By Amos Kwon
on 6.2.14
How many lines do you see? (We counted 33)

How many lines do you see? (We counted 33)

N
issan’s third generation Murano bowed at the New York Auto Show this spring. The reason you didn’t see it in our Ten Best list from the show is because I hate it the way my architect wife hates attached garages and vinyl siding. It’s just awful. Sure, you’ll read on various automotive websites that the top-end Nissan CUV looks daring and aggressive, ushering forth a new direction for Nissan. Really, only the new Versa looks worse, and that takes some doing.

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Ten years ago, the Murano you saw at NYIAS wouldn’t have been a production car. It probably would’ve only survived as a concept, with its bull nose ring grille, boomerang headlights and crazy taillights that wouldn’t look out of place on an intergalactic space cruiser. The Murano is a concept come to life, but not in a very good way; it’s like if bizarre runway fashion suddenly showed up at your local department store.

None of the myriad details on the Murano seem cohesive. Everything on the front end is overdone. Heck, I counted 33 individual lines on just the front fascia. The grille itself is an exercise in overkill with its numerous concentric lines above and below the silver “U”. Swooping sheetmetal saves the profile view, but other than that it seems every aspect of the car is crying for attention while simultaneously ignoring the other parts.

This is in direct contrast with another car at the New York Auto Show, the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen, which is simple, clean, crisp, and, above all, unified. There are no superfluous lines and the headlights and taillights are well integrated into the design; no aspect of the Sportwagen makes an overly bold statement that detracts from the rest of the car. A similar statement can be made for VW’s Passat. The Murano, meanwhile, can’t seem to make up its mind.

Today’s great cars stand out in a field of vehicles that fall into one of two categories: milquetoast boring or just plain gauche.

Almost wholly to blame for our current state of over-styling is the BMW Group’s former Chief of Design, Chris Bangle, who created the radical styling of the E65 7-Series back in 2002. The 7’s controversial flame-surfacing design, which incorporated multiple concave surfaces along with a bulging rear decklid and protruding headlights, drew harsh criticism for its radical approach to BMW’s flagship. Oddly enough, it was one of the most successful 7-Series in BMW’s history.

Bangle’s design ideas made their way to other brands, and you can still see strong influences from it today. Some are done well, like the surface treatments on the 2014 Hyundai Sonata and the current Mazda6. Others, like the Murano, show a clear over-styling that betrays any degree of simplicity and real design flow.

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Unfortunately, it’s not true or fair to blame the entirety of this design debacle on Mr. Bangle. The trend is, plain and simple, influenced by the public’s boredom with simple designs. Americans care more about drama than they care about taste. No longer is it enough for a car to have simple lines and a clean profile. There has to be some sense of daring, something that carries weight that the public can latch onto. The response by automakers is to focus on one design idea — say, protruding taillights — and take it to excess.

But there’s hope for us purists. Current designs like the Porsche 911, Scion FR-S, VW Passat, Ford Fusion, Audi A7 and the new Hyundai Genesis are beacons of clean design that keep the faith alive. With the exception of the 911, none of those cars will be considered an icon decades from now, but the point is that they stand out in a current field of vehicles that fall into one of two categories: milquetoast boring or just plain gauche.

We tend to criticize carmakers that re-use old designs like the Ford Mustang and the Dodge Challenger, but those were designs that captured the spirit of their era yet stood the test of time. If any designs should be criticized, they should be the ones that push the envelope for the sake of being daring with no concern for what will look good ten years from now.