Verizon IndyCar Series officials have called the new race car design for their 2018 season “reverse engineering.” In other words, make it look good first and then dial in performance. The series is still in the days of early returns, with the car’s running limited so far to off-season testing, but it appears IndyCar accomplished...
The news release on the Bentley Motors website says “The long wheelbase and short nose lend the car a sense of dynamism, even when viewed at a standstill.” If you believe that, you’re a great deal more gullible than you should be. It’s going to be a good long while before the long hood and tight passenger compartment ceases to be the most desirable look for front-engine performance cars. Look at the last Packard V-12 roadster from 1939, and you know it’s powerful and fast with no need for a vulgar chrome insignia on its flanks telling you how many cylinders are under the hood.
Apart from the copywriter’s unconvincing hyperbole, this is an extremely attractive little coupe. Or at least seemingly so, because there’s nothing little about any German-era Bentley Continental. They’re big cars, and even the least powerful of any built since Volkswagen AG took over is an impressively fast, capable conveyance for four people who will be transported in both comfort and style. But because of that stumpy front end and the giant 22-inch wheels on this new Continental, you get the sense of a tight, compact coupe—more Porsche than Packard. Which, when you think about it, is not a bad thing. Both P-cars are worthy of emulation, and Bentley’s native history is validation enough for anything the firm might do today, whether it conforms to our proportional preconceptions or not.
I find the rather wide (as compared to all the finer trim pieces on the car) chrome band on the side to be both inappropriate and poorly executed, skewed off-datum as it is. But that’s the only part of the styling that clashes with the Bentley tradition of understated quality. From Vanden Plas bodies of the Cricklewood cars in the ’20s to coachbuilt bodies of the first Rolls-Royce Bentleys, there has always been some reserve in shapes and detailing of cars carrying Walter Owen’s name. I am particularly pleased by the subtle undercuts beneath each important styling line. It works well everywhere, but it’s especially effective on the rear fender indication.
What is unequivocally superior about Bentley design today is the interior work. The execution of every single bit of wood, leather, metal, and plastic is faultless in the current generation. Bentley volumes are many times higher than they ever were in the era of the British Empire on which the sun never set. So it is not astonishing that buyers outside the land of rising damp might want to see bright orange paint on their Bentaygas and Flying Spurs. That each and every model can be customized to buyers’ exact requirements means every potential Bentley owner can be assured of personal satisfaction as well as astonishing performance and unquestioned prestige. Even if they don’t really look like they’re going fast “when viewed at a standstill.”
1. It takes a lot of confidence in your precision manufacturing capability to position the gas cap door to cut through complex surfaces. Nice work.
2. The now-traditional small outer lamp is nicely placed on the front of the outer fender surface in such a way as to generate a profile line perfectly recalling the shape of “Olga,” the prototype R-Type Continental from 1951.
3. A complex inner lamp generates an inner bulge that fades away in a short distance, again a sensitive, respectful evocation of a long-term Bentley morphology.
4. The hood centerline peak is slightly more prominent than aesthetically desirable. A flatter line would have been better.
5. Tradition, modernity, evocation of racing Bentleys in the ’20s—the grille is everything it should be on a 21st century Bentley, including the centerline rod.
6. If there is anything a bit questionable on the front end, it would be these angled arms, seemingly more at home on an Italian supercar than on a historically inspired design.
7. The huge corner openings are not philosophically out of place, but you wonder about their gigantic size.
8. Another almost-subliminal indication of the size of the Continental is its door handles, too low on the body side for a small coupe, ergonomically correct for this one.
9. The bottom of the sill droops just a bit before the rear wheel, making the rising chrome strip and the suggestion of a wedge form even more incongruous.
1. The most interesting aspect of the Continental’s body surfaces is the indentation below each styling line, most notably the rear fender profile line.
2. The mirrors are enormous, thus making the whole ensemble look like a small, nimble coupe. It isn’t. It’s a big car—very fast but nothing like a Lotus.
3. The relatively short hood also makes the car look smaller in photographs than it is, and it’s antithetical to the recent Mercedes-Maybach’s hood, which seems twice this long.
4. The wheel design is interesting in that the bright rim is discontinuous, each of five segments starting with a blunt end that doesn’t touch the rim.
5. After looping toward the center, the bright strip becomes part of the rim, tapering to this sharp point just before the next segment.
6. There should be symmetrically opposite wheels on each side of the car, but there are not. This tightest bend of each spoke segment should point forward and not back as it does on the right side of the car. Driver’s side wins here.
7. The huge open area of this 22-inch wheel provides a great view of the enormous brake discs.
8. This hokey chrome bit with its ostentatious cylinder-count announcement suggests the German owners have no comprehension of traditional British understatement. Too bad.
9. The rear of the V-section chrome strip is crimped flat to cross the flat flange around the wheel opening.
10. This crisp line derived from the outer end of the exhaust outlet is comprehensible.
11. This parallel crisp line above the trim strip, derived from no other feature, is not.
1. Camera lens distortion, sure. But these mirrors are really, really big. Good for safety but not for scale.
2. This little separator allows the main door glass to go down. The same constraint existed on the R-Type long ago.
3. Bentley has legitimate access to the Rolls-Royce air-conditioning outlets as seen here. Notice how elegantly the chrome trim beneath the wood aligns with the outlet rib.
4. Almost a novelty in this age, the steering wheel is simply round, with no humps, bumps, or surface-material changes. On the other hand, the hub is definitely off-center. But it looks good and looks like it would feel good.
5. Wood use is discreet and quite welcome.
6. In the age of giant Tesla tablets, the GPS screen seems like a transplanted smartphone face.
7. The organ stop A/C flow controls are another Rolls-Royce carryover idea.
8. These A-pillars are really excessive, blocking far too much view. Bentley should be able to engineer something as strong but not as wide.
9. The center console seems a little too traditional—cluttered and confusing.
10. The “Chairman Mao” diamond quilting is unpleasant and looks cheap to me, though I know that there’s a lot of skilled work that goes into making the seat covers and door panels.
11. These round speaker covers could be made less obtrusive, but perhaps the metal presentation is considered more upscale.
12. This small control panel looks like a mistake. It hangs below the rest of the trim piece, which is elegantly smooth on the cockpit’s passenger side.
1. In this view you get an even more notable sense of the atypical undercut fender profile line.
2. The roof profile line is emphasized by an undercut down to the transverse roof panel.
3. Although the backlight surface is relatively large, the blackout panels painted on the inner surface reduce the transparency to about half the total glass panel area. It’s odd but not uncommon these days.
4. There is a big drop between this spoiler edge and the tapering roof, another element of the surface undercuts prevalent on this coupe.
5. The trunklid is really small, giving the impression that loading baggage will be an unpleasant chore. Presumably even golf bags will fit, pointing out the overall apparent
6. The very fine chrome trim around the taillights is nicely proportioned …
7. … as is the slightly thicker license recess trim.
8. … whereas the horizontal exhaust outlets are symmetrical, a much nicer shape.
9. Notice the lamp outline sags a bit as compared to the upper profile, which is very pure …
10. The two flat sections of the chrome strip really should have been left off. The main thrust of the V-section trim pieces would have been preserved without breaking up the wheel opening.
11. In publicity pictures, the B at the wheel hub is always presented as though it were on a weighted center, such as a Rolls-Royce or a car sporting dubs. Let it go.
The news release on the Bentley Motors website says “The long wheelbase and short nose lend the car a sense of dynamism, even when viewed at a standstill.” If you believe that, you’re a great deal more gullible than you should be. It’s going to be a good long while before the long hood and...
