Matt Prior

Autocar - - THIS WEEK -

The good, bad and ugly, but mostly ugly

Time was when a man­u­fac­turer would re­veal an ugly car and it’d get laughed at

What started it all? The orig­i­nal Porsche Cayenne? What is it with cars that are, seem­ingly, wil­fully ugly; de­signed to shock, to have pres­ence, but not to have grace or easy pro­por­tions?

Be­cause it has be­come a thing. Of re­cent times, there is the Rolls-royce Cul­li­nan, the Bent­ley Ben­tayga, the Mclaren Senna, and, now, the BMW X7 and Mclaren Speedtail. All are de­signed to make you stop, take stock and go ‘hmm’; but they are not, I don’t think, things that make you go ‘ph­woar’.

I’ve come to think this is now de­lib­er­ate, that the plan with cars like th­ese and oth­ers was never to make them great look­ing in the first place; al­though if you saw some early sketches of a Rolls Cul­li­nan in pro­file, with four sim­ple sweep­ing lines, you might think that in the in­terim there was a ter­ri­ble mis­judg­ment.

But it can’t be, can it? The BMW X7 can’t have got to the fin­ished stage with­out some­body stick­ing their hand up in the thou­sands of meet­ings that must have taken place in the past four years, and say­ing: “Um, chief. I hes­i­tate to say it but isn’t this, y’know… a bit of a munter?”

The only con­clu­sion I can reach, then, is that per­haps, in an in­creas­ingly ho­mogenised and ever-more densely pop­u­lated world of cars, giv­ing ve­hi­cles an out­landish ap­pear­ance, or car­i­ca­tur­ing brand fea­tures onto them whether they quite fit or not, is just a way of try­ing to in­ject some ex­tra char­ac­ter. It’s a way of mak­ing quite sure some­one knows ex­actly what the car is.

Given there’s an el­e­ment of ob­jec­tiv­ity to de­sign – and I think it’s fair to say there is, given his­tor­i­cally cer­tain pro­por­tions have been es­tab­lished as par­tic­u­larly pleas­ing – maybe if ev­ery car com­pany fol­lowed es­tab­lished rules, too many cars would look alike. Maybe ev­ery GT car would look like an As­ton DB9, or it would seem that no­body but Alfa Romeo de­signed sa­loon cars.

And given that a big car man­u­fac­turer will have more than 20 mod­els in its line-up, per­haps de­sign­ers have just sim­ply run out of lines, so the only an­swer left to them is to wil­fully bend or break ac­cepted de­sign rules.

In ad­di­tion to de­sign chang­ing, though, haven’t we changed too? Time was when a man­u­fac­turer would re­veal an ugly car and it’d get laughed at, and hardly any­one would buy one, and those who did would for­ever be filled with shame and re­gret, never again trusted with their judg­ment: “I might go and look at some new fur­ni­ture on the way home, dar­ling.” “Please be care­ful, Keith, re­mem­ber that time you came home with a Ford Scorpio.”

To­day, though, it doesn’t seem to mat­ter. The first-gen­er­a­tion Cayenne trans­formed Porsche’s for­tunes. There are some proper shock­ers to­day with very long wait­ing lists.

Cul­li­nan, Senna, Ben­tayga, X7: stick the ac­cepted cues and some badges on any­way, guys, and watch ’em fly out of the show­rooms. Be­cause, ap­par­ently, no­body minds.

Heard a ra­dio ad yes­ter­day, for the new Audi Q8. First stated rea­son of why you might buy one? Its “road-dom­i­nat­ing di­men­sions”. So it’s in­tim­i­dat­ingly mas­sive, then. It’s not go­ing to help make this an easy car to warm to, is it?

Cars sell even with a face only their de­signer could love

Is in­tim­i­da­tion a sell­ing point for Audi’s Q8?

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