One disappointing sidelight in a generally inspiring Frankfurt motor show was the surprising number of new cars whose styling was anonymous, or disappointing, or not even up to the standard of their predecessors.
I can think of at least half a dozen. Most shocking to me was the Kia Sorento, for years the marque’s best-looking model, which has been replaced by something obviously more modern – and thoroughly anonymous. In the crisply-shaped outgoing model’s lifetime it often struck me that this was going to be a difficult car to replace (especially since it had sold strongly when the marque’s other potato-like creations did not) and now they’ve gone and proved it. I’m not saying the replacement isn’t better, just visually much less memorable.
I also feel Ford has let me down with the C-Max, now available in two body lengths. This may well be the source of the problem. The previous five-seater was a neatly chiselled shape. The new ones seem to carry Ford’s crisp Kinetic Design principles less well, and to have rather ungainly noses that threaten the rest of their proportions. I do wonder whether, had Ford’s designers been required to produce one coherent C-Max shape, that shape wouldn’t have been more memorable. (Don’t dismiss the car itself, by the way. Its interior is brilliant, and its seat-folding arrangements easily beat the bulk of the the opposition).
Other disappointments? The Renault Fluence, made to fit between Laguna and Megane in markets like Turkey and Russia, reminded me (and others) of the old Renault 19 Chamade. Not good — and a waste of a graceful name. And having expected to get excited by the Citroen Revolte (the Double Chevron concept that shamelessly uses a few glimpses of 2CV but is nothing like it in reality) I was much disappointed. The Saab 9-5 looked okay front and rear, but the two ends didn’t match and were from different size-classes. The new Bentley Mulsanne looked better than the photographs, but ultimately lost its crucial, once-in-a-generation battle with the just-launched Rolls Ghost.
So was anything good? Well, the new Astra looked pretty perky to me, and I was well impressed with Kia’s new baby MPV, the Venga. Tha Aston Rapide was as great on the show stand as I had found it in the Kuwaiti desert a few weeks before, and the Ferrari 458 was a joy. Liked the proportions of the new Merc SLS AMG, too, though the detailing hardly set my trousers on fire.
What is it that causes companies to put less-than-handsome cars into production? In this case, I believe it’s an ever-more-pressing rush to get new stuff to market. That, and (as in the case of Ford’s C-Max) the need to make one fundamental shape do several jobs. One thing I’ve learned, though is that car styling goes in cycles: as we speak design bosses are recognising – or have already decided – that in some ways this is a bit of an Awkward Generation. Given that what we’re seeing is their work from two or three years ago, they’ll already be work to fix things. Shame it takes so long...