I admit, my initial intellectual reaction to the Infiniti Prototype 9 race car concept was, “That’s a really stupid idea. Why would Infiniti, a Japanese brand that didn’t exist in the era of Tojo’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, want to emulate the Nazi propaganda race cars of Hitler’s war machine?” But there it sat in front of The Lodge at Pebble Beach, an extraordinarily well-realized physical embodiment of an imaginary object of absolutely no actual relevance. But my first emotional reaction to the Prototype 9 was, “Wonderful!”
This fantasy car is fun, it’s beautifully realized in every detail, and the horrible historical political aspects of its visual legacy are some 80 years behind us. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to create a suppositional “barn find” coulda-woulda-shoulda race car like this. But then, it did seem perfectly reasonable to me 60-odd years ago to build a road car that resembled the best of those from some 20 years earlier. And when the opportunity to do an imitation 1930s sports car arose at the end of the ’70s, I seized it. On a personal level, it is easy to understand the motivation of a designer wanting to recapitulate something he greatly admired but was born too late to work on when it first existed.
The back story on this Infiniti concept is that it is supposed to represent a barn find, a car that would have existed had a group of Japanese aeronautical engineers gotten together on an after-hours race-car project. It seems there really was some serious racing going on in the Tokyo area in the ’30s, with many people—including one Soichiro Honda—building track racers and competing. That some of them might have made something comparable to Auto Union or Mercedes-Benz grand prix cars is a pure fantasy but a fine, workable, understandable fantasy.
There are no dramatic exhaust pipes—it’s electric—and no louvers, but there is plenty of consideration of aerodynamics, and as Nissan’s new chief designer Alfonso Albaisa says it’s all “eyeball aero, no wind tunnel.” Obviously no consideration was made for downforce, although in Germany in the ’30s both Opel rocket cars and Mercedes-Benz’s untested land-speed record vehicle had downforce wings.
Ultimately this concept car (we used to call them dream cars, an arguably better term for minimally functional showpieces) is directly comparable in its impressive unreality to General Motors’ 1953 XP-21 Firebird 1 gas turbine car. Like Infiniti’s 9, it corresponded to a racing formula that didn’t exist when it was created, aimed at a nonexistent temporal world and built to the highest standards imaginable. If Firebird 1 looked forward to present times and Prototype 9 to 80 years back, both are superb objets d’art dealing with nonmainstream motive forces. I still tend to think this Infiniti Axis Powers concept car is a stupid idea intellectually, but isn’t it magnificent?
1. A free-standing hood ornament would not be on a race car in the late ’30s, but it was necessary on the Prototype 9. Otherwise the driver would have no visual reference as to where the front extremity of the car is.
2. The high point of the hood, which falls away in all directions, is the key stylistic element of the whole car, something at once completely new yet a real possibility in the referenced time period.
3. There is a carefully crafted peak line in the hood sides, turning inward below to meet the hood-side cutline. The negative surface below conveys air flowing back from the grille along the body, preventing it from spilling into the cockpit.
4. The driver’s headrest is not high enough to contain a modern rollover structure, and its width is typical of the wide cockpits of prewar race cars in Europe and the U.S.
5. The fairings over suspension parts front and rear are not much like what we saw on the German cars of the reference period, though there were versions on some Alfa Romeo cars of the time, and aircraft engineers might well have imagined them in period.
6. The at-wheel electric motor/brake assemblies were cleverly designed to look like big ’30s-era drum brakes, complete with handsome cooling fins, appropriately dimensioned to look period correct.
7. The grille is a tour de force of craftsmanship, each bar different from the one next to it, all artfully curved to produce a transverse highlight line at the top.
8. These big wheels were carefully handmade by Nissan factory craftsmen to emulate those used by the Auto Unions and Silver Arrows.
9. The bright flash carried just above the break point in the transverse body cross section carries a break between upper and lower reflective surfaces, emphasizing the wedge line running upward from the “bumper” toward the rear wheel hub height.
10. The tires were patterned on Dunlop racing rubber of a long-ago period when the tires were skinny and drivers—some of them, anyway—were fat.
1. This line of apparent rivets along the cockpit sides pushes the sense of aircraft techniques.
2. You get a fine sense of the artfulness of the detail design in this view. The outer body skin acquires a bright trailing edge, and the outermost grille bar, most curved in front view, turns down and merges with that panel at their mutual base in side view.
3. Rear lamps, now part of all formula race cars, were not used or required 80 years ago. No problem, there’s plenty of electricity available.
4. These riveted-on sconce-shaped sections appended to the lower body are quite typical of aircraft practice long ago. Aerodynamic cleanliness was less important in areas of high turbulence.
5. The tunnels on each side of the body allowing air to escape from the grille are quite deep, allowing the concave to convex sculpting of the body sides.
1. It’s not really a bumper, but the airfoil-shaped rib traversing the grille at one-third its height nonetheless is the point that would touch a wall if the car were pushed up to it.
2. This bright slash at the trailing edge of the air outlet behind the huge grille is actually an extension of the outermost vertical grille bars that translates into a tapered streak up the body side, with a sharp change from bottom to top of the body form.
3. The most intriguing part of the complex shape is the hood that drops in height as it reaches the cockpit. I’ve only ever seen this before on some Figoni et Falaschi teardrop coupes and to a much slighter degree. It’s the most likable feature on the body.
4. The upswept crease line is, at the very earliest, a late 20th century conceit. But it’s really cool.
5. This upswept curve is definitely not a ’30s feature line, but is quite modern, yet the postulated ’30s airplane inspiration fully justifies its presence.
6. Not quite readable, like a lot of stenciled nomenclature on military airplanes and vehicles.
1. The delicacy and elegance of the windscreen supports say a lot about the depth of attention exercised in building the very real running show car. Everything’s perfect.
2. The speedometer (in a race car?) only reads 100 mph maximum with the redline at just 70, but it’s realistic for the actual expected performance of the car.
3. The tight radius on the outside of the cockpit coaming band is indicative of the superb metalwork on the car.
4. The handsome tuck-and-roll upholstery looks for all the world like a ’30s Indianapolis race car. The Europeans used cloth on seats to save weight and add a bit of lateral grip.
5. Another anachronism is the inset center hub for the steering wheel, a clear indication of modernity even if there is no airbag. But the absence of seat belts is very ’30s.
6. Barely perceived notches hold the “traction direction” lever in place. You can’t call it a shift lever in an electric, can you?
I admit, my initial intellectual reaction to the Infiniti Prototype 9 race car concept was, “That’s a really stupid idea. Why would Infiniti, a Japanese brand that didn’t exist in the era of Tojo’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, want to emulate the Nazi propaganda race cars of Hitler’s war machine?” But there it sat...
Elegance—as I understand the term—has absolutely nothing to do with selection as Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Best of Show, if recent winners are considered. Key to earning the coveted award seems to be the letter B. An entrant must just push all the right B buttons—as in his biography (he’d best be a billionaire), his car black, and its trim extra bright. That elegance of line matters not a whit has been proven several times, most emphatically in 2007 when the monstrously ugly Mormon Meteor record-setting Duesenberg won. Impressive, yes. Great performance history, certainly. But as with this year’s winner, sorely lacking true elegance and totally bereft of any trace of beauty.
