In the world of automotive design, there’s pressure to keep the pedal matted against the floorboard. Standing still, so to speak, is not a recipe for success. As a result, we see automakers battling it out (despite some marques claiming to be free of any worthy competition) by offering their purportedly unique take on the latest and greatest design trends, from the use of environmentally friendly upholstery to the generous application of LED lights.
Nowhere is this constant race to the front more evident than at an auto show. Gathered together in what amounts to one of the world’s largest showrooms, carmakers bite their tongues and cozy up next to their rivals, offering the rest of us a unique opportunity to spot developing trends across the entire industry.
Not one to pass up on an excuse to analyze new cars, I studied the 2012 Geneva Auto Show’s crop of debuts (some bound for the US, others not), focusing specifically on design trends. Findings are detailed below, and no, they’re not all pretty.
Ugly Does Not Discriminate
Those charged with sketching an all-new automobile, or updating a current model, face a daunting task. Not even the most artful design will be completely sheltered from criticism.
Of course, if the vast majority of observers fail to connect with an automaker’s design vision, chances are the mark was missed. Case in point: the Bentley EXP 9 F sport-utility vehicle. As others have noted, how this oversized exercise in homely, upscale versatility made it to an auto show floor is a mystery. From its massive front end to its heavily sculpted flanks and oversized exhaust outlets, the EXP 9 F proves that ugly pervades all income brackets. Not surprisingly, Autoblog reports that Bentley is already rethinking the SUV’s design.
For more mainstream car buyers, Fiat has developed the rather unattractive 500L. With wrap-around glass panels in lieu of traditional A- and C-pillars (admittedly helpful with visibility), not to mention a roofline that loses a bit of its flow where the rear door frame greets the rear window, the largest of 500 variants is a few nips and tucks shy of beautiful.
Wagons By Every Other Name
While the US car buyer continues to favor crossovers and SUVs rather than wagons, Europe’s love affair with the family-friendly hauler remains strong. That amorous relationship promises to thrive with a host of new and updated models that, as of now, are not destined for North America.
Among the most notable examples is the Jaguar XF Sportbrake, which is the brand’s more elaborate way of describing what is, for all intents and purposes, a wagon. Selling points include more rear head room than is offered in the XF Sedan, power-folding rear seats, LED lights used to illuminate the ground and cargo area when the tailgate is open, an a self-leveling air-suspension system.
Other versatile offerings showcased at the Geneva show include the Audi RS4 Avant, the Hyundai i30 Wagon (what we’d call an Elantra Wagon), and a Chevrolet Cruze Wagon that looks smart yet could compete with Chevy’s own Equinox crossover. Check out online chatter and you’ll discover that the American response to most of these debuts is overwhelmingly positive. Unfortunately, turning adulation into sales has often proven to be a losing proposition.
As car and truck nameplates age, they’re subjected to freshenings and redesigns that typically involve the addition of new convenience and safety features, with a little extra – and unwelcome – curb weight coming along for the ride.
On the other side of the coin are vehicles like the 2013 Porsche Boxster that debuted in Geneva. Behind the display model’s old-man-tan paint lies a relatively light aluminum body that serves to reduce the car’s overall poundage. Likewise, Audi has trimmed more than 175 pounds, the equivalent of one donut-fed automotive scribe, from its Audi A3 TDI model, and Mercedes-Benz has employed aluminum to shave 275 pounds from the new SL63 AMG.
Taking Colors To the Matte
A high-gloss finish has long been associated with a car’s quality. Clear enough to use as a mirror? Good. Blemished with so-called orange peel? Bad. So, it would seem, a flat paint, sometimes appearing to be one step up from primer, has no business being on a luxury vehicle.
Many car enthusiasts disagree, and automakers are listening. Situated under the Geneva Auto Show’s lights were three high-end production and concept models sprayed in dull hues: the Infiniti Emerg-E, the BMW 6 Series Gran Sport, and the Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG.
Hot Hatch Scene is Getting Hotter
This collection of small and sometimes mighty overachievers includes the Ecoboosted three-door Ford Fiesta ST that was dialed in at the Nurburgring, a stylish and turbocharged Volvo V40, the diminutive yet upscale Mercedes-Benz A-Class, and the hopped-up Mini Countryman JCW (John Cooper Works). Honda also ventured into the fray with the Fit (Jazz in other markets) Si, which lacked any engine mods but was fitted with a body kit and upgraded suspension.
Angry Bird Headlights
With the exception of Morgan and a few others like Aston Martin and Rolls-Royce, automakers have gone crazy with the swept-back headlight design. And, for the most part, the end result reminds me of either the furrowed brow of an Angry Bird animation or a plastic surgery patient who’s had his skin pulled tight. For cars like the Ford Fiesta ST, the Fiat 500L and the Kia Cee’d, you can actually envision wiping off the front lenses while planted on the driver’s seat.