Is Ugly the New Cool?
Bold and controversial new designs are gaining traction. Are they pointing to a new direction in design?
While car enthusiasts might find the Nissan JUKE's looks off-putting or bizarre, it looks cool to a younger consumer that views the automobile as more of an appliance — or Nissan hopes they do.
When the Pontiac Aztek was released in 2001, General Motors was roundly criticized by experts for developing such an ugly automobile. It left media types like us asking, "How could something so awkward looking be approved by so many people?" While the ensuing years have seen a few quirky and different designs — the Scion xB and Nissan cube among them — we saw nothing approaching the Aztek's unpleasant appearance.
However, in the past 12 months, four new autos have emerged that initially were seen as pushing the limits of good taste. Those vehicles are the Porsche Panamera, the BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo, the Honda Accord Crosstour and the Nissan JUKE. While none of these cars may be as awkward and unattractive as the Aztek, their designs are certainly polarizing.
So why are we suddenly seeing more controversial-looking automobiles? Do they represent a trend in which ugly is the new cool? Or are they niche vehicles that need a bold look to stand out or that have design quirks necessary to enhance functionality? We talked to noted independent car designer Thom Taylor and other industry experts to find out.
The Panamera is probably the most controversial car on the list, and not just for its styling. The very idea of a 4-door Porsche doesn't sit well with many enthusiasts. However, after about one year of sales, the Panamera is Porsche's second-best-selling vehicle, behind only the Porsche Cayenne SUV, another vehicle that some believe shouldn't be in the Porsche lineup. Porsche said it was aiming to sell about 8,000 Panameras a year in the United States when it launched the vehicle in late 2009. Through August 2010, Porsche has sold 4,941 Panameras, plus 1,247 in its first two months on sale in 2009. That puts it on track to approach Porsche's goal. It doesn't hurt that the Panamera is an amazing driver, with gobs of available power and the handling of a sports car.
The problem with the Panamera is the rear end, where the car looks bulbous and out of proportion. We spoke to Panamera designer Michael Mauer when Porsche unveiled the car last year, and learned that the car looks the way it does for a reason. The design was package-driven. It had to have a comfortable rear seat — with enough room to accommodate 6-foot 2-inch Wendelin Wiedeking, then Porsche chairman — plenty of cargo space and the traditional look of a Porsche. That traditional look gave the car rounded lines, a lower air intake with no upper grille, front fenders placed higher than the hood, and haunches over the rear wheels.
Taylor sees issues with the design, but he says he understands the look: "From a styling standpoint, it's awkward and clunky in the back. With the headroom issue, you've got to have what you have. They probably did about as good of a job as they could."
Unfortunately, the Gran Turismo's backside looks clumsy. The roof line looks too long, the tail is too high, and the hatchback is chopped off instead of resolving pleasingly into the body.
BMW released the BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo late in 2009 as a sort of experiment. With a unique dual-mode trunk that could act as a trunk or a hatch, the car combines elements of a sedan, hatchback and wagon. Consequently, the GT's backside looks clumsy. The roof line looks too long, the tail looks too high, and the hatchback is just chopped off instead of resolving pleasingly into the body.
Even so, people seem to like it. Buyers have snapped up 2,498 5-Series GTs since it was released last November. The design has done so well, in fact, that there is speculation that BMW is also considering a 3-Series GT.
Taylor views it as a wagon in disguise: "The versatility is a selling point, which was what I always thought a wagon's selling point was. But obviously, people don't like the wagon's shape and this is more appealing to more people."
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Ugly? Ugly? For my money all the cookie cutter blah can't tell one from another pieces of crap they've been selling for the last 10 years were the Ugly cars.......
I think it is great that they are finally starting to make vehicles look distictive again! All the pukey grey and black "cheaper to make" cars you convinced the younger people were cool were ugly in my eyes.
Viva la difference!
So that's why these cars are so ugly...
They supposedly think that this new generation wants something unusual, unique, and sassy. And they also go so far as to say that we solely view cars as appliances. Well, I'm just under twenty and I, and many of my friends are big time car enthusiasts, respecting both old and new technology. I'm all for practical and efficient cars, but practicality needs to be balanced with aesthetics, and cars like the Juke don't have that at all. I'm a "tuner", and I want a car with performance potential, and even if the Juke did offer such things, I'd never be caught driving such a horribly styled car. Sorry guys, if you want to appeal to buyers like me, you have to shift your focus elsewhere. Start making affordable mid-range sports cars again like the Toyota Supra or Subaru WRX, then you'll have my attention.
Earlier this week, someone driving a new Porsche Panamera passed me on a four lane boulevard. The car was beautiful as I watched his tail lights vanish in the distance. I can't aggree with the authors premise.