Car design of the decade

The thread about contemporary car design reminded me of a game I played with a colleague of nominating our designs of previous decades. Here are a few of mine.

1980’s - I’m not sure. Here is my short list: Honda Prelude (mainstream wedge, well proportioned), Subaru XT (crazy wedge, contains almost every 80s car trend), Mazda Miata (just nice), Pontiac Fiero (probably best US design of the era).

1990’s - VW Golf Mk IV

Why: Details, details details. I feel like this car had the tightest panel fit that I had ever seen on any car until that date. The interior materials weren’t just good for its class, but better than many luxury cars of its day. Last, the exterior design was so well considered. It was the first time I had seen a panel gap actually designed: the rear door shut line parallels the bumper-fender panel gap.

2000’s - Infiniti G35 coupe

Why: Less is more. There isn’t a lot going on here. Very little trim, fairly monolithic form. However, that lack of detail allows the sculpting and proportion to shine through, and I think the G35 is one of the best of all time in that respect.

I will give a caveat though. The G35 interior was pedestrian.

It’s a decades-straddler, '98 - '02, so not sure where you’d want to put it, Ray.
But it’s so amazingly, wonderfully, homelysexy.

Love it or hate it, there’s no arguing that this isn’t one of the most successful studies in proportion of all time…and 100% '90s.

s’pose I should weigh in on my Coupe reasonings and why:
The beltline height to greenhouse height and hood length to greenhouse length, paired with wheelbase and wheel locations; all great proportions. Awful, pedestrian, homely front end grafted onto a brilliant back end; biggest fault of the design is this “came from two studios” look. When I first saw one, I thought: “Well that’s the ugliest car I’ve ever seen.” I love that it grew on me over time, and that it’s polarizing for people.

Very good choice (though I would of course argue the TT should be in that slot). The G35 coupe is the best Infiniti design to date for me. Ray, did you know that it was actually designed by Porsche? Porsche was going through some rough times and they contracted their team out for other companies behind the scenes… I’ve thought about buying one of these I like it so much.

O.k. Ray you got me interested in that one.

But not sold on the G35. In my eyes it was behind its time. Uses the same vocabulary that VW developed on the end 90ies Passat and Jay Mays recycled for Ford 5 years later:

The last iteration of this was the 2002 Skoda Superb tudor stuy:

IF I tried to filter out “car of the decade” designs it would be as follows.

Early 90ies: Renault Twingo (Patrick Le Quement):

Mid 90ies: Alfa Rome0 156 (Walter de Silva)

(close second the aforementioned Passat)

End 90ies: Alfa 166

( I am on the fence about this one. But it did influence a lot what went on at BMW after Bangle)

Early 2000s: BMW Z4 (Chris Bangle)

and after that?

What are the trends out of the last decade?

For me it has to be Retro futurism or "steam punk"combined with “bionic” as in Pagani and Mercedes-Benz:

Pagani Huayra (Horacio Pagani):

Mercedes C-Class (Gordon Wagener?)

The 2008 Infiniti FX70 gets an honorable mention as SUV of the decade, as it predicted the Macan, Levante and Stelvio compact sport SUVs:


I did not know that! It makes sense though.

TT was very nice too. And the TT clicks my “great interior” box too. Hmmm…

mo-i: I do agree that the G35 follows through on what VAG started. I think they improved upon it with the G35 though.

The Twingo was a ground breaker in Europe. It was nice to see that kind of attention to detail at the lowest possible price point. However, looking back, I feel like it’s just another cheap Euro-box. Can you convince me otherwise?

Alfas are always good. However, when I saw a 156 in person (a decade after it came out), it looked old and frumpy. It’s like an aging starlet whose plastic surgery is slowly melting away.

The 166 is still nice, but it doesn’t feel distintive.

Indeed! I think the Z4 might be my '00s honorable mention.

Possibly. I think the next 7-10 years will tell us what was really important about car design this decade. I doubt the Pagani, but MB does look like it might setting the tempo for the future.

A little more on my personal criteria: Car has to released during the decade. It has be significant in that it starts a trend or is the ultimate expression of a trend.

