling of some of the more interesting and tasteful designs from automakers today.

1. Entire 2018 Dodge Lineup

Photos: Fiat-Chrysler media website.
This was a surprise choice for us. But when viewing entire manufacturer lineups to ferret out the best and worst designs, it was undeniable.

Chrysler is killing it from the perspective of the full mix—from a the solid, tasteful classic SUV look of the Durango, through the best-of-the-modern-and-retro muscle car blend of the Challenger, to the Charger as one of the most inspiring 4-door sedans on the road today, it's hard to consider anyone else for the prize of best overall lineup. These creations are true standouts in the context of what is coming out of Detroit these days.

2. 2018 Genesis G90

Photo: Genesis media website,
With the G90 model from the newly spun-off Genesis luxury marque, Hyundai has created a design that truly hits it out of the ballpark.

The G90 tastefully blends design elements from the classic to the contemporary in a seamless way that demonstrates the kind of inspiration that can only come from a deep understanding of the  history and traditions of the world's great luxury cars. With a stately grille and exquisitely curved lines and forms, the G90 pays homage to generations of fine creations from the likes of Jaguar, Rolls Royce, Cadillac and Mercedes, reinterpreting classic luxury-car design ideas in a fresh, modern context—all while offering significant bang for the buck.

Competitors continuing to launch lackluster luxury rides need to seriously stand up and take notice.

3. Entire 2018 Mazda Lineup

Photo: Mazda media website.
Yes, a lot of car guys and gals these days are raving about how Mazda is killing it with their designs.

It's much repeated, but also much deserved. Mazda is leading the pack in setting an example that, with the right mix of talent, creativity, inspiration and guts on your team, you can meet market demands without sacrificing distinction and taste.

From sports coupes and convertibles to sedans, crossovers, and full-size SUVs, Mazda offers up a something for each class that truly stands out from the crowd.

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