In this 70th year of Ferrari’s existence as an automobile manufacturer, one of the many truly elegant models present surely could have won, but one can never predict what will happen at Pebble Beach. I was at the 1953 Concours when an Austin-Healey won Best of Show over a superb Ferrari 212 Inter coupe, to the Ferrari owner’s obvious displeasure. (He left gouges in the grass on departure.) Some early Ferraris were rather inelegant, as was the 2014 Best of Show, the only Ferrari ever to win. A historically important but stylistically derivative one-off Scaglietti coupe, it was inspired more by the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL than any of the glorious Allemano to Zagato designs. At least it wasn’t black.
Nor was this year’s top car, but it did out-bling all former Best of Show laureates, having bright polished metal from the base of the windshield forward. Its lines were awkwardly broken at the leading edge of the silly little door, and the headlamps are mounted too high—the point at the back of their nacelles should have been an inch or so lower to align visually with the break between top and sides of the hood. The toolbox-cum-entry-step sculptures hanging outboard of the flat body sides are intriguing in and of themselves, but they have no discernible relationship to anything else on the car. And there’s no getting around the fact that the trunk behind the cockpit is a horrid excrescence that in no way enhances the car’s visuals.
Since 1955, when Phil Hill’s Pierce-Arrow was Best of Show, only three vehicles outside its classic category have been selected: one antique (a 1913 Rolls-Royce) and two post-WWII cars. That’s absurd. And it’s more than a little curious the same people keep winning year after year, half as many individual car owners as contests since 2001. So perhaps it was inevitable this ungainly British-bodied Mercedes is owned by a billionaire enthusiast. But, really, who cares what wins apart from a few 1 percenters who enter cars? For those who simply attend, the concours is an open-air museum, a magnificent collection of fabulous machinery that is, as Michelin says about the best restaurants, “worth the voyage.”
1. In pure profile, the tail emulates the look of race cars as exemplified by the 1921 Fiats and taken up, to great effect, by Ettore Bugatti for his Type 35 racers in 1924.
2. Face it, this trunk is woefully inelegant, breaking the overall lines of the body, themselves not so gracefully flowing as might be desired.
3. This little dip is quite nice, but not particularly necessary. The cut-down door tops of typical small roadsters were there to give arm-swinging room to drivers but are totally unnecessary here.
4. A sharp break in the central body profile is neither elegant nor necessary. Awkwardness of this kind is fairly common on British bodies, never on Italian ones. And Barker was one of the best in Britain.
5. Brightness reigns. This must have been hell to drive into a setting sun. It’s spectacular, but there’s a reason military airplanes had anti-glare panels on their noses.
6. The motorcycle-style fenders are definitely sporty and quite artfully shaped.
7. The separate side pods are anachronistically advanced for the period, being more aerodynamically advanced than most 1929 airplanes and very practical as tool boxes.
8. This abrupt vertical separation of polished metal and paint is brutal, and the abrupt right angle at the top where the polished cowl meets the body side is truly inelegant and downright homely.
9. The Roman helmet fenders are handsome and cleverly shaped for function inboard. They also allow the shiny exhaust pipes full exposure.
1. The inevitable hood strap was part of sporting cars for three-quarters of a century at least. Mostly unnecessary, they’re still really cool. It’s likely they were required by outmoded regulations and rules—they disappeared on American race cars decades before Europeans quit using them.
2. Terribly British, the “starting handle” aperture is capped with a nice piece of brightwork, a refined touch amid the multiple bits of ironmongery on the front end.
3. The headlamps themselves are magnificent, but they’re held in place—too high, in fact—by a three-dimensional maze of tubing struts and yokes.
4. Twin horns hang from the same scaffolding that supports the headlamps. Sturdy, strong, and basically clumsy.
5. Louvers, louvers, louvers, too many to count, on top and on the sides of the engine compartment. They make a magnificent texture and a wonderful testament to the skill of the metalworkers who achieved their perfection.
6. The subtle shaping of the side pods amazes. The prow with its descending “keel” is hydrodynamically correct as well as aerodynamically tapered aft. And it has a textured top to serve as a step.
7. The reason for two vent doors on each side of the cowl is unclear, but they make a nicely unobtrusive accent on the flat sides of the body.
1. There shouldn’t be too much difficulty in locating road signs with this massive searchlight available to the driver. It would block vision a bit, but there was very little traffic to worry about when this car was new.
2. One feeble little taillight is all that was needed in 1929. That there is an even bigger red lamp on the front end is curious—really a vestige of long, long ago.
3. The rear chassis sticks out of the tapered tail with lots of apparent rivets and bolts to clutter the shapes.
4. There’s a nice little turn of the fender contour at the very rear edge—subtle and, yes, for once at least on this car, elegant.
5. Why in the world would anyone make such a ridiculously tiny door? The work and the complexity are the same as for a bigger portal, and although the framing might weigh a bit more for a bigger door, on a massive vehicle like this the increase would be negligible.
6. There’s a clever bit of trickery on the “cycle” fenders. An inner skirt keeps water and mud away from the exhaust pipes and allows the back of the inside wheel to move inward while turning.
1. Believe it or not, this protrusion is the entire cockpit light source, barely adequate for map reading.
2. Only the driver’s side windshield gets a wiper, with all its electromechanical works in plain view in the cockpit.
3. Mercedes-Benz cars today have all sorts of levers associated with the steering column, but as we can see with these hub-based levers, that’s nothing new for the venerable marque. These appear to be controls for ignition timing and acceleration.
4. In this ergonomic disaster area, having the clock far away on the passenger’s side of the panel is relatively unimportant …
5. … as is a remotely located speedometer, but you’d think the tachometer should be more directly in the driver’s sight line. The whole dash evokes steam locomotives somehow.
6. The handbrake lever sprouting out of the floor and the black-shafted gear lever do as well. Everything is slightly oversized and obviously very strong.
7. The helm is huge, and it probably has to be if the front wheels are to be directed at low speeds. We tend to forget today, when even rear-engine Porsches have power assist for steering, how much plain physical effort went into steering heavy old cars.
Elegance—as I understand the term—has absolutely nothing to do with selection as Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Best of Show, if recent winners are considered. Key to earning the coveted award seems to be the letter B. An entrant must just push all the right B buttons—as in his biography (he’d best be a billionaire), his...
Bayerische Motoren Werke AG has existed since 1916, initially as a builder of aircraft engines. It moved to earthbound vehicles when in 1923 it offered a motorcycle to keep its employees occupied—the WWI armistice prohibited German aircraft manufacture—and only moved to cars in 1928 when it acquired a railroad-car maker, Fahrzeugwerke Eisenach, which was license-building British Austin Sevens under the Dixi name. The first BMW-badged, Austin-derived 3/15 models came in 1929.
Since those first cars, the firm has had a truly complex and erratic design history. BMW was one of the first European carmakers to have an internal styling (as opposed to body engineering) department. Set up by Wilhelm Meyerhuber, who went to Bavaria from Opel, where there was awareness of General Motors’ pioneering in-house Art and Colour staff, the BMW studio enjoyed all the accoutrements of American design methods: sketches in perspective, clay models, styling bridges, and 3D measuring systems. Meyerhuber kept making proposals into the middle ’50s with no results. Since then, a diverse cast of characters has contributed to the sharp rise, fall, and rise again of the now wildly successful automaker, which produced no automobiles for the full decade of the 1940s save a few “EMWs” produced in the eastern zone at the Eisenach plant. BMW itself only got back into car making in 1951. Even then, the 1952-’63 “Baroque Angel” 501 and 502 sedans were prewar designs, depressingly old-fashioned and clumsy.
