Thursday, 9 February 2012

Mercedes Benz: elegance prevails

Most car makers adapt and change their design language to satisfy prevailing trends and tastes. The lesser known brands trying to make a name for themselves often resort to shock tactics to gain attention and find a niche.

Ssanyong's Kyron SUV is an example of shock and awe gone wrong:

Ssanyong Kyron

Ssanyong really proceeded to outdo themselves with the Stavic multipurpose vehicle:

Ssanyong Stavic: strikingly ugly

These vehicles can be so ugly that you need to put your eyes into soft focus when looking at them.  Like I said: attention seeking.

Yet there are also better known names that have been trying some funny things of late.  Now, BMW is renown for sharp, sporty yet elegant cars.  No other BMW model embodies this better than the hallowed E36 3 Series:

1992 E36 BMW M3: A classic design-wise, comfort-wise and mechanical-wise

This car really wowed the world when it debuted in 1991.  It still looks good today.  Timelessness is the ultimate hallmark of good design, and this timelessness is what makes the E36 a masterpiece.  Timeless automotive designs tend to have a clean lines with simple yet distinctive detailing.  Maybe just one or two sharp angles or sweeping features are permitted: the E36 for example had a "dolphin" tail shaped rear.

Then BMWs started to become fussy and frankly weird.  They introduced a design concept called flame surfacing, where 3D pressing was incorporated on various panels to give the car a contoured fluid look.  Sounds good in theory, but the execution was something else:

2002 E65 BMW 7 Series rear

The rear "bubble butt" of the E65 7 Series was the main reason Time Magazine named it one of the 50 Worst Cars of All Time.  But for me the front was even uglier.  What was the idea of placing the indicator lamps on top of the headlamps?  Were they trying to give the car eyebrows?

2002 E65 BMW 7 Series front: even worse than the rear

Then there was the Z4, not exactly the quintessential flowing, graceful sports convertible (the indicator lights were at the bottom of the headlamps for this one):

2002 E85 BMW Z4 (notice the "flame surfacing")

BMW were trying to be a bit too fancy I think and this dynamic 3D flame surfacing idea still permeates their cars today.  It must be said they are getting the look right, but still their cars are hard to describe as elegant and graceful.

Audi have scored hits design-wise with the R8, TT and to an extent, the A3; but these days all their models have the same face up front and most Audis look pretty anonymous.  Below are three different Audi models, designed to appeal to three different markets.  Please point out the differences, because to me they all look the same:

Audi A4

Audi A5

Audi A7

Yes, you have just looked at three different Audis.  Each of these Audis looks good in it's own right, but none is distinctive as they all have the same generic look.  Audi hit a chord with the public when the A5 launched, so it looks like they tried to make the ensuing A4 and A7 resemble the A5 as much as possible, in the hope of trying to evoke the same type of reaction.  Their passenger cars especially are a tad conservative.  So low marks to Audi then for conservatism and generic design language across most of their range.

Which leaves us with Mercedes Benz.  Their design reflects that extra bit of pedigree and history they have over other automobile makers.  Mercedes Benz was always about class.  They are remember, the company that invented the automobile.

1954 Mercedes Benz 300SL "Gullwing"

Almost every Mercedes from any era looks good on the road in any company, and nobody has achieved this timelessness as consistently as Mercedes Benz.

1979 Mercedes Benz 500 SEC Coupe

Their present designs are elegance in the modern idiom:

2012 Mercedes M Class

2011 Mercedes CLS: my current favourite of all Mercedes models

2010 Mercedes SLS AMG

Mercedes A Class concept: production model imminent

Mercedes F800 Concept: points to the design of future models...good news then

You can see some subtle 3D pressing evident on the F800 and A Class, but it is tastefully done and doesn't present a sudden disturbance to the flow of the body, as evidenced by the BMW Z4.

Mercedes Benz have shown that elegance is something that never goes out of fashion and is always a dependable guiding philosophy when designing just about anything.  As the F800 shows, Mercedes plan on combining "fluidic sculpture" with their characteristic brand of flowing yet strong elegance.  Cars from Mercedes Benz, you can safely say, will continue to look great.

Let it be known that I am a BMW disciple performance and dynamics wise.  I feel that Beemers have historically tended to be more fun to drive than the other Teutonic brands.  I am no Mercedes "fanboy."  But this post is about design and appreciation of automotive sculpture, and over many decades right to the present day, nobody has done it better than the three pointed star.

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