1980’s: I think the Porsche 944

I didn’t want too many German cars on my list, but I can’t deny the 944. One could argue it is too close to the '70s 924, but no one could argue that it didn’t reset what we thought a sports coupe should look like. RX7, 300ZX, Supra, Corvette, Miata, 850…there are so many cars that are off spring of the 944’s design. Moreover, I think more than any other 80s car, you could release the 944 unchanged tomorrow and it would still sell. Somehow, I think it looks more fresh today than it did when I was 8 years old.

Completely agree with the Pontiac Fiero as the ultimate 80s car.

The New Beetle was iconic for the 90s but too much of a niche taste, and more of a tribute than a true innovation in design, starting a trend of other tributes. The Twingo was iconic and super mainstream and popular but exactly, driving-wise it’s another plastic box. I nominate the Citroen C3 Pluriel because it has that colorful 90s optimism together with innovative features both on the exterior and interior, in line with industrial design becoming a more and more popular field.

The actual car of the 2000s was the Ford GT90 because it introduced the New Edge design language (I informally call it Playstation style) way before its time. Then it trickled down to brands like Audi, Nissan and to some extent BMW. My pick would be the Audi TT with the Z4, Audi R8 and Nissan 350Z being other contenders.

Where can I learn/read about these design languages, from Ford or other brands? It’s helpful to see how the pros create a strong aesthetic from a specific theme. I found the New Edge and Kinetic Design wikipedia articles, but I want more!

I’m 100% an late 80’s/ early 90’s fan boy

Super difficult for me to choose between 2 for the late 80’s

Both are group b rally icons, I suppose the BMW would be the better choice for today since they haven’t all rusted out haha

  1. BMW e30 M3

  1. Lanica Delta Intagrale

For the early 90’s, it would have to be the Mazda Rx-7

and for the late 90’s when Godzilla took over

I don’t think modern car design has touched the aesthetic that was apparent in the 80’s and 90’s, just wayyyy too busy for my taste

The most Iconic car of each decade in my book:

1950’s: Aston Martin DB4 Zagato
1960’s: Corvette Stingray
1970’s: Lamborghini Countach
1980’s: Ferrari Testarossa
1990’s: Porsche 911 993 Turbo or Mazda RX7
2000’s: Audi TT or Aston Martin Vantage
2010’s: Tesla Model 3 (making a prediction here)

I think icons are different than great design. An icon can be anti-design. Like a 2CV or Chuck Taylors or the grain elevators of Montreal. I don’t think any of those things were designed, they were just made as efficiently as possible. However, each has come to represent so much more.

Yo: Jag XKE doesn’t get co-billing with the Stingray? I’m surprised! Actually, I’m surprised that we’ve gotten this far and no one has mentioned the XKE. It’s always listed as the greatest design ever!

all lists are debatable of course :slight_smile:

XKE is a good choice, as is the D type and E type…

While I would agree it has a lovely profile, anything but that view highlights the E-Type’s awkward narrow tire track. For Jaguar, the XK120 did it for me, especially the coupe over the convertible.

For 50s though, I like the Austin Healey 100/4, Le Mans version with the raked windscreen
60s - 289 Cobra
70s - Ferrari Daytona
80s - Audi Quattro
90s - Mazda RX7

Good list iab

I’m just going to leave this right here.

Hmm…tough one. Lot’s of criteria to base 10 years of design on but I’m going for long standing industry influence rather than just pure design influence, since there were a lot of highly influential cars on the design world, but I don’t want to call out Chris Bangle’s 7 series for causing every car to get a frumpy trunk lid.

Beginning of time - VW Beetle - Benchmark of utility and timelessness
50’s - Mercedes 300SL - Benchmark for performance, German engineering and design
60’s - Ford Mustang/BMW 02/911 - I’m divided here in terms of importance since this decade was probably the peak of automotive design and innovation.
70’s - Honda Civic - The first compact car to define the segment for arguably the next 40 years.
80’s - Audi Quattro - The car that gave us all boners for AWD, turbo chargers, and bulging fender flares.
90’s - Dodge Viper - A car so brilliantly insane and ready to kill you they didn’t need to give it a roof or windows until years later and people still bought it.
00’s - Toyota Prius - Technically came out in the 90’s but it wasn’t until the early 2K’s that we realized we all need to save the planet.
10’s - Tesla Model S - When we realized our Prius’s weren’t good enough.