Max Hoffman, the Austrian exile who was enormously influential in introducing numerous marques to the U.S., commissioned a sports roadster on that prewar chassis, selecting Manhattan-based fellow exile, Albrecht Graf Goertz, to shape it. The 507 masterpiece that resulted first embodied a flattened, horizontal double grille instead of a vertical pair. But it cost three times what Hoffman desired and was a total failure commercially, with only a couple hundred ever made. Goertz also did the 503, a coupe on the longer sedan chassis. He was one of many stylists involved in the development of BMW’s modern look. Wilhelm Hofmeister, chief in-house designer from 1955 to 1970, is credited with the eponymous “kink” in the rear side windows, though it was first seen on the Giugiaro-designed 3200 CS.
In fact, Italian designers contributed much to BMW design through the years, most importantly Giovanni Michelotti, who restyled the incredibly ugly Iso Isetta-based BMW 600 four seat “bubble car” into a lovely coupe that sold well despite having just a flat-twin motorcycle engine in its stylish tail. Michelotti’s subsequent Neue Klasse sedans saved BMW from being dismantled in the ’60s and so are the most important designs in the firm’s history. The house of Bertone contributed designs and hundreds of coachbuilt bodies. The first 5 Series sedan, for which newly hired Frenchman Paul Bracq claimed credit, was actually the work of Marcello Gandini, although Bracq did do what to me is the most beautiful series-produced BMW ever—the long-lived 6 Series coupes.
Concept cars, even terrible-looking examples, can and often do have positive downstream effects.
Succeeding Bracq was a fine German design leader, Claus Luthe, who left because of a personal tragedy. For most of this century BMW design has been led by an American, Chris Bangle, and a Dutchman, Adrian van Hooydonk, who have both presided over an astonishingly diverse multinational collection of designers both excellent and imaginative.
Luthe introduced advanced design methodology making use of digital systems, which has had, I fear, the perverse effect of allowing BMW to dilute its much-envied reputation with a plethora of models and caused its engineers to lose a bit of focus on the “Ultimate Driving Machine” aspect of its products. But as Van Hooydonk said when I questioned the necessity of a particularly peculiar and ungainly off-mainstream model, “We sell all we can make.” That has always been the ultimate goal of everyone in the automobile business—even for cars whose list prices start in seven figures.
It’s easy enough to see these concept cars are close siblings, but like human brothers and sisters they’re destined by genetic heritage for different roles. And although they’re quite similar in some aspects, one might have some visual characteristics of one grandparent while the other exhibits traits of the opposite side of their forebear families. We see traces of Albrecht Goertz’s 507 in the horizontally oriented “kidneys,” an identity element persisting since the early 1930s. The rear treatment dates from the Bangle days, as does the side treatment derived from the 2001 X Coupe concept. In this column 16 years ago (May 2001), I said that concept was “an ugly—even grotesque—vehicle.” And it was, but it’s hard to fault the flanks of this pair, positively influenced by that dismal exercise. We can expect parts of this pair to pop up in the near and far future. Concept cars, even terrible-looking examples, can and often do have positive downstream effects. I think these quite elegant and fluidly shaped concepts are likely to have additional series-production descendants that will greatly impress us when they appear.
1. This represents a surprising reversion to the “motorboat” front end Michelotti created for the 1500-1800 Neue Klasse cars in the early ’60s. Management was convinced it was dangerous to change that look, and despite desperate pleas from Bracq for more aerodynamic shapes, it held for decades. To see it return is a nod to Mercedes chief designer Gorden Wagener, who reverted to it on the last S-Class to lengthen the hood.
2. There are still four headlamps, but they’re not round anymore. It’s about time.
3. In pure profile, this fender line is of surpassing elegance. Surfaces outboard are a bit of a puzzle, though.
4. The painted part of the outer air inlet is broken into five straight elements, open toward the center of the Z4 nose, with the central scoop edges filling the open end.
5. A slight crease, seemingly the origin of the base line growing out of the fender below the side slash and curving up the side.
6. The central scoop tends to evoke cow catchers on steam locomotives in the Old West. In black it looks agricultural, more like a grain scoop than a car part.
1. Shades of Buick’s 1950 bumper-grille front end. And the vertical bar texture also looks more Buick than BMW. Sic transit gloria mundi.
2. Pedestrian safety requires a fairly full profile to clear internals, but this is a puffy centerline profile. It’s hard to grasp why it’s so high so far forward.
3. As with the Z4, the four headlamps remain, but they are no longer round.
4. A vestigial indication of a separate rear fender form, refreshingly subtle and modeled well.
5. A hard horizontal bar bisects the outer-corner air-scoop box form.
6. Here the center scoop diagonal edges are inclined in opposition to those of the Z4.
7. Having the model identification at the bottom of the front end is a bit odd but original, for what it’s worth.
1. Both cars share a bad idea from the past. Comprehensive Air Force studies have shown that having gauge needles operating in opposing directions within the same narrow field of view reduces operator comprehension and slows reaction time. This reversion to old ideas in order to seem new may be an endemic corporate philosophical weakness. Remember how silly the central-dial instrument panel—like a 1948 VW—was in the Z8?
2. The layout and formats of the central data screens seem to have no particular commonality, other than—like most such devices—they both provide too much information.
3. The transmission selector lever appears to be the same part on both cars, and why not? It’s something that must fit comfortably in small hands and large ones. This one is a handsome sculpture.
4. Ventilation outlets are horizontal on the 4, vertical on the 8, but they seem to be of about equal cross-sectional area, a little smaller than industry average in both cases.
5. The idea of using color to set apart the driver’s realm is hardly new. Lamborghini did it in the days when Chrysler controlled its styling. It’s a handsome solution, though as a Z4 driver I’d rather not have the orange reflection in the windshield.
6. Despite their very different roles, both concepts use complex textures on the seating surfaces: lightly bas-relief in the 8 Series, just a surface treatment in the Z4.
7. The seat-belt sockets appear to be built in to both sets of seats but without a clear release mechanism for either.
8. Writing on the center bottom of the steering wheel is just an identity badge on the 8 series, but on the Z4 it seems to be an active digital readout.
9. Steering wheels are flattened top and bottom, with the “central” BMW badge well below the center of the nominal circle. Colors, number of spoke branches, and apparent thumb rests may all be different, but the gestalt of both directional devices is clearly similar.
10. Like the transmission controls, the pedals look to be identical, which is sensible in that there are no small economies, even in hand-built concept cars. And they’re really good-looking if potentially slippery in the wintertime.
1. This bump, as seen from the back, is the upper corner of the big-box front corner openings on both cars …
2. … and this angle is the same on both, but for the Z4 a surface break gives a protruding lower lip of painted material.
3. At the top of the slash, there is a sharp corner where two straight lines intersect, and on the 8 a radius leads into a curved line that softens and disappears in the door skin.
4. Below this soft line on the 8 Series, the entire body side is essentially concave down to the bottom of the door. On the Z4, the hard line from the slash runs all the way back to the taillight, with a narrow concave section interrupted by a muscular bulge coming out of the outlet in the front fender that fades in the door skin below the beginning of another bulge in the door itself. The changes from concave to convex are numerous, complex, and interesting—if a bit lumpy.
5. Twin asymmetric headrests on the Z4 have no counterpart on the 8 Series coupe but do reference the Z9 roadster concept from 17 years ago.
6. Taillights on both concepts cover about a third of the rear width but have no formal resemblance. Nicely integrated into the overall form in both cases.
7. The ancestor of both concepts is the Z9 coupe from the 1999 Frankfurt auto show, executed by Van Hooydonk under Bangle’s direction.
8. Two hard, crisp horizontals on the Z4 are separated by a single surface concavity below the license plate mounting area, while the horizontal references are softer and more subtle on the 8 Series. Sharp-edge blades on both define the top of the corner boxes.
