How the Probox escaped list of ugliest things

While last week’s article may have been a bit controversial, it did not provoke a post-bag of outrage as sizeable as I may have desired, but there were responses.

Suspects were fronted, and disagreement reared its ugly (pun intended) head more than once.

Of note was the concord over the Toyota Will’s lack of visual appeal. This is how those who replied thought of my lists, and these are the offenders and unrecognised beauties.

Toyota Platz

One reader, a lady — quite obviously — defended the Platz as not just an art student’s runabout, but also a means of escape for those who cannot afford costlier hardware but would still wish to eschew the insanity that passes for public transport around this corner of God’s green planet.

Maybe, but just because women like it does not mean it is pretty. It still maintains its place on the queue of syphilitic warthogs on our roads.

Toyota Probox

Most of our readers expected to see this box on wheels vilified as an eyesore, but let us be honest, is it really that bad?

Yes, it lacks any sort of charm whatsoever, but keep in mind that this successor to the venerable Corolla DX is a commercial vehicle first, and commercial vehicles are not really about getting dates. They are meant to lug stuff and staff from one site to the next.

The Probox is what the Fiat 124 estate would have looked like had the Italians kept building it: instead, they gave the whole factory, plus parts, paperwork and foundries, to the Russians; who rebadged it the Lada Riva; and who in turn handed it over to the Egyptians; who still build the damn thing exactly as it was built 30 years ago.

That it is not sold (or imported to these shores) saves it from occupying a place on last week’s list of nasty sights; otherwise it would have been a more fitting replacement for the Probox.

Porsche Cayenne

Evidence that automotive ugliness is created by the manufacturer but propagated by the customer appeared in my inbox in the form of a man claiming that this car is “cute”.

What’s more, he went ahead to claim that it should have been listed there instead of the Jaguar XJ. Have your cataracts checked, Sir. In no way is this car “cute”.

The Nissan Micra is “cute”, and so is the Ford Fiesta, but the Porsche Cayenne has been listed as one of the ugliest cars in recent history, and not even by me.

The face of a 911 sports car grafted onto the body of a Volkswagen Touareg does not make “cute” anything. Thank God that the Porsche has the performance to justify the asking price.

BMW X6

A vitriolic response showed up on Twitter about “this writer thinking that the X6 is ugly”. What would you call the result of mating a swimsuit model’s torso onto the lower extremities of Arnold Schwarzenegger?

An aberration, most likely. BMW’s attempt at creating a niche that nobody asked for got the acerbic reaction it deserved from the world’s motoring Press.

The X6 tries to be a sports car and an off-roader, but it fails at both and loses the looks along with it.

It is too heavy to be any good on-road; and too focused on trying to be impressive on-road to be any good off it; and the huge, tall body with that sloping roofline leads to an epic fail in what would otherwise have been a good alternative to the Range Rover Sport.

The Design Process

It is time to start pointing fingers, and, to narrow down the list of likely suspects, we have to look at what exactly goes on during the design process of a given motor vehicle.

While it can sometimes be done purely by computer (leading to designs as disparate as the manufacturers are far apart: the Nissan GT-R is not pretty, but the Ferrari 458 Italia is, and both are computer-generated.

Maybe one company used a Mac while the other used a PC), what we are interested in is the handiwork of living, breathing humans.

Most cars are designed by a team, typically made of people with degrees and backgrounds in art.

More often than not there is a lead designer, though in some cases a car could be drawn by one man only, and this lead designer receives a brief from the big fish in corner offices.

The brief could be to go retro, to “revolutionalise” car design in general, to establish a corporate “face”, or quite simply, to “shock” the world. And it is at this point that problems arise.

While the brief could be worded in such a way that it will sound pleasing to shareholders, artsy types are not known to decipher such flowery language or show initiative that will be at cross-purposes with the administration, so they follow instructions to the letter.

This is how cars like the bug-eyed Ford Scorpio came to exist (the horror, the horror…).

Going retro also sometimes tends to fail quite badly, especially when designers are asked to draw from iconic elements in that manufacturer’s past.

The old Jaguar Mark II was a paragon of elegance, so the English firm thought that visage would look good on a modern car, and they proceeded to slap it onto the S-Type.

The result almost moved bowels. Thankfully, the S-Type has been replaced with the XF saloon. The Porsche Cayenne suffers from a similar problem.

So what would happen if a designer took it into his head to show initiative? Cars like the outgoing 5-series and 7-series BMWs creep into existence.

Chris Bangle wanted to make an impact design-wise, and make an impact he did. The 7 was so bad it had to have a facelift less than a year after launch.

The 5 was “controversial”, to put it diplomatically, and these two cars made the man famous as the “one who will finally bring BMW to its knees”.

It is a wonder these cars were bought at all: it says a lot about BMW’s technological supremacy that they were able to sell any of these cars at all.

Sometimes one man’s need to “express” himself ought to be checked, lest such terribleness afflicts us all.

On some occasions, I presume, the sheer volume of cars under manufacture also leads to bad design, and that, I strongly suspect, is the reason

Toyota scored freely on the list of uglies. Maybe the engineers are coming up with chasses faster than the designers can draw corresponding bodywork art, and so some of them come out a little bit rushed (Verossa). Either that or no imagination at all applies in the overall design (Probox, Platz).
Engineering also fudges up an otherwise passable design, especially when form follows function.

That is how winged and spoilered monsters like the Impreza WRX and Nissan GT-R rise from the depths of factory recesses to fill up your side mirrors menacingly on the road.

A good design could bite the dust when engines get too big or suspension components cannot be well-hidden, resulting in lengthy overhangs and bizarre fender flares; or when the outlandish performance on tap demands the installation of air dams and spoilers for aerodynamic integrity and stability at speed.

Geographical preferences

Can we surmise that geography also plays a part? America has never come up with what we could call a gorgeous motor vehicle — size seems to be their obsession; while the Asians don’t seem to even bother.

But Europe has been constantly churning out a steady supply of stunning bodies, especially England (Aston Martin, Jaguar) and Italy (Lancia, Alfa Romeo).

Small wonder then that all the great automotive artists (both firms and individuals) are registered in Italy.

Bertone, Giorgetto Giugiaro and the great Sergio Pininfarina have been charged by car builders all over the world as great artists, and their skills are highly sought whenever one company wants to have one up on their competition in good looks.

Planned obsolescence is a business concept dreamt up by one Alfred P Sloan, Jr, former head at General Motors in the early 20th Century, and the idea was that, to entice the client base into show rooms on a regular basis, they needed annual model changes in their lineups.

Sounds good, but people tend to run out of creative thoughts rather fast, leaving them in trouble when it is time for another refresh.

This, I think, has also been an affliction in Japan, as it closely follows the surplus of chasses and dearth of designs theory.

Henry Ford, forever the visionary, rejected this notion and stuck to the principles of simplicity, economies of scale and design integrity.

Much to his consternation, the planned obsolescence thing worked and GM overtook Ford in sales soon after.

All in all, I have just one suggestion to make. To all aspiring car designers, do not do it like your colleagues have been doing: at one point take a step back and have a good look at whatever you have drawn before you release it for manufacture.

It will save a lot of people some embarrassment.

Comments

comments

Leave a Reply