Back before the oil crises of the 1970s sent American car manufacturers running for cover and forced them to reinvent the way they designed and built cars, it was easier to identify cars by make and model with just a quick glance. Now, fuel economy standards require cars to be more aerodynamic, which has led to more steeply raked windshields in front and more fastback-like rooflines in back, to the point where the appearance of cars is starting to become more homogeneous, particularly in the sedan category.
Designers are putting more effort into establishing a unifying design language that plants a similarly-styled corporate "face" on all the models offered by a particular brand (think of BMW's twin "kidneys," Kia's top-and-bottom chrome "teeth," Lincoln's split "wings," or Lexus's "spindle" shape), which is great if you are looking at a car head-on, but from the side it's getting more difficult to tell one car from another, and from the rear many cars now have tail lights with similar shapes. (The advent of LED technology for vehicle lighting means tail lights look more distinctive when they are lit at night, but that's not necessarily evident in the daytime.) At the same time, safety concerns have led to raised door sills (there's a lot of stuff packed inside those doors), resulting in reduced glass area and making passenger compartments appear more "squished down" from the outside.
Let me show you a few examples. This is a Ford Fusion, a midsize car that has been quite popular, selling around 300,000 units last year:
And this is the redesigned 2015 Hyundai Sonata, another popular midsize car that competes with the Fusion. This version was introduced last week at the New York Auto Show and will go on sale later this year:
Here's another popular midsize sedan, the Nissan Altima:
And one more newly redesigned model that's not on sale yet, the Chrysler 200:
To me, the Chrysler looks most like the Fusion, but compared to the chrome-trimmed turd it's replacing, it looks fantastic, and the early first-drive reviews have been quite favorable.
Here is a Chevrolet Impala, which is a bit larger than all of the above cars but has many of the same styling elements:
And here is a Toyota Avalon, which is a direct competitor to the Impala:
See what I'm getting at? The designs are aggressive and modern, but they all kind of look the same. And more subjectively, I don't care for such swoopy rooflines on sedans. I miss more defined trunk lids.
Next time we'll look at tail light shapes, using these same vehicles as examples.
(Credit where it's due: this post was directly inspired by this one on Curbside Classic.)