Beauty or the beast?


Why do some cars look fabulous and others, well, aesthetically challenged?

Some are right from the start. The original VW Golf, a crisp little box that appeared forty years ago, set the template for all the Golfs that followed, and although it’s fair to say that some have been a bit awkward and lumpy, the current one is a good looking thing, and very recognizably a Golf.

The first Ford Focus seemed unfeasibly modern when it appeared way back in 1998, and daft dashboard aside; it’s aged very well. Subsequent Focuses (or should that be ‘Foci?’) have been good cars, but the Mk2 was a bit bigger and less interesting, and the current one’s styling is, if you’ll pardon the pun, a bit un-focused. And sticking a pretend Aston Martin grille on the front of it doesn’t change things.

Value my car

BMW spent years making handsome, but perhaps slightly clinical looking cars, then in the early 2000s appeared to go a bit bonkers, after hiring American car stylist Chris Bangle. He gave BMWs bulges, scallops and occasionally peculiar lamp clusters. The results received a mixed reaction critically, but now that these cars have been around for over a decade and we’ve got used to them, it’s clear that a lot of these shapes have aged well. Everyone from Infiniti, Lexus and even Mazda has pinched some of Bangle’s ideas.

Certain cars have rightness about them, which then gets mucked up as the years go by. Take the Jaguar E-Type, whose sensuous, almost unadorned shape was coarsened with bigger, uglier bumpers and bits of bright work as the Jag turned from 1960s motoring heartthrob to ‘70s old roué on wheels. No subsequent Jaguar coupe has looked as good as the first E, not even the current F-Type, which is a very pretty car.

You could say the same about the Mazda MX-5. The first one, which appeared at the tail end of the 1980s, had dainty prettiness which none of the MX-5s that followed it can match.

Perhaps that’s why Fiat’s allegedly new 500 looks just like the old one, itself an homage to the 1957 original. Which brings us to the Fiat 500L small people carrier. This is not conventional beautiful, and to my eye from some angles appears to be the love child of a Dalek and a pepper pot. However, some people think this car is plug ugly, but I disagree. In fact, I quite like its looks, for reasons I can’t entirely explain.

Perhaps this mild perversity is why I find the appearance of some, although not all modern Ferraris and Maseratis hard to love. It’s something to do with scale and subtlety. Basically there’s too much of one and not enough of the other. A pity, since both these Italian exotic makers have given us some of the prettiest cars ever made.

But what do I know? The current crop of Minis, which are not in the least Mini sized, aren’t my cup of tea either, nor is the Range Rover Evoque, but these cars are hugely popular and hugely successful, so perhaps the problem lies with me rather than then. Mind you, I actively hated the looks of the first Range Rover Sport, a monumental car that seemed to have been styled by a Cubist with an angle grinder, but lots of people loved that too, and the current Sport is much better looking.

I shall get into trouble with this. People invest a lot of emotional capital in their pride and joys, so saying you don’t like a car’s looks will cause some owners to react as if you’ve said that their children are ugly.

What do you think? What are the cars you reckon are gorgeous or ghastly? Maybe you reckon the old Range Rover Sport is simply beautiful and I should be made to run along behind one for several miles as a punishment for being rude about it. It would be interesting to know.