What Do You See In a Car's Design?

Editor's Letter

The ManufacturerphotographerMike FloydwriterPatrick M. Hoeyphotographer

Given that Robert Cumberford is these days usually ensconced in his fabulous French farmhouse, it's not often I see him face to face. Rarer still is a chance for us to walk around a car, where I can watch the man work.

I had such an opportunity recently during the Los Angeles reveal of the Hyundai Vision G Coupe Concept, this month's "By Design" subject. Like many of us in attendance, I fixated on the door handle, which is (gasp!) not on the door.

While Robert had more than a few objections to the Vision G's overall execution, he actually thought the handle's placement in the panel next to the door an intriguing conceit, which surprised me. Indeed, eyeballing the car was another lesson in how Cumberford and other designers see things.

As we chatted, he pointed out a boomerang-style line in the rear panel, a detail that emerges when the light hits the car a certain way. I never would have noticed it or several other details people with trained eyes such as Cumberford locate easily and appreciate. You don't necessarily see these little touches at first glance, but they often elevate a design from good to great.

Sadly, there seems to be very little time these days to appreciate much of anything. Our culture is built increasingly around making snap judgments. Aided by the anonymity of the Internet, we're far too quick to take sides and flame other people rather than stand back and soak up what we're reading, hearing, and viewing.

Nowhere is this more prevalent in the automotive realm than with design, specifically the endless kvetching about a car's exterior lines. It makes sense to a certain extent, of course: No matter what the discipline, design is utterly subjective—eye of the beholder and all that. Since I've been in this business, the No. 1 online comment is always a screed about exterior style. (No. 2 is "My favorite car outperforms your favorite car. ") When the piling on begins, look out. See: Bangle butt, Acura beak, etc.

Just ask Toyota. It's finally making some bold design statements after being criticized in recent years for being too beige, and it has been lambasted for its efforts. There's a middle ground in there somewhere, but the Japanese automaking giant is having a hard time finding it. Enthusiasts have savaged Toyota's recent Mirai hydrogen vehicle and next-generation Prius designs, with armchair Cumberfords crawling out of the social network to hammer multiple elements of each car, especially their mug shots.

Then there's the other mug, the "Predator" grille of itsLexus brand vehicles. (I like it. Sue me.) Auto journalists and a chorus of haters have ripped it for years and wonder if the brand is playing with fire with the redesigned Lexus RX, its cash-cow crossover. The question is legitimate, but the market will ultimately decide if the move was wise or not.

As my evening spent viewing the Vision G with Cumberford proved, how you see a vehicle in a real-world environment can make a huge difference in how you look at it as a whole. Beyond the initial shouting from the keyboards, our opinion of a vehicle can change over time for the better—or worse—depending on how it's viewed when it hits the streets. For example, I wasn't all that enamored with the
Mercedes-Benz CLA in photos but changed my mind once I saw it in person.

This month Monsieur Cumberford also opines on our Design of the Year, the Ford GT. Of all the cars he saw in 2015, the GT moved him—and us—very quickly, with its flying buttresses in all the right places.

We're going to make a much bigger deal out of Design of the Year, which will become a staple of each January issue. We hang our hat on telling compelling stories around design, and the award will serve as another way for us to highlight the best of automotive style and what constitutes a truly well-designed
vehicle, inside and out.

We know many of you will wholeheartedly disagree with our choices. That's OK with us, especially if those dissenting voices are delivered with passion—and class. Whether you're a fool for a perfectly designed cupholder (you know the kind: fits your favorite to-go mug, doesn't get in the way of your
elbow) or a fan of an expertly executed beltline, we want to hear from you.

We know it's that diversity of opinion, the subjectivity of it all—and details that only emerge in the right light—that makes design so compelling.

How much does design influence the type of car you buy? Let me know at letters@automobilemag.com.

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