We live in an age of style, not design. All those homilies about form, function, and modern restraint have turned to dust, and instead we've embraced style-pure personal expression.
There's so much talk about style in our culture these days, it's no wonder car designers have become the new celebrities of the automobile business. They're part visionaries and part spin doctors, and they want us to know that exuberance and extravagance are the order of the day.
By and large, we're all for it. And brand- name, big-city style is within reach for those whose pocketbooks are rated only for suburban outlet malls. To prove it, we present the 2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT and three rivals, all priced in the neighborhood of $25,000. With these cars, style is paramount, and the only question is whether or not the experience lives up to the promise of the designer label.
The Mitsubishi Eclipse is a champion of in-your-face style that challenges you with a futuristic shape. It recalls the organic, much-loved second-generation car, especially in the way the fenders reach out to grab the wheels. The roofline takes inspiration from the Audi TT, and there's a nice feeling of surface tension throughout the sheetmetal.
But once you get up close to the Eclipse, the presentation starts to unravel a bit. It's 2.9 inches longer, 3.3 inches wider, and 1.9 inches taller than the car it replaces, and the small-car proportions don't seem to fit the larger, Galant sedan-based platform quite right, especially since the lips of the fenders ride so high above the eighteen-inch wheels.
The Acura RSX is thoroughly clean and composed, a classic example of good taste in the modernistic idiom. Yet the RSX also shows the limitations of this restrained approach, because it looks a bit like a bar of soap that has been passed through the hands of one too many focus groups. The Type-S model, freshened for 2005, adds some much-needed character, with a new chin spoiler, headlights trimmed in black, revised taillights, a new rear bumper, and a spoiler on the deck lid.
Like the best of retro designs, the new 2005 Ford Mustang rediscovers what's timelessly good about the original without stooping to the level of a copy. The V-6 Deluxe coupe does a particularly great job of capturing the spirit of the '69 Mustang, because the 215/ 65TR-16 BFGoodrich Traction T/A tires fill up the wheel wells in a way that looks less artificial than bigger narrow-sidewall tires.
The Mini Cooper S is farther from pure retro than the Mustang, yet Frank Stephenson's design has all the energy of the original Mini. The elements of a traditional small car are all in place: the snub-nose, front-wheel-drive proportions; the big box of glass for good visibility; and the wheels pushed out to the corners for space efficiency. The surprise here is that the car looks neither cheap like ordinary transportation nor giddy like a toy.