Design Opinion: That’s a Lovely Lexus, er, Buick..or is it…Lincoln?

10 Jul 2010 | 5,892 views | No Comment
For ages, the auto industry has been afflicted with ‘me too syndrome” when it comes to styling and design. Just as soon as one car company launches a successful styling departure from the norm, eve4ryone rushes to copy it, and before long, we are awash in designs that look an awful lot like each other. During the 1960s,. everybody clamored for a two door coupe with a “Thunderbird” roofline. The 1970s heralded a race to opera window heaven. The 1980s brought us cookie cutter two box sedans, and the 2000s brought us full wheel cutouts and blistered fenders. Now, take the latest trends: the four door semi fastback sedan or as some may call it, the four door coupe. Others may argue the point, but we think the trend got started with Mercedes’ svelte CLS, which, years later is still the most successful example of the semi-fastback coupe/sedan genre in our view. By now, you see semi-fastback sedan/coupes everywhere: There’s the Buick LaCrosse. The Volkswagen CC. The Mazda6. The new Hyundai Sonata. To some degree, Subaru’s current Legacy. Lexus Es and GS. Ford’s Taurus and Lincoln’s MKS. There are plenty of others we’ve missed, we’re sure. Some of the designs are clearly more successful than others, mainly because the designers never forgot what make they were penning for. Others are successful because they manage to convey a predominant trait of some kind, like speed, luxury or motion. Buick’s LaCrosse is a big success because it still looks like what it is: A Buick. It’s got the familiar grille and the historic Buick sweep spear and lots of bling. Thus, four door sedan/coupe though it may be, it has an identity that is its own. You won’t mistake it. Hyundai’s new Sonata, clearly a four door coupe/sedan, is a work in motion, even when standing still. The headlights look like teardrops shaped by the wind as the car moves along, and every character line on the flanks of the car work together to convey motion and excitement. Altogether, it is a four door coupe/sedan that comes off as a wind-shaped car of tomorrow. VW’s CC also is quite successful as a design. The roofline isn’t quite as dramatic as the others, but it has just enough to make it look sophisticated and elegant, and there are enough styling cues in the grille, the tail lights and the placement of the side trim that you know it’s a VW. Again, no loss of identity or problem of blending in with the landscape. 2010 mazda 6 We like the Mazda6 because it retains a sense of Asian flavor and “Mazda-ness” as it moves down the road. It looks like it could suck the life out of any car that comes near it, and every line of it suggests speed and sporty driving--as it should, being a Mazda. Then there’s the not so successful ones. Ford’s Taurus and Lincoln MKS look too heavy and bloated, though they are both much better looking than their predecessors. The Lincoln, in particular, looks too much like a Lexus to our mind. 2010 lincoln mks Speaking of Lexus, we think there’s way too much similarity between the ES and the GS--would you ever think that the GS for instance, is much more expensive or sporty than the ES?  Lexus needs to work diligently on differentiating these two. Overall, the four door sedan/coupe is a lovely idea, but when you see it everywhere, it loses its impact. It’s in imminent danger of becoming just another styling cliché’ that loses meaning and “pop” simply because there’s too much of it around. When there’s too much of a good thing on the road, consumers and enthusiasts begin to look for something fresh and different. We’ve reached that critical point now with four door coupe/sedans, and that’s why we think we are about due for another change of direction away from what’s now the “same old, same old.“ So what’s next? Every point has a counterpoint, and we think the rush by everyone to do sporty and informal will now herald the return of a more formal, elegant roofline. Jaguar’s stunning XJ sedan is a prime example of a transition beginning to move from a pure sedan/coupe design to a more formal, elegant statement. 2011 jaguar xj We also think that inspiration will soon come from what some may think is an unlikely source: Chrysler. Chrysler’s about to introduce its next generation 300, and like the current generation model, we expect it to be the catalyst for a change in styling direction for car makers. Remember, right after the current,  squared off, high-hipped 300 made its debut several years ago, we began to see many other high-hipped, blunt, squared off examples hit the road too. Unless there’s been a dramatic change of direction since Fiat took over Chrysler, we base our thoughts on a picture that we saw a year or so ago of the next 300 when Chrysler unveiled its five year plan, the next 300 will be a spare, sophisticated, striking design that features that formal, upright look, or at least a version thereof --a sort of an ultramodern take on the luxury sedans of the 1930s and 1940s, in our view. Another example is the upcoming XTS, the replacement for Cadillac’s Seville and DTS. A thinly disguised show car version of the new car was unveiled at the last North American International Auto Show. And its more formal roofline, majestic profile and good old fashion American opulence were big hits at the show. In any case, let’s hope a fresh wind of inspiration blows through the design studios of the world and bring us a much needed change of direction --and soon.

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