9. Both concepts have handsomely modeled exhaust tips, the sort of thing common to show cars and usually found too expensive for production.
10. Rear corner boxes on both concepts have the same angle as seen in pure profile, but what happens on the rear fascia is quite different. You wonder whether the apparent outlets really evacuate air from the rear wheelhouses. And if so, how do you clean the ducts?
11. The similar twin-spoke wheels on both cars seem to have been made with protrusions almost guaranteed to get expensively curbed at some point in daily use. Good styling, bad design then?
12. The “pregnant cow” line from the X-Coupe is parallel to the ground plane where it appears in the fender skin, then turns up along the door cut. In the 8 Series it is the entire bottom door cut, turning upward just at the back of the door.
13. The straight-line slash in the front fender outer skin on both is at the same angle relative to the ground plane, but they end quite differently.
14. On the Z4, the slash ends in a little curve disappearing onto the flank, while on the 8 Series it generates the leading edge of a concave body side defined by a sharp surface break.
Bayerische Motoren Werke AG has existed since 1916, initially as a builder of aircraft engines. It moved to earthbound vehicles when in 1923 it offered a motorcycle to keep its employees occupied—the WWI armistice prohibited German aircraft manufacture—and only moved to cars in 1928 when it acquired a railroad-car maker, Fahrzeugwerke Eisenach, which was license-building...
Athletic Elegance is the design language for Hyundai Group’s Genesis GV80 concept car. Or so said the company’s image wranglers in an overblown press release issued during April’s New York auto show. Maybe so, but the slightly to greatly inflated convex surfaces of the hydrogen fuel-cell SUV are more on the zaftig side. Which is a polite, graceful way of saying “a little fat but in an attractive way,” like one of Renoir’s 19th century nudes. It seems, though, that phrase properly evokes 1956 and ’60 Olympian Wilma Rudolph, whose innate athletic elegance has stuck in my mind for more than six decades.
In fact, the GV80’s gently puffy surfaces might make you think of hydrogen-filled dirigibles, those great sleek creatures of the sky whose era ended with the accidental destruction of the Hindenburg 80 years ago. Despite the visual reference to lighter-than-air vehicles, this one comes across as really big and heavy looking. I see virtually no athleticism in the GV80, but there is at least a tiny bit of formal elegance in certain details and one big element of imaginative innovation. That’s the double grille—a nicely proportioned, five-sided, normal-sized one superposed on the Audi/Lexus-style (i.e., excessive) main inlet area. It’s a nice piece of design work that visually reduces the massive front end into two sections, the upper part of which is reasonable and “normal.” The lower section is a bit convoluted, with a trio of drooping, looping lines, one defining the bottom of the unobtrusive secondary grille, the second carrying a similar curve out of the front corner scoops, and the last one deriving from the standing winglets at the end of the lower bumper section.
As much as I like the double-grille solution, I find the parallel, slitted headlamp openings a little too thin for the large front end. They tend to make the whole seem even larger and more massive than it is. The matter of lamp proportions is a delicate one. The ill-fated Renault Vel Satis was a big car with headlamps so oversized that its down-the-road graphics told you it was a small car, which was no doubt one of the contributing factors in its relative failure in the market. We all have long-established expectations for the proportions of different kinds of cars, and when something is out of sync with those expectations, the result is not good. There was an Acura coupe long ago that had tiny round circles punched into the front-end sheetmetal. The resulting pig-eyed look did nothing for what was a pretty nice little car, eventually restyled to be more conventional.
The war between convention and innovation has been going on for a long time in the minds of product planners. The conflict between “let’s have something completely new” and “make it more like a BMW 3 Series” has now become one between “new” and “more like a Porsche Cayenne.” Looks like we know which faction won inside the halls of Genesis.
1. This line implies some kind of structure beneath a thin membrane, recalling BMW’s flexible membrane-skinned GINA concept executed long ago. It’s placed awkwardly, clashing with the long line above it.
2. This long, arched undercut washes out completely on the front fender above the headlamp slits.
3. Perforating pillars is a nice idea, one Volvo had long ago in the interest of safety and better visibility for drivers. The proliferation of 3D printing makes it feasible for production now. Just do it.
4. The Rounded roof is kind of a bland blob. Charisma-free surface design at its most ordinary.
5. A suggestion of a fender form again, this time at least running parallel to several curves farther inboard, unlike the rear crease, which aligns with nothing.
6. The wide bright band above the grille was great on Vignale Ferraris in the 1950s but not so much today.
7. This grille’s proportions are very nice. It manages to hide in plain sight the overly large grilles being used by many competitors and is actually unobtrusively present here.
8. The principal grille shape is agreeable, classical even, but it has no instantly recognizable make identity
9. It is hard to fathom why this little blip is present unless there’s a compelling reason to find the exact center of the body
10. The stacked headlamp slits are not a bad idea, but in the front’s overall graphic composition they seem to be about two-thirds as tall as they ought to be fortheir acceptable width.
11. These big ducts appear to allow air to flow through to the outlets on the body sides, but in fact there are some huge tires in the way, and the direct air stream does not touch the brake discs either.
12. The old Volvo A-pillar idea again, this time on the spokes of the 23-inch wheels to “reduce weight and cool the large brake system.” OK, then.
13. The inner door handles are as slim as those on the outside but not quite as unobtrusive. These are easy to find, a major virtue in interior design as far as I’m concerned. The straightforward digital instrument cluster is well placed, clear, and legible.
14. The straightforward digital instrument cluster is well placed, clear, and legible.
15. This bright metal loop looks a lot like an airplane’s yoke—or a very old car’s horn ring.
16. A row of switches like this always looks neat but is almost always an ergonomic disaster until the owner of a car truly learns which is which, and even then they’re still difficult to find at night. The shift selector looks as though it would feel good to the touch.
17. The shift selector looks as though it would feel good to the touch.
18. This wide screen provides information for the driver, but its right-hand extremity can be controlled by the front passenger, using capacitive touch switches in the metal bands built into in the front of the console.
19. It’s nice to see the small sensor replacing huge mirrors. It will happen someday, but a lot of legislation will have to be thrashed out in several hundred legal jurisdictions. Someday.
20. Door handles tucked into the undercut “parabolic line that establishes the confident side profile” are nice. But where do these effulgent phrases come from? Confident profile?
21. This shiny triangle is, frankly, silly. I see the lower line leading to the backlight visor, but it would be more sensible to black out the triangle beneath the transparency.
22. These lamp slits are more agreeable than those in front, but taillights do not carry the identity authority we convey to frontal “eyes,” so their weakness is less important.
23. Ah, yes, the little trapezoidal winglet seen on Formula 1 cars (and all too often on sedans) now finds a place on a huge SUV.
24. The same is true for the little slots across the bottom of the rear corner holes and for those holes themselves. Just decoration?
25. Below this strong horizontal line, the sills turn under enough to seriously lighten the body sides’ visual mass.
26. This texture is a bit puzzling. It can’t be for a runningboard because it’s on a slant, yet it seems to be below the actual door opening.
27. A series of little outlets in the framing lips around the lower tail surface seem gratuitous, with no clear necessity for being.
Athletic Elegance is the design language for Hyundai Group’s Genesis GV80 concept car. Or so said the company’s image wranglers in an overblown press release issued during April’s New York auto show. Maybe so, but the slightly to greatly inflated convex surfaces of the hydrogen fuel-cell SUV are more on the zaftig side. Which is...
The best car in the world.
