Question II

This is re-visiting a blast from the past.

Back in March last year I asked the following:

Can anyone think of a truly beautiful Japanese (Korean / Malaysian / Chinese / Thai) car? One that doesn’t look dated after, say, three years.

The Tokyo Motor show is on at the moment and looking through the concepts and model releases I still can’t find an Asian design that I like.

Those of you who criticise the Saab 9-5 for being so old, be thankful that it only had one major redesign in 10 years and looked pretty darn sweet for all its first iteration and is coming of age in it’s second.

Back in March 06, the most common answer was the Datsun Z-cars. And there’s been nothing happen in between to change my mind, regardless of how good the new Godzilla might be.

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  1. Saab design is consistently good but my favourite Japanese designs are:

    EVO X
    The original MX5 and the latest car
    RX 8
    The original Cosmo
    MR2 mark 2
    The orginal Z and the latest car

    Its all a personal thing but in general Saab designs date better than Japanese (or other europeans for that matter). I also notice most of my favoutites are Mazda

  2. I love the Mazda Rx-8, it always looking fresh and new.

    The Audi A4 on the other hand, looks dated from the get go. the facelifted version couldnt come soon enough!!

    The 9-5 still look fresh even if it has been facelifted twice already…

  3. This is really a matter of opinion. I think the A4 is still a beautiful looking car.

    The 9-5, on the other hand, looked dated 4 years ago. Again, it’s all a matter of opinion.

  4. Come to think of it, I really cannot think of a truly beautiful Japanese or Korean car at all.

    I still think the 9-5 is beutiful despite its age, especially the front end (I admit that the rear end is dated).

  5. There are a few I think still look quite striking.

    The current Honda Accord.

    Honda S2000.

    Infiniti FX45

    Mazda MX5 (miata)



    The current Lexus IS (but not sure how long it will stay fresh).

    And uhm, now I’m struggling.

  6. Saab 9-5 is not a timeless design.
    Saab 9000 IS a timeless design.

    The new Alfa Romeo 159 will be timeless.

    Hint they are not both Swedish. What they do have in common is Giugaro…the car designer of the century 🙂 Now, go look at the Hyundai Pony of the 1970s designed by him and tell me you dont see some so called Saabishness there.

    On the issue of Japanese design, I don’t know what cave the comments above are coming from but in most big cities in the world, minimalist Japanese AND Swedish design are all the rage.

  7. The Honda / Acura NSX is my favorite. I owned a couple of Nissan 240SX (’91 and ’93) and always loved the exterior and interior styling of those.

  8. I agree with Kaz’s list. You might also add the first generation G35 coupe (the newer ones got somewhat fatter) – it’s rather nice in both the looks and the sound department.

  9. Am I the only one who thinks that the current Toyota Sienna is a good looking vehicle(especially the rear). In fact, I think that is the best design from Toyota.

  10. I wouldn’t call Japanese design minimalist. I think that look is achieved via a lack of true artistic talent not through a desired minimalist look. In other words, they back into it and often miss.

    I think only a few of the mainstream manufacturers hire people who have been to art school. I would include BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Audi/VW, Saab, Volvo(finally), and on some days Infiniti and Mercedes.

    Even the best looking Acura and Lexus look contrived.

    The thing is, a great artist can paint something as simple as a door frame and make it look beautiful. I don’t know how they do it and I can’t explain it, but I know it when I see it. I also don’t believe everybody can see it.

    Good examples are the Honda Element and the Land Rover LR2.

    The Element is brutal. Offensive.

    Whoever designed the LR2 went to a very very good art school.

  11. Japanese design is very derivative. The new Camry, for example, incorporates the worst of the Bangle-style BMWs.

    The best Japanese designs, the uncomplicated lines you see on the Lexus, for example, are derived largely from Audi, circa 1990-95.


  12. To me Japanese designs have always looked uninspired. Japanese (and Korean) companies never built a consistent look for their cars, certain design guidelines that follow through models and years, and thus create a design heritage and tradition.

