Sunday, July 3, 2011

The 5 best and worst corporate-wide redesigns

Every so often, automakers decide to overhaul their entire line with a recognizable "look". I wanted to highlight some of the winners and losers in recent times (click through):


1. Ford's 3-bar grille (2005+). The 3-bar front end works. The first generation looked good, the second generation looks even better. Great way to reinvigorate a soggy brand image. Notable cars: Fusion, Taurus/X, Edge, Explorer, F-150, Flex

2. Volvo's curvy rear-end (2000+). With the arrival of the S60, Volvos suddenly broke away from the traditional boxy style. The wide-flanked rear-end looks distinctively Swedish and has remained a core part of Volvo's design ever since. Notable cars: entire lineup

3. Audi's large grill (2005+): For years Audi's design was somewhat restrained, until 2005 when they made the smart move of extending the grille all the way to the bottom of the front end. In a move that was somewhat controversial to some people, the design has taken hold and proliferated throughout the lineup. Personally, I think it looks great. Notable cars: entire lineup

4. Kia's bowtie grille (2009+): Kia definitely earns the most improved award. With such a simple tweak, Kia has done a great job to (finally) unify its models. Hyundai needs to do the same thing now; they have great designs (e.g., Sonata, Elantra, Tuscon), but no unifying "symbol" that ties the brand together. Notable cars: entire lineup

5. Cadillac grille (2002+): In the 1990s and early 2000s Cadillac was as stodgy as Lincoln is now. Say what you will about the Escalade, but this front end (followed by that of the CTS) rejuvenated the brand. Today, their designs are cutting edge and keep on par with other leading luxury brands. The new CTS coupe is especially spectacular. Notable cars: Escalade, CTS, STS, SRX


1. Acura shield grille (2007+): In 2007 the MDX was redesigned with a peculiar shield on the front end; critical reception was mixed. The SUV otherwise had attractive proportions and an amazing interior. So, what does Acura do? They put the most controversial feature, the grille, on every other car. Admittedly, the shield looked worst on the original MDX and has been toned down since, but it still looks awkward. In theory the shield should have looked great - it is, in fact, brushed aluminum - but somehow was too flashy for an otherwise subdued brand. Notable cars: entire brand

2. Subaru airplane front-end (2006-2007): Remind me to do a post on the ugliest SUVs - the B9 Tribeca goes on the list front and center. I am generally not a fan of Subaru design, but this front end legitimately made me cringe. It looked most awkward on the B9, but also made its way onto the Impreza and the little ugly R1 (fortunately not sold in the U.S.). Subaru fortunately caught its error quickly, although it should have been ironed out in focus groups before launching the motif brand-wide! Notable cars: B9 Tribeca, Impreza, R1

3. Bangle-era BMWs (2002-2009): I know some people will disagree on this one, but I am not a fan of Bangle's designs. They are too edgy and disjointed for me. To name a few examples: the trunk of the 7 series looks bolted on; the taillights of the 5 series look like a cheap early-2000 Hyundai; the Z4 is completely out of proportion in an unattractive way; the X3 looks like an art-school collage; and the 6 series looks big and heavy as opposed to sporty. Fortunately the 3 series and X5 somehow avoided the missteps in the 2000s. I am glad to see BMW having returned to its roots starting in the 2010 model year. The new 5 and 7 are fantastic. Notable cars: 3, Z4, 5, 6, 7, X3

4. Mazda's Nagare design language (2009+): The front-end of Mazda's current lineup begs the question: what are you so happy about?? I drove a Mazda 3 recently and was almost intoxicated (in a bad way) by the car's over-the-top bubbly persona. When I turned the car on, the information display said "Welcome" and when I turned the car off, it said "Goodbye". Hold the cheese please! Oh, and by the way, the flowing Nagare character lines look interesting on the concept, but look ghastly on the Mazda 5. Notable cars: entire line, but less egregious on the 6, CXs, and RX-8

5. VW's downmarket styling (2011+): Yawwwwwnnnn. VW has managed to take 2 of their most popular and trendy cars - the Jetta and Passat - and make them look 5 years outdated for 2011. The scary part is that this new austere styling is evidently making its way to the curvaceous CC....why??? Going downmarket makes a lot of sense, but that does not mean you have to suck all the emotion out of the design. The front and back end are boxy, boring, and un-VW. The quality and design of the interior has also taken a nosedive. Sales remain strong because people who couldn't previously afford VW's premium prices now can, but enthusiasts are somewhat disappointed. Notable cars: Jetta, Passat


  1. Oh yes . . . I SO agree with you on the VW -- what a disappointment! And Subara hasn't had an attractive year since 1983 (sorry). And on the winners list, that Volvo catches my eye every time one passes me on the road. And surprisingly, the Ford Fusion looks super nice, too.

  2. I agree. But, I think Nissan should be in the bad design category. I have never seen the Mazda shown here, it is ugly! And, I really don't like the Kia "bow tie".

  3. @ Peggy: Agreed - IMO the only cool Subaru is a Impreza WRX, and I'd still prefer a Mitsubishi EVO.

    @ Warren: Funny you should bring up Nissan - I was so close to adding it to the bad list! There are so many little things I don't like about Nissan's may deserve its own post.

    You haven't seen the Mazda on the road because no one is buying it...

    I didn't like the Kia bowtie at first, but it has really grown on me. I'm a Kia fan now.

  4. I had better get used to the Kia because someday soon that is all I will be able to afford.

  5. It's no surprise Kia has had such a styling resurgance- their lead designer was taken from Audi. It makes perfect sense.. and is sure has paid off. I'm not big on some of the gimmicky sides of the Optima (side vents, super flashy wheels etc) but overall, that lineup is pretty chic -from out of nowhere.

  6. @ Pickles: Agreed on the flashy wheels. Traditional 5-spokes would have looked much better. However, when I try to picture the Optima sans side vents, it may look a bit slab-sided (?). Kia is giving Hyundai a run for its money, and that's tough competition these days...