By Jeffrey the Barak
A walk through the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show
There are certain cars that just look and feel right. Their design suggests quality and precision. The metal looks solid and the doors close with a solid thunk, and no tinny ring. But other cars look as fragile as tin-foil, with seams that are too wide or too tight. They may have hard plastic where you would expect upholstery, or molded polyurethane where you like to see a softer surface. And then some designs are embellished so much beyond their function that they scream ugliness.
It may be personal preference, and differences in the tastes of middle-America versus those of, for example, the Japanese or the French, but in general, some cars are rolling art, and others are rolling messes. And then there is Steam-Punk, a cartoonish design idea that has now found it’s way onto the showroom floors.
What follows is my personal opinion, and my personal impression, but I at least, agree with myself!
For good clean design that seems functional, well-executed, and just has a quality, precise, expensive feel, look no further than Audi and Volkswagen. Alright, perhaps outside of the USA, their larger SUV’s are a bit bigger than anyone would ever need a car to be, but in general, their designs are elegant and just right. The world loves the Golf, and for good reason. It’s sporty, practical, holds a lot of stuff and takes up little space. The GTI version is as enjoyable on the racetrack as many a six-figure sports car, and speaking of which, the Audi R8 looks so much cooler than today’s Italian supercars.
Also from Germany, the interior of the BMW Mini-E, an electric car, is a beautiful design, with it’s colored swirls and oversized central display. For some reason the fit and finish on the Mini seems to be a step above that of the larger 3, 5 and 7 series, which despite their clever angles are bland, and have orange peel paint, rather like cheaper Chevys.
The new Lexus LFA supercar, has a terrible paint finish that combines a high gloss above the beltline with a visually sticky-looking texture in the same color, and a front-end design that is comparable in style with a Corolla, only with a big gap at the tip of the hood/bonnet. If you search for photos for the front you’ll see it shot from up high, or lit from the side to create shadows, but in real life, it’s a front from Wal-Mart, and yet this supercar costs $375,000. Something does not add up here.
Representing Steam-Punk, the new Morgan Aero SuperSports was almost a hot car, but is a hot mess. A mishmash of curves and embellishments that should not be shared on one chassis. Steam-Punk can be described as historical future fantasy such as in the visions of Jules Verne or H.G. Wells. This ever so ugly Morgan has it down, right down to it’s misguided interpetive brown leather seats.
To understand what is wrong with General Motors, you have to imagine that you are not in Los Angeles, but instead on a street in Rome, Frankfurt or London. You look up and see the grille of a GM SUV coming at you. A big ugly unnecessary jukebox of a grille, stuck onto the front of a primitive oversized hunk of beige metal. To my eye, these vehicles look ridiculous and I would rather have witnessed their extinction than been a part of their bailout with my income tax. Car manufacturing is a competition, and these guys lost that competition. They should not still be here.
Ford got by without a bailout, but what are those big things stuck on the front ends of Mercurys and Fords and Lincolns? Who on Earth likes these grilles?
Design in modern cars treads a narrow ridge path with steep fall-offs on either side into ravines of bad taste. In these ravines, you will see Rolls Royces, Dodges, Fords, and countless other Marques. The traffic on the top will be quite light, even in rush hour.