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Styling Misfires: The Chrysler Cirrus

August 27, 2012 by Matt

Chrysler Cirrus Green

I have a feeling Chrysler vehicles will appear as parts of the “Styling Misfires” series with distressing regularity. It’s unfortunate, really, given the automaker’s penchant for engineering creativity (when sufficiently funded) compared to its rivals, that its designs should be so enduringly bad.

The car spotlighted in this post, the ’95-’00 Cirrus, was kind of a big deal for Chrysler. Coming on the heels of the unlamented, epically frumpy LeBaron, it was expected to spearhead a surge of popularity for its manufacturer in the lucrative midsize segment. Designed to compete against the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry as well as the newly-introduced Ford Contour, the Cirrus had its work cut out for it.

Chrysler Cirrus Brown Auburn Maroon

And while the basic chassis dynamics were good, the car certainly wasn’t as polished and refined as its Japanese rivals. Not only that, the fascia was just hideous to behold. If it had any appeal within the current styling climate, that trend evaporated before its wheels hit the showroom floors. To state the obvious, the Cirrus looks like its bumper got clobbered and was cursed to forever carry a bloated lower lip as a reminder of the altercation. The cause must have been an all-too familiar scene from the design world: Stylists get too engrossed in their creation without pausing and taking a few steps back to examine the context of their work and ask themselves the hard questions like “What would this look like to the average passerby? What bodily feature would they immediately compare it to?” Nope—the designers must have simply put their heads down and carried on.

For what it’s worth, I tried very hard to like the Cirrus. I really did. Most automotive publications actually praised the styling direction, complimenting its “daring” and “distinctive” lines in contrast to its competitors’ more conservative shapes—and I took them at their word. Rather than trusting my intuition that what I beheld in the Cirrus was a ghastly, bloated-looking design, I distinctly remember concluding that I just must not have been able to appreciate it; that the fault lay with me; that I needed to recalibrate my taste. Contributing to this mindset was the fact that Chrysler was, and still is, the “underdog” compared to the other two, more robust members of the Big Three: GM and Ford. I liked the underdog; the idea of taking chances both mechanically and stylistically appealed to me, so I was even more predisposed to approve of the Cirrus’ design.

In the ensuing years I came to appreciate the fact (obvious to most) that even the so-called “experts” among the journalism world can be guilty of bandwagoning just as much as the rest of us, and with a more confident aesthetic sense, I realized my gut reaction to the Cirrus styling had been spot-on. Lesson learned.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series wherein I discuss unsuccessful cars whose styling was their overlooked (or denied) Achilles heel. Read the other installments here:

Filed under: Chrysler, Styling Misfires

4 Comments

  1. John D says:

    Speaking of Chrysler, I saw a new 300C in the Walmart parking lot that caught my attention…and in a good way. I’m surprised to say that I really like their redesign of that one and think it even looks better in person than in the pics. For some reason a lot of Chrysler cars tend to look cheap…even if they do have a good profile or other interesting design elements. One reason the new Fords have earned some respect is that they look more refined and seem to exude quality in both design and execution. Chrysler seems like it’s always had a difficult time pulling that off, but maybe they’re starting to catch on…

    • Matt says:

      I can’t say I’m as big a fan of the 300C refresh as you are. What with the Fiat merger, they didn’t have enough money for a full-on redesign, so they just sort of nibbled around the edges. I suppose it makes it look more polished, but I’ve tried to assess the car’s design on its own merits, as if I’d never seen the pre-refresh 300C, and I haven’t yet been able to do it… It just looks like they added some extra tinsel.

      Will definitely agree with you about Ford’s current design direction. The shapes may be more conservative, but they’re more “solid” at the same time. I like.

      • John D says:

        Perhaps my expectations for Chrysler products have been jaded due to their past performance in that arena, hence the surprise when I think one of their cars looks even remotely appealing… ;)

        • John D says:

          (In fact, I think it might have been more a case of the materials that made up the design looked more refined and up to date than the design itself. I’m not backpedaling…just going ahead with further analysis. ;)

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