Just a warning: this will be an image-heavy article.
In the fourth edition of the Style Smackdown series and in weeks to come, I will be going through Car & Driver’s vehicle rankings by segment and rating them myself. Where Car and Driver rank the respective vehicles on criteria like interior ergonomics, cornering prowess, and ride quality, I will be ranking them based on one factor: STYLE. Yes, like the depraved bloodbath that is Fashion Week in Milan, only the prettiest will claw their way to the top. The winners are determined using a top-secret algorithm developed by the consciousness of a German scientist stored in a 1940's computer, and the input of an unfair and unbalanced panel of judges; myself, Judge Judy, and the Ghost of Christmas Past. So with a barrage of mushy tomatoes, let the Style Smackdown begin!
Our theme tonight is Compact cars. With 21 entries and 3 body styles, I had to split them among aforesaid body styles; for my own sanity and for the sake of fairness.
#3: Kia Forte Koup-I usually like Kia’s cars, but the Forte lineup leaves me cold.
#2: Honda Civic Coupe-The Civic coupe doesn’t work as well as the sedan. It looks good until you get to the trunk. While the sedan has a spoiler, the coupe doesn’t, which makes its hindquarters look bulbous. Also, where the sedan’s side sculpting is sculpted in at the bottom, the coupe’s is sculpted along the side, which doesn’t work as well removing visual weight.
#1: Scion tC-If the Corolla were a 4-door version of this, it wouldn’t have placed last. When you dissect the various styling cues, it’s really interesting how clear it becomes that Toyota, Lexus, and Scion have the same exact designers. The headlights are reminiscent of the new Prius, and the big frowny grille is the same as the ones on the Avalon, Corolla, and Camry. But the tC works better than those (Avalon excepted) because (I know I’ve said this a million times) it’s not a completely boring shape.
#7: Toyota Corolla-The Corolla ranks last mostly out of spite. There are technically uglier cars here, but few are lazier than the Corolla. Toyota has exactly one attractive car in its entire lineup, and the Corolla is most definitely not it. On the most superficial level it looks sporty and cool, but when you look past the most surface-level stuff it’s an incredibly boring shape. Compare it to the Mazda 3, Hyundai Elantra, or the new Civic; they are interesting to look at and not only because of the styling.
#6: Nissan Sentra—The Sentra is better than its smaller sibling the Versa, but not by much. Its headlights and grille are much too big for its face, and they’re plastered on a body that’s terribly stodgy to look at.
#5: Mitsubishi Lancer-On the rare occasion I think about the Lancer, I think “dated”. Because it is. And the 2016 plastic surgery removed any modicum of style it had. Mitsubishi’s entire lineup carries an air of sadness; especially so with the Lancer.
#4: VW Jetta—There’s a line between simplicity and boringness. It’s a line the Jetta has crossed. VW’s design language really only works on the Golf, Beetle, and CC (in the US market. I love the Up!) They all are interesting shapes, and work because of that. The Jetta is a boring shape, and so the boring styling drags it down
#3: Honda Civic—Fix your face, Honda! I don’t know who thought the chrome unibrow was a good idea but they should be shot. The taillights are really cool, and the sloping roofline is A7-esque in a good way.
#2: Chevrolet Cruze—The Chevy Cruze edges above the Civic on its styling. While they are a similar shape, I would say the Civic pulls it off better. That chrome unibrow really kills it for me. The 2016 model Cruze is a major upgrade from the 2015, which was a majorly frumpy shape.
#1: Dodge Dart—I originally had the Dart at #3, and then #2, and then I said “screw it let’s make it #1!” It’s a fairly conventional sedan shape, but the details are what make it. I really like the headlights that flow into the grille, and the horizontal taillight borrowed from the Charger is a really unique feature.
#11: The Impreza doesn’t have a single good angle. It’s got an ugly face, an awkward shape, and it ain’t got no alibi it’s ugly! U-G-L-Y ugly!
#10: Scion iM-Bleeehhhhh...
#9: Scion xB-The original xB was quirky and cute, but the second gen got hit with a big dose of boring.
#8: Ford Focus-I don’t know why but Ford’s current styling doesn’t do it for me. I really like the Fiesta, and the Mustang is pretty handsome, but the rest of their lineup holds no interest for me.
#7: Kia Forte5—Kia missed a great opportunity to bring over the CeeApostropheD, and they will paaayyy! I’m sure they’re very invested in what I think of them. The Forte5 is nowhere near as handsome or interesting as the Cee’d. It’s not terrible, but when you compare the two there’s something off about the Forte5. It’s in the proportions.
#6: Hyundai Veloster-Call the Veloster what you want, but none would call it pretty. It is however interesting and different, and that will always count toward something. From some angles it’s actually pretty ugly.
#5: VW Golf—The VW Golf is one of VW’s three US-market vehicles that actually works, and even then in lower trims it’s pretty boring.
#4: Mini Cooper—Call it bloated or huge, but this generation of Mini is still small (for today), and undoubtedly cute. While it does look like it’s screaming (extenuated by the visible orange turn signals on base models, which look like bags under its eyes), it’s still a clean, handsome design that works really well.
#3: VW Beetle—The Beetle has some ambiguity about what it is, but it has a hatch, so I’m classifying it as a hatchback. I have a soft spot for retro design, (PT Cruiser most of all, mmm) and the Beetle wins there. It also wins without the nostalgia factor, just as a great design. The Beetle wins more than Donald Trump’s America would win. I’m praying that remains a joke. Hahaha...
#2: Kia Soul—What is the Kia Soul? Is it a hatchback? A tall wagon? A tiny crossover? Whatever it is, it has always been cute, this gen even more so than the last.
#1: Mazda 3—Mazdas are often the best-looking vehicles in their class and the 3 is no exception. It is a thing of beauty. Mazda’s modern styling is great, and their proportions have always been good as well. The 3 has a long hood, short overhangs, and a squat stance, a feature accentuated when viewed from behind.