Commentary – Regarding automotive design, I just don’t get the modern “swollen hatchback” look

Some say this 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour ad examplifies modern hatchback hype.  (Photo credit: American Honda Motor Company)

Am I the only one that doesn’t get the “swollen hatchback” look?

For the automotive enthusiast, attending a classic car show can be a great experience.  If you’re lucky, you see the very makes and models that inspired you during youth.  You’re reminded how much you enjoy how sunlight plays off a seductive curve of a ’41 Continental fender, or off a crisp edge of a ’76 Cadillac Fleetwood’s hood or an ’88 Monte Carlo SS’s roofline.

(Photo slideshow of all vehicles described here is at end of article)

I attended a show this past weekend, spending four hours comfortably transfixed in the past.  When the show ended, it was back to reality.  For if the show itself was a dream, then the drive home was an awakening.  An awakening and realization, looking at modern cars on the road, that today’s car designers seem to be unable to create clean, balanced, elegant-looking designs.

Rare is a new model introduced in the last three years that has useful application of a simple straight line anywhere –  only multitudes of confused looking criss-crossed surfaces that do not work.  Looking at many of them, I honestly wonder if the person who designed the back of the vehicle ever met the person who designed the front.  Perhaps the problem started with the 2004 Prius.

Spending time behind the wheel of a Toyota Prius, one finds rearward visibility much more limited due to the location of the crease in the hatchback.  Even though an extra glass panel is fitted into the vertical part of the tailgate, the bend line is right where one’s eyes fall first.  It’s unnatural, and confusing to the brain when using the rearview mirror.  And looking at the vehicle when getting out of it yields the same result.  That problem afflicts many newer vehicles on the road today.

The success of the initial Prius hatchback has inspired Toyota to introduce the larger Prius “V” (see slideshow below) and smaller “C” models.  Stylists at Toyota must have been afraid to deviate from the original Prius’s dustbuster shape when creating the V wagon, because they attempt to recreate it by sloping the rear side windows accordingly.  But because the roofline directly overhead neither properly contrasts or completes the window line, the rear looks awkward.

Combined with side windows that are disproportionally small,  the whole vehicle looks misshapen.  Considering the V does not offer the utility of a third row seat, minivan sliding doors, or the graceful proportions of a traditional wagon, it’s hard to imagine who this vehicle is supposed to appeal to.

What I scratch my head about most is why this swollen hatchback look is taking over so much.  Suddenly a few years ago everyone began emulating the Prius’s geek-is-chic look, taking it to ever greater extremes today.

There’s now the Honda Insight, FCX, Crosstour, Ford C Max hybrid concept, even BMW 5-series hatchbacks.   Even sport utilities are losing clean, rugged-looking lines in favor of more lumpy, swollen “crossover” shapes.  The new Ford Escape replaces a popular traditional sport utility design with one that seems to be neither SUV or minivan – one that possesses only the negative qualities of both types of vehicles.

Whether they’re based on sport-utility vehicles or cars, it’s pretty hard to imagine folks passionately collecting any of these cars decades from now.


Perhaps the reason the Honda FCX above doesn’t look quite right to the eye is the unbalanced amount of mass the rear of the automobile contains visually.  The front end appears almost non-existent, as if it was mushed down and pulled away (think of play-doh).  Perhaps it’s easy to imagine it once existed, but somehow got squeezed by giant hands until it gelatinously ended up at the back.

None of these designs look clean in a narrow-waisted athletic kind of way either.  Just the opposite.  Over sized hips are something many of us work hard fighting with diet and exercise, and if we fail in our attempts to bend and shape our own bodies to our will, why would a car that looks like it failed on its diet plan appeal to us on any level?

As well, I’m really not sure who the BMW X6 is designed to appeal to.  It’s based on the company’s traditional X5 sport utility vehicle, and both share the identical platform, running gear, mechanicals, and engines underneath the skin.  As a result, both have identical 115″ wheelbases, measure 192 inches in overall length, and break the scales at 4,900 pounds each.

The X6 has all the disadvantages of a heavy sport utility vehicle without the advantages of one.  A bulky couch will never fit in an X6.  Third-row seats available in the X5 are simply not possible in the X6.  It’s got a sloping roofline which is supposed to resemble “fastback” sports cars, but even after one squints their eyes very hard, it’s impossible to visualize a sexy two-door coupe.

History shows awkward automotive design trends repeatedly come and go, and eventually leave us behind wondering what we were thinking.  I sure hope that thinking ends soon.




About Sean

Welcome to Classic Cars Today Online! We seek to explore the subject of classic vehicles from the 1950s through today. It is our belief that a car needn't be old to be respected and admired for graceful design, historical significance, and future value. As founder and Editor-In-Chief, I welcome contributions from you about your own car-related interests and ownership experiences. As far as myself, I've worked in the automotive service field and have been a contributor to Autoweek Magazine, The Star, Mercedes Enthusiast Magazine, and more. Currently, I'm a copywriter and own several foreign and domestic classic cars. In my spare time, you'll find me serving as Technical Editor and officer of several car clubs, being a concours car show judge, and meeting some great folks around the tri-state NY / NJ / Pennsylvania area at car shows. - Sean Connor
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