There is generic, please-the-masses car styling, and then there’s the non-Bryan Adams version — a more adventurous take that pushes the envelope and risks polarising opinion. I won’t forget how the BMW Z3 M Coupe’s oddball “clown-shoe” styling was derided when it was launched in 1997, only for many — myself included — to fall in love with the design as time passed.
More recently, BMW started placing oversized kidney grilles on some of its cars to gasps of disbelief and jeering memes, but already the design is starting to find its way into the modern zeitgeist, much as happened with Audi a few years ago with its initially controversial single-frame grilles.
Car designers face a tricky balancing act in designing cars that aren’t sterile and soulless, but at the same time won’t shock and horrify us — at least not for too long. Some succeed while others, like the gargoyle-ugly Ford Scorpio of the mid 1990s, are forever consigned to the “failed experiments” drawer. Here are four new cars that push styling thresholds and seem to get the balance right.
BMW M4 CSL
Just when we started getting used to the supersized nostrils on the M4, BMW launches an M4 with colourful racing stripes. Call it cool or cartoonish, but if ever a road car looked ready for a racetrack brawl, it’s the new M4 CSL.
Designed for the brand’s most driving focused petrol heads, it’s the first BMW to wear the iconic CSL badge since the M3 of 2003. It fills those shoes with its ready-to-rumble styling — and with more power and less weight than the standard M4 Competition. Available in Frozen Brooklyn Grey Metallic, Alpine White or Sapphire Black, the M4 CSL is 100kg lighter than the M4 Competition owing to lightweight M Carbon bucket front seats, the deletion of the rear seats, and the shedding of some sound-deadening material.
Carbon fibre is used inside and out, including in the bonnet. The headlights have yellow daytime running lights, and the rear has a carbon boot lid with a ducktail spoiler as a nod to the previous M3 CSL. This will be a real collector’s car, with worldwide production limited to just 1 000 units, of which 15 will be coming to our shores from the fourth quarter of the year.
The spindle grille has become a staple of Lexus design in the past few years and has given the brand a strong visual identity. The extrovertly geometric snout, which has garnered its share of controversy, has been reimagined in the latest RX, the fifth generation of a vehicle that pioneered the luxury crossover segment in 1998.
The grille is no longer recessed or surrounded by a chrome frame — instead it is integrated flush into the nose as a three-dimensional mass called the spindle body. On the sides the vehicle has become less origami-inspired, with the sharp geometric lines giving way to softer curves. The “Nike swoosh” daytime running lights continue to give the headlights a striking signature, while at the rear a light bar connects the wraparound taillights.
RANGE ROVER SPORT
A boxy design needn’t be old-fashioned or retro, as demonstrated by the new, third-generation Range Rover Sport. There’s nary a hard edge or protrusion to be found in this British SUV, which seems to have been smoothed out like a pebble in a river. Due for a local launch in late 2022, it has a longer wheelbase to improve rear legroom while the design is a cleaner, more aerodynamic evolution of its predecessor’s muscular proportions.
The smooth lines are enhanced by flush-fitting door handles, contributing to a drag coefficient of just 0.29. New LED daytime running lights are the slimmest yet fitted to a Land Rover and the taillights use surface LED technology on a production vehicle for the first time. These provide a crisp and contemporary look at night that is vivid and consistent when viewed from any angle.
MERCEDES VISION AMG
Six “exhausts” glow red as the latest Mercedes-AMG car awakens, but there is no roaring V8 sound — and no emissions either. This is an electrically powered sports car whose taillights have been styled to make the Vision AMG look more like its fire-breathing, petrol-powered forerunners.
What you see here is the future of Mercedes’s high-performance division, with the German brand going all electric in 2025. And the Vision AMG shows in spectacular style what electrification could look like at Mercedes-AMG while staying true to the brand aesthetic, says Philipp Schiemer, CEO of Mercedes-AMG. The dramatic four-door, four-seater coupé has a sleek body draped across a long wheelbase.
It is recognisably a Mercedes-AMG with its distinctive Panamericana grille with vertical slats, and it has triple-LED headlamps arranged to look like the iconic three-pointed star. Both the silver-and-turquoise colour scheme and the 22-inch wheels with their aerodynamic cladding are nods to the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 car.
This article was originally published in the July 2022 print issue of Wanted.