Automotive design, like any discipline of design, is subjective. I’m sure there’s people out there roaming this earth who think that the front of a facelift Peugeot 308 looks great. Just like there would be people who think the front of a facelift Peugeot 308 looks like a strange interpretation of a bottom dwelling marine creature getting ready to feed. There are plenty of odd automotive design trends that I’ve noticed emerge over the years, like shrinking glasshouses that treat out-ward vision like a want not a need; flat bottomed steering wheels; and fake air vents that don’t actually vent anything. One that I want to single out though is the addition of black plastic body panels to suggest that a vehicle has some kind of off-road ability.
Toyota’s Rav4 of the 1990’s is the first car I can think of that decided the amount of black plastic cladding was a direct correlation to how far off road you could travel. Granted the little Rav4 did have some level of off road ability, with permanent four wheel drive and a centre diff’ lock. However let’s not forget that at the end of the day it was a Corolla on stilts. Renault and Subaru have had a crack at this trend too, with the Scenic 4×4 of a decade ago and the Impreza XV respectively. Both however, are just iterations of the brand’s run-of-the-mill hatchback with some ride height and black plastic slapped on for good measure (and off-road capability of course).
However, it’s Audi’s Allroad range that I want to really single out. Here’s an German station wagon that is as hideously complex as it is expensive and can apparently travel on ‘all roads’ because its front and rear ‘bars and wheel arch trims are no longer colour coded? Powered by a twin-turbo V6 in both petrol and diesel flavour over its lifetime, it’s always a shock to actually see one of these cars on the road, whether the original model or the new one. It’s a shock to see the old one driving under its own power because they’re generally considered to be one of the least reliable cars ever made; and an equal shock to see a new model because they start at a price that’s well into six figures. But the strangest thing about it is the Allroad’s off-road credentials rest with this plastic body cladding and a bit of extra suspension travel from the bound-to-fail air-suspension system. Its Quattro four wheel drive system is another off-road nod I suppose, but when it’s unchanged from the A6 wagon with painted bumpers I think that point may be mute.
There’s plenty of other cars that perfectly embody this madness I know and maybe I’ve been unfair singling out the Audi (Pontiac Aztec anyone?). They are, after all, a far better alternative to driving around in a huge SUV that’s never going to go off road. There’s a Range Rover Sport with 21″ wheels and lowered suspension that I see everyday that will attest to the fact that there’s plenty of people willing to pay good money for a car that doesn’t really serve its intended purpose at all. Car design. It’s subjective all right.