Rolls-Royce used that phrase for its automobiles long ago, and in terms of solid engineering and precision manufacturing it was likely true. And those cars were certainly highly impressive, with the top models—called Phantoms from 1925 on—truly imposing. Alas, few Rolls-Royce cars were looked good in their times, and truly beautiful ones were rare indeed. Imposing, yes. Symbolic of quality, yes. But toward the end of the company’s British ownership, Rolls-Royce and sisters-under-the-skin Bentley models were rather like Gloria Swanson’s aged character in “Sunset Boulevard”—still imperious but well past it, faded at the edges and threadbare.
There is no question BMW ownership and engineering supervision have bestowed a new grandeur on the hallowed badge. Or, more likely, it enabled Rolls-Royce to return to what it once was. Its prestige, not really much diminished by falling profits or declining quality, is now being marketed to new customers in countries not previously inclined or able to acquire many luxury cars. Their tastes are, let us say, more expansive than those of traditional British Rolls buyers, so there are colors and trim choices now that would once have been almost unthinkable for the brand.
We had a first look at the new Phantom VIII in London in the spring, along with personal commentary by Giles Taylor, Rolls-Royce’s chief designer responsible for this new, slightly smaller, and totally revised Phantom. Previously at Jaguar, Taylor has a solid and well-proven grasp of what luxury cars should be, as the splendidly elegant Rolls-Royce Dawn cabriolet demonstrated a couple years ago. He had just arrived from Munich, where he has a second set of overseers to keep informed and happy about what he and his team are accomplishing. Together we looked at both a standard wheelbase Phantom and the now-shorter-than-before extended model, which had to be brought under 19 feet, 8.2 inches long to suit a Chinese registration requirement. A vehicle any longer than that demands a specific truck driver’s license.
The new body’s surfacing is elegantly simple, with em-bossed curved-profile indents on the flanks eliminated, something that apparently frightened BMW executives who finally accepted the clean shapes we see here. One slight visual problem with the new car is that it looks odd when the air suspension deflates with the engine off and the body sinks over the wheels. The wheels and tires are huge, so the wheel openings are as well. Before we started our walk-around, Taylor insisted the engine be turned on long enough to bring the car up to proper ride height. It makes a difference, so it’s a little surprising there is not an anti-sink provision in the suspension just so the cars always look right.
A crisp line starting at the back of the front wheel-cut at about wheel-center height runs out in the skin of the rear door while another slightly rising crease begins at the bottom of the front door and continues rising along the bottom of the rear-fender overhang behind the wheelhouse. The overall effect is to make the body side a great deal simpler than the previous model, to good effect. Every external surface is new, and the changes are major. The single centerline bright strip on the hood, which recalled the once-important apparent center hinge but had no function other than decoration and tradition, is gone now, and the hood is not creased or in any other way made to show the body centerline.
In particular, the continuing evolution of the iconic Greek Parthenon temple radiator shell is intriguing. Where the famous fa
The best car in the world. Rolls-Royce used that phrase for its automobiles long ago, and in terms of solid engineering and precision manufacturing it was likely true. And those cars were certainly highly impressive, with the top models—called Phantoms from 1925 on—truly imposing. Alas, few Rolls-Royce cars were looked good in their times, and...
With a half dozen model ranges available in Land Rover’s Range Rover stable, you would think there would be little need for the Velar, a completely new model named after the few original Range Rover prototypes made back in the ’60s. To keep the then-radical concept of a somewhat luxurious full-time all-wheel-drive wagon secret, one of Rover’s engineers created a fictitious car company and registered those 30-odd vehicles as Velars, a subterfuge honored almost 50 years later in this new model’s name. And if there might not be any absolute need for this model, there is certainly a desire for it by the company and its customers alike. It is seen by its purveyors as a particularly avant-garde design. I don’t see it that way, but I do see a carefully designed, quite surprisingly aerodynamic box with a lot of consumer appeal as a road car.
What was apparent to anyone admiring the car at the 2017 Geneva auto show, where it was first shown earlier this year, is that Gerry McGovern, the clever SUV specialist who heads design at Land Rover, has taken the Edmund Rumpler approach to aerodynamics. Rumpler’s almost century-old Tropfenwagen design had a severe vertical windshield profile but was a pure teardrop in plan view, apart from exposed wheels sticking out from the seven-passenger body. McGovern used the “fastest” windshield I can recall seeing on an SUV, but he also tapered the body inward toward the rear over the entire length of the passenger compartment from the A-pillar aft in both plan and profile.
In its formal sophistication, the Velar is the antithesis of the original Land Rover Defender, which ceased production last January after 68 years on the market and was almost surely the highest-drag, least-slippery passenger car in production during its lifetime. There’ll be a successor to the Defender sometime soon, but its shape is likely to completely reverse previous practice apart from having an aluminum body, as all Land Rovers did from 1948.
Even though it’s the most aerodynamically efficient model in Land Rover’s history, the Velar isn’t the most luxurious or prestigious Range Rover, nor is it the sportiest. But I think it’s the most serious and mature design in the entire company portfolio. It’s a product capable of prodigious off-road feats but clearly aimed toward on-road urban and suburban use. As is the Jaguar F-Pace with which it shares platform elements, it’s a sensible and economical way to extend Jaguar Land Rover’s industrial investment. The two base companies that could not stand on their own despite the many virtues of their cars seem to have come up with a winning hand under the apparently benevolent management of India’s Tata, which has let its staff do what it was able to achieve all along had it been properly guided. May this long continue.
A. The transverse radius across the top of the hood is just soft enough to satisfy European pedestrian safety requirements yet remain visually crisp.
B. The nicest bit of surface development on the exterior allows the top line to fade into the hood’s top, while the side profile crease dips to emphasize the fender profile.
C. The aerodynamically advantageous Kamm-like roof profile shows up nicely in this view.
D. The slight bevel below the windows runs all the way around the car to the opposite front fender, where it turns down into the daylight running lamp’s rear point.
E. Taillights repeat the odd little body side joggle seen on the front end and front doors.
F. This line is not dead straight but subtly arched upward from the upper ends of the lower grille.
G. A strictly horizontal line provides a datum reference for the graphic composition of the entire front end—ultimately quite simple and clean.
H. This unobtrusively protruding lip above the lower grille sets a baseline for the entire Velar, the only such element that’s easily visible.
I. Notice that the bottom of the body side paintwork is parallel to the top fender profile but sharply upswept with reference to the ground plane and base of the body structure.
J. Barely discernible is the blacked-out lower part of the body structure, parallel to the ground but highly skewed up at the rear at the paint intersection line.
1. The padded shelf carrying all the way across the instrument panel is so plain and so straightforward that you can admire the restraint exhibited in the understated interior design. It represents true elegance.
2. Putting the steering wheel controls in separate panels seems like a good idea, easily apprehended by a new driver and easy to live with once you’re accustomed to it.
3. Maybe this 10-inch trapezoidal outline is too understated. It’s frankly rather boring.
4. The HVAC panel is admirably clear—easy to understand and manipulate.
5. The three-part instrument cowl also represents traditional British understatement.
6. Nose the Velar up to a wall, and this transverse flange will be the part that touches.
7. The Velar’s wheels look amply strong but are styled much more for the road than for outback dirt trails, a nice compromise between the vehicle’s different roles.
8. Flush door handles are a touch of luxury unexpected on an SUV.
9. A huge dark volume under the tail, augmented by an upward kink in the side treatment, slims the painted portion of the rear body to sedanlike proportions.
