Modern car design is bumming me out

I lean toward minimalism when it comes to product aesthetics, and it’s an attitude modern cars seem to have all but done away with. I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the auto industry these days (my ride is in need of replacement some time in the next year), and nearly every major brand seems to be moving toward a busier and busier look and feel. Not only does it often look messy – odd proportions, lines that start and stop all over the place because…reasons – it seems to be at the expense of utility and user experience, especially when it comes to the increasingly popular small and midsize crossovers whose exteriors are getting larger and swoopier while their interiors (you know, the part you actually use) shrink exponentially.

Obviously to each their own when it comes personal taste, but at least there used to be more than one flavor to choose from. With very few exceptions, I feel the entire industry is homogenizing around a look and feel I just don’t care for. Does anyone else share this feeling?

I think theres plenty of attractive cars still out there that are staying more minimal. Anything German, Hyundai’s (which are now baby Audi’s), Chevy, Jaguar are all pretty clean. Sometimes it also depends on the trim of the vehicle. Usually the lower trims are more austere and as you add bigger engines you start getting a lot more flares, diffusers, plastic trim bits and LED lights.

The Japanese stuff is all a horrible ransom note of design. Lexus anything, Nissan everything. Honda has a few “Cleaner” variations of things but they’re coming off a streak of some really ugly cars.

I suppose it’s what you like. There’s a number of cars out there that catch my attention these days without being super over done or melty-surfaced.

The Euro brands are doing okay, though Audi seems to be slipping into ostentatious-ness with the new models it has on the way. Volvo has some great work coming down the pike, as does Land Rover. It’s frustrating, though, that you have to go to the Euro/luxury brands to get even a taste of simplicity.

Honda especially has been a disappointment for me. I grew up in a family that always had an Accord or Civic in the garage. I’ll always have a soft spot for my dad’s old '03 Accord coupe that was super fun to drive and just gorgeous in person (not to mention it was the first car I ever took past 100 mph), and I’ll be moving on from running an Element to the end of a glorious 15+ year lifespan. There was a time when Honda was doing some really great work. Today, there’s not a single car in their line I’d be happy to own.

Don’t forget Mazda. They are still a little hit and miss, but ever since they jettisoned the giant smiley grilles they are doing much better. In fact, I think the Mazda 6 is the most beautiful car for sale.

Mazda is probably the most well-refined version of what bothers me. It’s commendable that they’ve been able to carry a unified aesthetic across their entire line, something rare with any brand, but it’s an aesthetic that works well in specific circumstances and poorly in others. It’s not a look and feel that lends itself to iconic brand-building.

The most apparent design elements, and for me design flaws, are the two disparate forms running from front to back and back to front. The lines above the front wheels bulge and bend the entire front end, likely in the name of a speedy or aggressive feeling, but stop abruptly between the A and B pillars. We then take an abrupt jog up to the lines running from the back wheels forward into and entirely new form that wants to relate to the front end but ultimately doesn’t. It simply crashes, albeit smoothly, into the front. This is a strategy that can work well in certain circumstances (I’m looking at you, Corvette) but translating it to every size and type of car in your line just doesn’t work for me. It seems especially unsuited for the medium and large crossovers and SUVs dominating the roads these days.

And while this may be more of a Japanese trend than anything else, Honda and Toyota are especially egregious offenders of forms and lines starting and stopping all over the place, I see hints of it with many of the American and Euro brands.

Here is my least favorite: Lexus NX. This weekend I was studying the form of one in a parking lot. I feel sorry for the sculpture. Usually you try to have the reflections flow over the body. On the NX, the reflections stop abruptly and distort. Moreover, some of the leading edges start to flow and then jerk a different direction. It’s a mess.

I kind of agree with you on Mazda. The 6, the CX-5 and the CX-9 look great, but the language feels a little compromised on their other models. However, I’ve never felt like anyone got all their product line perfect at once. There is always a black sheep somewhere.

Oh god Lexus. They are definitely the biggest culprit. I can’t imagine how dated every one of their models will look in a few years when the pendulum inevitably swings the opposite direction.

