Thursday, April 3, 2014

Squared-Off Small Cars

Once upon a time, starting around the mid-1930s, stylists tried in most cases to design cars to look aerodynamic.  In all cases, this meant abandoning the boxy body styles of the 1920s, cars becoming curved or rounded.  But fashions eventually stale, so from the mid-1960s into the mid-1980s, a sharp-edged look became fashionable.  Those sharp (or "crisp" as I often put it) edges didn't mean that cars looked box-like; rather, they usually looked airy or light, and sometimes even lean and mean.

But something happened in Japan and perhaps in its California styling outposts during the first decade of the 2000s, a virus that then spread to Korea.  Some seriously square designs appeared on small cars.  The look was funky and not especially aerodynamic.  But then, who needs aerodynamics when driving the streets of Tokyo or Yokohama, as my foggy memory of 1960s taxi rides there confirms.

Shall we take a look?


2004 Scion xB
Scion is a brand name used by Toyota in North America for entry-level cars that presumably have appeal to young buyers.  Scions come in a variety of configurations, one of which is the xB, a sort of crossover SUV.  The version shown above was marketed in the 2004-07 model years.  Its styling is severe, and boxy in the extreme.

2002-08 vintage Nissan Cube
The Nissan Cube has a more whimsical look, an aspect driven home by the asymmetrical, wraparound rear/side window design.

2012 Nissan Cube
Its 2009 redesign continued the character of the original Cube, but applied some rounding and deepened the windows' inset.  The car remained quite boxy despite these funk-enhancing changes.

2012 Kia Soul
Over in Korea -- Actually California, where Kia stylist Mike Torpey, according to this Wikipedia entry -- got out his straightedge and crafted the lines of this small crossover SUV.  To my surprise, the Soul has sold fairly well in spite of its odd appearance.

I really dislike the styling of all of the cars shown above.  I suppose a critic married to the religion of functionalism might praise the "purity" of the xB, and others might point to this or that detail on the Cube or Soul.  But to me, these designs are ugly and silly, not serious.

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