10. There’s no pretense of the Velar being a sublimated delivery truck. The internal volume is voluntarily reduced to give a sporty line, and the roof is extended for aerodynamics.
A. Seen from above, the front end is almost as round as a Porsche 918, with similar penetration benefits.
B. From about here, the body shrinks in height and width as it flows rearward.
11. The generous dimensions of the outside rearview mirrors are an admirable part of what is meant to be a very practical vehicle.
12. The band that carries the taillights and the badge artfully bisects the upper two-thirds of the tail, providing a very clean graphic composition with a strong lateral line on its upper edge.
13. Unfortunately, the liftover height for the rear compartment is quite high, a practical problem with most SUVs.
14. Exhaust outlets are nicely shaped, essentially separated from the body, visually even more than physically.
15. One of the most original ideas on the Velar is this arched section carrying the exhaust tips completely away from the painted body panels, isolated in a dark mass below.
16. That dark mass is nonetheless artfully shaped to control the flux of air at the rear of the body form for aerodynamic efficiency.
With a half dozen model ranges available in Land Rover’s Range Rover stable, you would think there would be little need for the Velar, a completely new model named after the few original Range Rover prototypes made back in the ’60s. To keep the then-radical concept of a somewhat luxurious full-time all-wheel-drive wagon secret, one...
Volkswagen has made a great many product errors during its 79-year history, but it has been supported throughout nearly eight decades by two homerun vehicles and their derivatives: the original Porsche- and Hans Ledwinka-designed Type 1 KdF “Beetle” and Giorgetto Giugiaro’s most successful design, the Golf. Some of the offshoots, such as the Karmann Ghia sports models and the Type 2 Transporter, were fabulous successes in their own right. Others, such as the rear-engine 411 and 412, are best forgotten. Of all the mistakes, the most egregious was the Phaeton, a V-8 version of which we evaluated as part of a Four Seasons test. It was a big, comfortable car that was woefully unreliable and burdened with absolutely the wrong badge. Yet it was so smooth as a highway car that it contributed to the acquisition of the only speeding ticket I’ve had since AUTOMOBILE began. I honestly didn’t know I was over the limit.
In 1955, when I drove the second of three VWs I possessed in the ’50s, I was asked to take a Cadillac studio engineer from the GM Technical Center to a dealership to pick up his Coupe de Ville after a routine service. He was utterly astonished by the perceived quality of the Beetle, which was better than his own car. It was built when VWs were still painted by dipping them in a tank of enamel, resulting in a magnificent, lustrous finish everywhere. Driving our Phaeton from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to California, a friend and I overnighted in Kansas City so he could show the car to his friend who loved it and called his wife over to see “your next car.” She was entranced by the lines and the leather, but one look at the big VW badge on the nose and she all but shouted, “Never! What were you thinking?” She was outraged by the disparity between the high price and the low prestige.
But there would seem to be a place for a more luxurious VW without the cognitive dissonance embodied in the too expensive and thus essentially unsalable Phaeton. The sleek CC was an approach, if not a terribly successful one. But this Arteon follow-up to it, unveiled at the 2017 Geneva auto show, might be the car to achieve VW’s dream of moving upmarket with the ultimate economy brand. At any rate, I find the Arteon’s clean, crisp, and tastefully understated yet efficiently aerodynamic shape to be compelling. I can imagine buying this car and remaining well satisfied with its appearance into the 2020s.
I find the painted patch of the roof awkward and would certainly paint it black if I bought one. The wheels are nice but look too much like the front fan of an airliner engine and too sporty for a family four-door. I could easily do without the chrome vent on the front door and fender, but I don’t really object to it. Because it is a bit generic, I can imagine the car staying in production for many years without any need for costly refreshment. Altogether, it’s a good — if plain — design.
1. The band around the wheel opening is slightly concave. An unusual and intriguing choice.
2. In plan view this line swells outward toward the rear, providing a shoulder/shelf above the rear wheels.
3. The roof profile is extremely sporty, even when seen from the front, yet there’s plenty of rear headroom.
4. The sharp peak of the front fender flows into the body side, providing a little flat area that disappears by the time it reaches the rear of the back doors. Nice surface work.
5. The second longitudinal crease in the giant hood stamping disappears at the front but aligns with the curious painted piece below the opening cutline, giving more visual length to the hood. Again, nice unobtrusive work.
6. There is major plan view chamfering so the car is aerodynamically efficient, but the hood centerline is as long as possible, enhanced by the painted transverse piece below.
7. Grille texture is extremely well proportioned and emphasizes frontal width without imposing poor drag-producing corners.
8. The black bumper strike faces are an excellent idea, easy to repair if necessary.
9. Blacking out the lower center makes the car seem slimmer than it really is and gives the impression of a central nacelle around the engine compartment.
10. This slanted, canted surface provides a sense of really cramming air into the corner inlets, which are designed to channel the flow of air to the side around the front wheel, resulting in reduced air resistance.
11. These are enormously impressive wheels on the R-Line model, looking very much like the front fan of a jet engine. But they’re really not appropriate for a family sedan. I’m sure there will be many other options.
12. In this high view you can see how the fenders are really cut back.
13. The dark glass roof is pleasant for occupants but is not particularly harmonious.
14. The metal roof panel could well be painted black to blend with the backlight and forward roof glass. Its profile is excellent.
15. This very small airflow trip strip across the back is doubtless something developed in the wind tunnel, but it looks just fine here, not too big or pretentious.
16. This substantial indentation allows for a hard crease line across the tail. It also provides a place for snow to accumulate.
17. The thin piece of bright metal carrying all the way around the rear end aligns with equally dimensioned trim along the bottoms of the doors.
18. Rear reflectors are tucked under the slightly protruding, slim rear bumper strike face.
19. It’s amazing how much class a trim piece that’s not just an equal-width rolled molding can impart to a car. It is well worth the additional cost.
20. The indented body sides strengthen the door panels, and if they can fill with snow, at least they move away from the body, with the cut lines well below. Again, a nice touch.
21. I’d leave this trim piece off, but it’s sufficiently unobtrusive to be unobjectionable.
22. Not entirely plain upholstery but pretty visually dismal all the same.
23. The interior of this variant is pretty drab and dark, but the controls on the door are nicely placed, and the grab handle is convenient.
24. Nice steering wheel with some functional controls, but why not some color to liven things up a little?
25. Having a screen rather than mechanical instruments is nice, but once again a bit of color would be particularly welcome.
26. At least the nav screen sparkles.
27. And this thin blue accent line is the only touch of color in the physical hardware. A pity.
Volkswagen has made a great many product errors during its 79-year history, but it has been supported throughout nearly eight decades by two homerun vehicles and their derivatives: the original Porsche- and Hans Ledwinka-designed Type 1 KdF “Beetle” and Giorgetto Giugiaro’s most successful design, the Golf. Some of the offshoots, such as the Karmann Ghia...
The 720S is a beautiful, sleek GT car, possibly the most aerodynamically exciting road car to come from the U.K. since the Jaguar E-type 56 years ago. My main criticism of volume-production McLarens — all of which until now used the same basic 3.8 liter V-8 engines and carbon-fiber monocoques — has been the gaping holes in the body sides required to provide enough cooling for the hot sections within the outer envelope. This new design has a beautifully simplified outer form and a complex internal-airflow management system that permits more power than any modern McLaren has enjoyed up to now. And the company achieved it without blatant air passages seen on the racing-oriented Ford GT or the road version of the Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus SCG003 GT.
Most recent high-performance cars have had some kind of aerodynamic covering over their headlamps. The 720S does outline a large lighting area, so cleverly shaped and integrated into the whole that it convinces you there’s a cover. But it is completely open, its black carbon-fiber internal surfaces sculpted in voluptuous curves to direct airflow.