Modern car design is bumming me out… but then again, this is my idea of perfect, so I know I am far to one side on the spectrum. Just give me some of this stuff. :wink:

You couldn’t have said that better. There are very few examples of cars that really hit the spot for me. The 90s Audi type simplicity lacks roar, which is why I think brands are moving more towards a sort of digitally inspired complexity or just wilder surfacing. For me Land Rover, the 2006 Lamborghini Miura concept, the rear design of the Lamborghini Veneno, and the upcoming Volvo series are marks of what future car design will be: simplicity returns but with a lot of power, lightweight and future-forward design. Also Scott Robertson has done some concepts where you see nice combinations of simplicity with power and body. And I liked Ross Lovegrove’s design for Renault, it was very refreshing.

Marussia was going somewhere with the B1, I would like to see other brands going into this direction.
Mazda is doing great as a brand, but for design I can only mention the new Miata as a great design - not original at all, but definitely gorgeous.

I feel that too often cars are designed more as a front design merged with a rear design and then some elements on the side, but the best designs take the entire car as one integrous and dynamic shape with the details flowing from the overall spatial philosophy.

I agree completely. You can easily see how we got where we are today: cars of the late 90s and early 2000s started to feel too bland and simple, and everyone’s solution was complexity, especially in surfacing. What I’m hoping just like you, ralphzoontjens, is that more brands realize there are plenty of ways to add visual dynamism without going surface crazy. Three or four strong, form-defining lines can be much more powerful and iconic than 18 crazy ones.

I don’t think that 20-teen cars are a response to the '90s. Actually, the Fiat Coupe (1993), the Focus and Ford GT90 (1995) had crazy angles, surfaces and weird lines. I think those were ahead of their time though. I think there is a thread of design today that is fractal surfacing (for lack of an accepted term). Car makers are responding to that.

Maybe not so much a response, but definitely an evolution. What I find odd and disheartening is that nearly every brand seems to have evolved in exactly the same direction. Design “threads” come and go, and it would make sense that some brands or individual models would jump on those trends, but 90% of the entire industry?

I think they are more a response to transformer heads than the 90’s. There was a lot of clean design in the 90’s… and generational, think of the average age of a car designer, the transformer head makes sense.
Give me 80’s Optimus any day!

Haha what a perfect analogue! I remember a client once giving me the direction of, “less Star Wars – more [Michael Bay] Transformers.” My inner monologue’s immediate, involuntary reaction was, “I hate you.” :wink:

Jeff, that is the proper response! :slight_smile:

I agree with 80s Optimus, yet we are looking for something new and also in consumer products nowadays we still see simple forms but often augmented with textures, patterns and other features to make them more dynamic, say more in the spotlight. The Ford GT90 is probably the best example and one of the most realistically future-forward concepts of all time - it has simplicity, it has beauty, it has power. Mix that kind of design thinking with lightweight and electric technologies of today and I think we will have much better car designs.

I agree but only with respect to modern product design. I think modern exterior auto design (of production cars, mind you) is missing out by focusing almost solely on one type of sculptural form and visual complexity, eschewing the infinite number of possibilities that something as complex as a car exterior offers. In contrast, take a look at some of the newer interiors making their way to the market. You see a lot of creativity in form, material, and space. Most importantly, though, you see variety.

Chris Bangle said in an interview that they only really have +/- 1.5cm space to be sculptural and meet the cost/aerodynamic efficiency that is demanded in contemporary cars. Therefore, they might not have quite the freedom that we think.

Shanghai Auto Show this week. More “culprits”:

Only one bucking the trend is TESLA of all cars. Go figure.

It will be interesting to see, if anyone brings on the Marc Newson Sedan now. It still looks fresh against all that visual noise.

One more aspect: We have an explosion of new brands and model lines on the car world market. Anyone seen a research over this? I’D guess the number of different models must have risen threefold atleast, thus creating pressure on every design decision to create “individuality”. The usual reaction to the difficulty of being heard in an overcrowded market is to shout…


Don’t forget things like pedestrian impact testing (which drove the front of the cars up), DOT regulations which require headlight/taillight positions, platform impact (shared chassis hardpoints to reduce costs), etc.

Not to say beautiful cars don’t exist, but the ability to think outside the box is pretty tough. Besides, these days everybody wants SUV’s so the investment into beautiful looking cars is more for nostalgia then profits at the moment. Porsche (a sports car company) sells 2 Macan/Cayennes for every 911/boxster/cayman.