Mercedes-Benz Shooting Break Concept (© Mercedes-Benz)

Mercedes-Benz Shooting Break Concept

No matter how fast, luxurious or brilliantly engineered, a car has to look good if it's going to sell. And in this game of seduction, the front fascia plays a vital part. An inspired grille design makes a car attractive and shapes its identity by tying it to the carmaker's history and reputation. For more than a century, designers have wrestled with the daunting challenge of making cars sexy while satisfying the conflicting demands of engineers and regulators. A smooth front end will likely be more aerodynamic and fuel efficient but less charismatic, for instance. Over the years, there have been some amazing successes and spectacular failures in front fascia design. Here are 10 of the most notable.

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Audi A8

The Audi Nuvolari quattro concept, with its bold, gaping mouth of a grille, created quite a stir when it was unveiled at the 2003 Geneva International Motor Show. Yet it now looks almost tame when compared with some of the current Audi production models it has inspired, starting with the A5 and S5 coupes. The company's designers have used that trapezoidal grille on virtually all Audis since the Nuvolari, while making it more assertive still. The flagship A8 sedan is the best example. You can hardly call it pretty, but it sure gets your attention.

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BMW 7-Series

The double-kidney grille that sets a BMW apart became an instant classic on the tall, narrow hood of the gorgeous 328 sports car, launched in 1936. The kidneys were subsequently stretched, compressed, widened or abbreviated, depending on the size and type of the vehicle, but they always clearly stated the unique identity of the Bavarian machines, with the help of the equally famous blue and white roundel badge. Unveiled at the 2007 Shanghai Auto Show, the Concept CS has a notably wider version of the twin kidneys, flanked by chiseled headlights that give it a hawklike gaze. It has inspired the current 7-Series flagship sedan and Gran Turismo models.

Watch Video:  2011 BMW 7-Series

1953 Buick Skylark

Click to enlarge picture1953 Buick Skylark (© General Motors)

1953 Buick Skylark

In spite of notable exceptions such as the slick Studebaker Golden Hawk and Continental Mark II, the Fabulous Fifties were the age of the glorious tail fin and the chromed, toothy grille. No car personifies this period with more style and grace than the 1953 Buick Skylark. This limited-edition and largely custom-tailored version of Buick's top-line Roadmaster convertible was created to celebrate the automaker's first half-century and reinforce GM's styling and design leadership. The Skylark's smooth flanks and upswept rear fenders evoke the legendary 1938 Buick Y-Job, the first concept car in history. It was Buick and GM at their classic best.

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Cadillac CTS

Click to enlarge pictureCadillac CTS Sport Wagon (© General Motors)

Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon

No other division at GM has made greater strides in reinventing itself than Cadillac. Style and engineering are inseparable in what Cadillac calls its Art and Science design language, as defined by the Evoq concept first shown at the 1999 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. A dozen years later, the CTS Coupe and Sport Wagon are its best expressions. With their chiseled lines, rakish profile and that big square-pattern grille, they truly and brazenly stand out among their rivals. That grille, with its wider sections and large, wreathed Cadillac crest, was first seen on the second-generation CTS sedan. The original CTS was the first crystallization of the Art and Science philosophy, and Cadillac has not looked back since.

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Fisker Karma

With its bleeding-edge, extended-range hybrid powertrain, the upcoming Karma luxury-sport sedan could have gone full technoid. Instead, prominent designer-turned-entrepreneur Henrik Fisker decided to make the car as sexy as possible. The Karma's long, low profile is tantalizing enough, but it is nonetheless upstaged by a defiantly wide grille with upturned edges that make it look like the Cheshire Cat on 22-inch alloy wheels. With its 403-horsepower powertrain, a zero-to-60-mph time of 5.9 seconds, a top speed of 125 mph — 7.9 seconds and 95 mph in electric-only "stealth" mode — and a projected 100 mpg combined fuel-economy rating, going "green" has never looked hotter.

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