    Saab, as most European manufacturers, does have a distinct design language and vast design heritage. Something is “the same” in a 99 and a 9-3, you can always tell it’s a Saab. Ditto for BMW, Porsche, Audi, Volvo, even Mercedes.

    That, I think, also makes a designer’s job easier. It probably is inspirational. Take a 90s Camry and it looks nothing like an 08 Camry, there is no consistency, no heritage nor tradition. And that Camry could well be a Nissan or a Kia if it wasn’t for the badge.

    Also worth mentioning are computers. CAD has changed so many aspects of design. I tend to think it was precisely CAD that made most car designs uniform and unoriginal. Most cars these days look fine – but just fine. It becomes boring.

  13. The Lexus IS350 is good looking on the exterior (IMO) but falls down in so many other areas like the sardine can back seats.

  14. This comment isn’t very P.C. so forgive me for indulging, but the Saab Aero-X was designed by a Chinese guy. Does that count? 😮

    I absolutely love the shape of the Infiniti G35 coupe (Nissan Skyline in other parts of the world). How well it’ll age, I don’t know though. I also think that except for the garish door handles the Nissan Z is pretty nice looking.

    Andy: isn’t the Honda Puyo just derivative of The Homer?

  15. joemama: Chris Bangle is the designer of the current BMW “design language”.

    In fact, the wikipedia listing I linked to mentions Toyota’s similarity to the Bangle (called “Bangle Butt”) on the rear of the Camry and Avalon as well as the new Lexus LS bearing similarity to the BMW 7-series.

  16. Well, some people did some research (I don’t remember where I read it or who did the research), and apparently, cars with soft features hold up better than cars with hard features. That explains why the Porsche 911 design held up so well, while, say, tailfins, didn’t. It’s because hard features scream out the fads of the time, while softer lines hide them a little bit, making them a little more timeless.

    I love the new GT-R too, but my GOD it’s going to look dated in a few years.

    Yeah, the Mazda Cosmo is about all I can think of as fas as beautiful Asian cars go. Maybe the Z cars, but not nearly as much as the Cosmo.

    You know, I don’t like old Integras or Preludes, but I do think their design looks less dated than most Asian car designs.

  17. Jeff: “It’s because hard features scream out the fads of the time, while softer lines hide them a little bit, making them a little more timeless.”

    Would you research where you read this and then email the article to Cadillac. The problem is Cadillac has been using hard/harsh features for so long it defines Cadillac.

  18. To me, the Acura TSX seems to have aged pretty well, along with the TL. They may not be the most out-there designs, but one couldn’t exactly call them ugly either.

    The last generation (03-06) Infiniti G35 though, has aged rather quickly, to my surprise.

  19. I don’t necessarily agree with the statement that harsher lines and features don’t hold as well over time. I think it’s a matter of how well those cars were designed, and of course of personal taste.

    Giorgetto Giugiaro’s “folded paper” designs are classic – the Lancia Delta, VW Rabbit, Seat Ibiza, Fiat Croma, Saab 9000 (yes!) have all aged very well, at least I think they have.

  20. Greg Abbot got it right by saying Japanese design is very derivative but I think the Lexus IS is a nice car. MB cars are Kia lookalikes these days but I have to disagree regarding BMWs. I do admit to not liking them one bit at first but I dont think there is an ugly BMW (bar the 1-series hatch and X3). The 7-series has really really grown on me and the 5-series is the most beautiful four door car out there – well the Maserati Quattroporte may be sexier but its Italian so it should be! Beautiful and sexy are two different things when you talk about cars, IMO. 🙂

    I actually thing the NG900 was a classic piece of Swedish architecture which was spoiled when they changed it into the 9-3 with those awful oversized bumpers. OK, the Viggen is a 9-3 and its one helluva hot car. I thought Id say that so-as not to be barred by a certain Tasmanian! 🙂

    I think the 9-3SS is a great looking car with far more character than the Audi A4 which is too clinical looking for me.