Rob Melville, McLaren Automotive’s thoughtful and reflective chief designer, was keen to recapture the simplicity that so memorably characterized the first non-racing mid-engine supercar, Lamborghini’s Miura, without copying it. That’s not easy when dealing with three times the horsepower and thus the enormously increased heat load imposed by two turbochargers.
The answer was to increase frontal air-intake area without a gigantic grille by putting the lamps in open scoops and to route most of the cooling air internally, allowing smooth flanks marked with strong character lines and only very small inlets low on the body behind the door to cool the turbochargers’ radiators. Air is ducted through the doors in open-top trenches, which increase in area as they move rearward, so there are four longitudinal skins in the upper part of each door. Those doors, in turn, are hinged to move upward and a bit inward, rather than just pivoting up on a horizontal transverse-hinge axis. This is a brilliant solution seen once before — on the very mundane Toyota Sera, of all things. It works brilliantly here, making cabin access easy and door closing equally facile, neither case existing on the 570 models.
One of the cabin’s greatest attributes is the exceptional all-around visibility, achieved by multiple transparencies: windshield, two lateral and two roof door glasses, the backlight, two rear-quarter windows, and two panes in the C pillar itself. The result is luminous, and you can really see out well in all directions, not common in mid-engine machines.
There are a few styling matters I quarrel with. The three louvers at the end of the roof seem too big, a bit crude and disproportionate to the delicacy of much of the detailing. The exhaust outlets cut into the bumper recall economy cars where the engineers and stylists seem never to have talked to each other. But these are minor quibbles. What impresses me most is the side profile’s purity and elegance. A driver’s head is almost exactly at mid-wheelbase, depending on seat adjustment, of course, but it’s a good place for the inner ear to be to sense the car’s movements.
An important innovation is a two-version instrument panel. In standard mode, the color screen presents a traditional tachometer in which a digital speedometer and the gear indicator are embedded, flanked by readings for the trip odometer, hours since engine start, temperature and fuel gauge, and speed and fuel-consumption figures. But when you’re really going hard, the panel physically pivots to take up less of the view ahead and includes only a racing-style tach and indicators of gear engaged and your speed. This is likely to be widely seen in future vehicles.
The 720S is surely the best-looking shape McLaren has produced so far, and it bodes well for forth-coming top-of-the-range models.
1. Relatively modest outlets just inboard of a directional crease in the hood release heat from the front coolers.
2. You can just see the top of a huge inlet duct for the rear radiators set into the doors, allowing the outer skins to be smooth and virtually uninterrupted.
3. Large, pointed headlamp apertures give the front end thrust and definition.
4. As an indication of this design’s precision, elegance, and sensitivity, consider the care with which various curves are made to harmonize in three dimensions, from whatever viewpoint. Outstanding work.
5. The vaguely pentagonal outer scoops presumably provide brake cooling.
6. The rear fender’s hip line is an elegant curve seemingly drawn in a single, sweeping, human artist’s creative gesture. There is no sense of constrained or contrived digital form generation.
7. The quarter lights behind the doors taper inward in plan view, making the entire upper structure a teardrop shape for minimum drag, like a fighter jet canopy.
8. The entire front end is shaped to give this point prominence without the exaggeration of the ultra-long nose of Jaguar’s E-type.
9. Another example of harmony of line and form. This slight undercut defines a band whose average width is about like that between lamps and wheelhouse.
10. The unassuming and discreet inlet behind the door, barely noticed when standing next to the car, supplies additional cooling air to the turbochargers.
11. This rib is quite beautiful, but it has an aerodynamic function, too, keeping air from spilling down the side of the body. The black scoop inboard gathers air to shoot out over the windshield, cleaning up turbulence in the wiper slot behind the hood.
12. Plastic or metal, you can’t have a sharp point in a body skin, so this little radius results in a forward-pointing black arrowhead shape.
13. The half-dozen vertically oriented headlamp lenses are themselves individual units in the upper edges of the headlamp opening.
14. The daylight running lamps traverse the same opening but are actually exposed.
15. The outlined area around the headlights and the running-light bar is open to incoming air. You can put your hand in the opening and run it all around the bar.
16. This small outlet improves the graphics of the side profile and provides a flow of directed air down the side of the body.
17. Key to the sleek, clean side profile is a sizable tunnel in the doors to carry air from headlamp openings to the rear radiators, obviating a requirement for side scoops as on earlier McLarens and most other mid-engine GTs.
18. This small strut between inner and outer door volumes maintains structural rigidity on the complex door structure.
19. The backlight and transparent panels in the C-pillars offer clear rear vision with the sharp inward plan-view taper of the upper structure.
20. Lateral trenches continue even aft of the radiators, serving as additional heat outlets for the engine compartment.
21. Bodywork below the roof ends with an undulating line on the air brake/wing in both plan and direct rear views, providing maximum visual length to the body ensemble.
22. The color-separation line on the rear is also shaped carefully to look good from any angle, a real sculptural feat.
23. This is a problem area. A panel-break line runs to the wheel opening, but the rising line does not actually meet the flat bank around the upper half of the wheel opening. It’s all a little amorphous and unresolved.
24. The lowest point in the new tub is well forward, making it much easier to swing your feet into the cockpit compared to the earlier cars, which were contortionists’ delights.
25. Notice how carefully the shape of the front-fender air outlet is harmonized with the main body contours. It must have taken hundreds of hours of observation to achieve this.
26. Yes, this looks like the Formula 1 devices seen even on Japanese sedans these days, but it hides a substantial outlet for wheelhouse air and directs it down the side.
27. The leading edge of the airbrake wing flap completes a fluid three-dimensional curve deriving from the rear grille surround.
28. Side marker lamps are small bits of jewelry, the upper perimeter aligning with the rising panel-break line on the body side.
29. When I see this detail, I always ask whether engineers talk with stylists about where the exhaust goes. These cutouts in the form are as sad as the little cuts in the bottom of economy car bumpers.
30. This little line of orange stitches is a particularly nice touch, repeated on seats and tunnel.
31. Mirrors are big, well positioned, and effective.
32. Rotated into normal position, the digital instrument panel provides the usual information you might want on the road, along with supplemental instrumentation and a classic tachometer face.
33. The data screen is nicely sized and oriented to the driver.
34. Subtly restrained flashes of color in the cockpit are elegant and welcoming.
35. Note the center of the hub and McLaren badge are not at all the same as the center of the wheel itself, a bit of tromp l’oeil trickery quite common in interior design practice.
36. The minimalist, maximum-performance setting for the instrument cluster provides information about which gear is engaged, revs, and speed.
37. Front-fender profile is defined by a peak line well outboard of the principal body mass, separated by a wide channel.
38. The roof’s centerline profile is magnificent, capturing the feel of a fighter-plane canopy perfectly.
39. The turbo radiator-inlet efficiency is enhanced by the hard edge above the opening, indenting the body side to provide more frontal area for ram air along the lower body.
40. This painted band is carefully proportioned to keep a sense of lightness around the front end, about the same visual weight as the section sweeping inward below the headlamp aperture …
41. … the inner sweep of which initiates the front-fender profile.
The 720S is a beautiful, sleek GT car, possibly the most aerodynamically exciting road car to come from the U.K. since the Jaguar E-type 56 years ago. My main criticism of volume-production McLarens — all of which until now used the same basic 3.8 liter V-8 engines and carbon-fiber monocoques — has been the gaping...
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