It’s only natural that cars evolve over time as sensibilities and tastes change, not to mention updates in technologies that entirely revolutionize the industry. However, every branch of evolution has its dead ends, and some characteristics just can’t survive the rigorous trial by fire that is the consumer market. Over the course of their many years of operation, quite a few automakers have made missteps when updating their lineups, with some of the most recent examples including the enormous grille found on many BMW models, including the brand-new BMW M3 here. While this has no negative impact on a car’s performance, shoppers in this price bracket want the whole package, and that includes an attractive exterior.
Blend in or you’re out
It is certainly true that many design philosophies have become accepted by the masses, such as the traditional car body styles like the sedan, coupe, cabriolet, or relatively new crossover. However, there is some wiggle room within each category for automakers to create an image that is unique to their brand. Some successful examples of this include the rugged, blocky dimensions of just about every Jeep available in the USA, or the cartoonish style of the Mini Cooper and its various siblings.
However, for each tale of triumph, there are several of woe. The Toyota Prius is such a story; the latest generation has completely deviated from the family-friendly nature of the hybrid, adopting an overly aggressive front fascia and side lines. This is a car designed for those on a budget who appreciate excellent value and nigh-unbeatable fuel economy figures. With such a racy exterior, great mileage is not the first thing that comes to mind. Luckily, the Prime reverted back to a more conservative appearance.
The latest generation of BMWs are also culprits in this scandal. While it may be true that a large grille is usually indicative of high performance and a more athletic spirit, there is such a thing as taking it too far. The double kidney grille has become caricatured on the newer models, giving the impression of a Californian guido in a cut off tank top that deviates quite a ways from the sophistication and class that the German automaker has become renowned for. It still has all the horsepower and handling that makes for a remarkable automobile, as well as a luxurious interior, but quite a few shoppers will miss out on this as they steer clear of the obnoxious styling.
Function over form
While it is clear that looks do matter, they should never be placed above pragmatic considerations such as passenger or cargo space. While this is often overlooked in premium nameplates such as exotic convertibles or hypercars with no rear seats at all, that simply won’t do in a more practical vehicle such as a hatchback or SUV.
The Kia Soul is by no means a sexy car, but its blocky design helps to create a cavernous cabin that offers top-notch comfort and space for all occupants. This same trade-off has been made in the past, with a prominent example including the Scion xB, long since discontinued in the USA. The original base model looked very much like the Soul of today, and boasted the same advantages, but when the designers tried something a little edgier with the second-gen, including more rounded looks, it led to an unacceptable loss of utility and the extra weight made an already unathletic motor downright ponderous.
The third-generation Mazda Miata MX-5 is another victim of this mistreatment. As one of the most affordable sports cars on the road, it simply cannot afford to get anything wrong if it wants to compete with the likes of the Dodge Challenger or more exotic rivals like Porsche. Thus, it was quite a blunder when the sweet curves of the cabriolet were mutilated with overly rounded sheet metal that softened the aesthetic far too much. Not every vehicle is built for the same purpose, but each has certain expectations to live up to. Sometimes, designers lose sight of the true nature of their creations, and it is the product and the consumer that suffer as a result.
Retro vs. Ultra-modern
As we move into an age of hybridization and electrification, it is only natural that design philosophies evolve to suit the more modern technologies. This has resulted in some gorgeous new models such as the Tesla Model S or Ford Mustang Mach-E, while some are a bit more outlandish, like the Tesla Cybertruck. However, as styles change in some drastic ways, many car enthusiasts cling to what is more familiar or what has become accepted as traditional style and beauty. This is why some of the latest entrants to the market have garnered an almost cult-like following – think the Ford Bronco.
Similarly, those hungering for disruptive designs gravitate towards the aforementioned Cybertruck, or slightly less bold examples, such as the Tesla Roadster and Lucid Air. It is no coincidence that these are all EVs, while the Ford relies on an old-school gas-fueled engine. We can expect to see more of these two worlds clashing, but it may just be the middle ground that ends up being the most successful.