    The pre-facelift 9-5 was stunning – enough said!

  21. Right, Gripen.

    To others,

    Personaly, the 9000 never struck a chord with me. My wife liked the 1993 9000 Turbo we had, but I always liked the C900 and NG900 designs better. Personal taste I guess.

  22. Andy – Cosmos have been mistaken for old E-types on more than one occasion (I point that out because you are a Jag guy). I think they’re pretty. 70’s Mustangs, on the other hand, are junk.

    Also, feel exactly the same way as far as the 9000 vs. the c900 and the NG900. The NG900/OG9-3 is my favorite Saab design.

    Rod – I like the “Arts and Science” design language, personally. I think it differentiates them from Buick, whose cars have much softer lines (I like both equally, though, I think Caddies look awesome and new Buicks are just beautiful). I didn’t say that hard edged designs are inherently worse than soft edge designs (I mean, look at the 9000), I just said that they don’t tend to age as well. Of course, there are exceptions (again, look at the 9000).

  23. Today I saw a late 1980s Toyota MR2 which actually still looked alright. It’s one of the few Toyota designs I’ve ever liked, despite owning two Celica’s in the past.

  24. ADT! Wash your mouth out with soap and water!!

    The Lexus SC is a HORRID looking car! I honestly choked on my choccie biscuit while reading that one.

  25. I think there’s 2 topics here –

    1. Asian cars that don’t look very dated, I can think of:
    – Mazda RX-7
    – Toyota Celica Mk.V
    – Isuzu Piazza
    – Isuzu Vehicross
    – Subaru Alcyone SVX
    – Honda Beat
    – Toyota SERA

    2. Asian cars that look beautifaul
    – Nissan Skyline KPGC-10 (Hakasuka)
    – Honda S800
    – Toyota 2000GT (I prefer this to a Jag E-type any day)
    – Toyota Celica Mk.1

  26. Mazda Millenia, 929, the last MX-6 I think was one of the best looking cars ever made.
    Infiniti G35 coupe
    Lexus IS350
    Toyota Supra

  27. Jeff,

    You’re right about the similarity of the early Cosmo to the Jag E-type. I can see it in the headlights. But what caught my attention was the similarity of the 1975-80 Cosmo (picture) to the ugly 1974-78 Mustang II (picture). See the resemblance? It made me wonder if Ford and Mazda worked together that far back.


    I like the MR2 first generation as well. What kind of Celicas did you own? I particularly liked the second generation (1978-81) models. But, alas, I have never owned one.

  28. Again, Greg Abbott nails it. Derivative. Korean manufacturers aren’t even bashful about admitting it.

    I’ll agree with Adam that the 929 was a good-looking design that remains pretty fresh now. As good as that car was, I never understood why Mazda abandoned the line.

    Swade is correct: timeless, no. Good, yes.

  29. While the core of the 9-5 was classic enough to date well that “Dame Edna” Facelift is awful.

    As for good looking Japanese cars I don’t think you can include the Isuzu Piazza. It looked great but the Isuzu contribution was rubbish mechancials to power/suspend a Guigario design concept. The MR2 stlying was was a poor copy of the X1/9.

    Perhaps my favourite Japanese car was the 929 curvy look. We get a lot of them here as imports and they’ve dated well. Unlike the Nissan Cedric…

    Re Korean Cars, one striking aspect of my visit to Seoul was finding their cars don’t look so appaling/strange in Korea. Not sure if it’s just wieght of numbers that reduces the impact or something about the light filtering through the atmosphere. Even the new S-Class Merc (which I think looks appalling) looked ok when mixed with the Korean traffic.

    Best looking cars period? Without getting to silly money, Ferrari etc, I’d head for the Alfa Romeo dealer and pick a 159 or Brera depending how many doors you want.

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