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Posts filed under ‘Underrated Lookers’

Underrated Lookers:
The ’89-’91 Oldsmobile
Cutlass Supreme Coupe

October 17, 2014 by Matt

1991 Olds Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme White

Let’s get a few things out of the way here:

  1. Am I reaching a bit? Maybe.
  2. I hate the name. Hate everything about it. As I wrote in my post on car names, it sounds like a pirate’s dessert. Yarrrgh.
  3. Is it FWD and a turd to drive? Yes and probably.

Still—whenever I come across an ’89-’91 Olds Cutlass Supreme coupe during my commute, I notice it. It’s the proportions that really distinguish it. Examine the car in profile, and a clean, if somewhat boxy teardrop shape emerges. Most of the credit for that goes to the expansive, gently-tapering backlight and the way the rear quarterlights meet the back glass in such a way that they conceal the C-pillar, creating a kind of wraparound “cockpit” look. The nose detailing, too, is very understated and clean. The front overhang is a bit long—thank the Cutlass’ FWD platform for the way the wheels are pushed back—and keeps the car from exhibiting truly European sports sedan proportions, but it’s not a glaring aesthetic flaw in the vein of Chrysler’s cab-forward styling phase. The mounting of the door handles on the B-pillars is an unnecessary touch, but it’s not a debit, and it does clean up the car’s flanks a bit.

1991 Olds Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme White

The ’89-’91 Cutlass coupe’s cheapness and the fact that it’s a bit of an unsung hero from a design standpoint means more than a few have been uglified and tarted up with all kinds of stripes, stickers and chrome appendages, obscuring the fact that underneath it all, it’s basically a very handsome car. The big Olds coupe underwent a styling refresh for the 1992 model year, in the process adding a dollop of superfluous body cladding and replacing the crisp headlight treatment with an ill-advised “hex-mini-light” design. The proportions are still there, but the details are overdone and distracting. As for the original ’89-’91 Cutlass coupe, it’s a shame it doesn’t get more credit.

Image credits:,

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring cars whose design we find appealing, in contrast to mainstream opinion. Read the other installments here:


Underrated Lookers:
The ’99-’04 Toyota Solara Coupe

May 11, 2013 by Matt


Much better looking than its Rubbermaid-like sedan version, the first-generation Toyota Camry Solara is blessed with a remarkably cohesive, pleasing shape, neither too restrained nor too overdone like its successor.


Toyota finally decided to spin off the coupe version of their best-selling Camry in 1999, giving it a distinctive name and distancing it styling-wise—without completely severing all visual connections—from the Camry sedan. While most consider the Solara’s design just as bland as that of its four-door sibling, I think the (slight) bit of added design dash serves the shape very well, elevating it from “completely anonymous” to the realm of “tasteful and tailored.” The strong character line emphasizing the car’s beltline and tying its two ends together relieves what would otherwise be a very slab-sided, bathtub-like shape and gives the Solara just the right amount of visual detail.


The first-gen Solara had the added bonus of being available with a 5-speed manual transmission, generating a bit more interest as far as enthusiasts are concerned, though it will be said that particular option seems to be as scarce as hen’s teeth, the vast majority of buyers having decided to forgo the pleasure of rowing their own gears.

It’s a delightful shape. Find me a stickshift and I’ll happily assign it to commuter duty.

Image credits:,,

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring cars whose design we find appealing, in contrast to mainstream opinion. Read the other installments here:


Underrated Lookers: The Mazda CX-7

January 2, 2013 by Matt

Mazda CX-7 CX7 Red

After 6 years, we hardly knew ye.

Among the dozen or so cars departing the US market for the 2013 model year include the Mazda CX-7, the automaker’s first attempt at a midsize crossover SUV.

Normally I don’t devote much (any?) blog space to anything remotely SUV-ish, but as a devoted fan of the brand in general and admittedly, the CX-7 in particular, I thought I’d give it a farewell look. There aren’t many vehicles of an SUV-like nature I’d actually consider for daily driver duty, but Mazda’s outgoing midsize ute is one of them.

Mazda CX-7 CX7 Silver Rear Back

Offered starting in the 2007 model year, the CX-7 and to a lesser degree its bigger near-twin the CX-9 never really caught on. Reasons include the turbocharged 2.3l, 244-hp 4-cylinder’s relatively poor fuel economy (an important consideration in the car’s class), sub-par name recognition (no one really goes to Mazda looking for a midsize crossover) and interior space compromised by the CX-7’s styling.

Mazda CX-7 CX7 Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

A word on the styling: To my eyes, as crossover SUV’s go, it’s fantastic. It communicates Mazda’s fun-to-drive philosophy exceedingly well using SUV proportions, and looks far less generic and much more cohesive than anything else in its class (contrast the utterly anodyne shapes of the Hyundai Santa Fe or Toyota Highlander for reference). No, Mazda attempted something more ambitious, shape-wise, than its rivals, creating a kind of capable-looking urban jungle transport capsule, and succeeded in crafting a design at once accessible and futuristic. 20 years ago, looking at the concept car landscape, didn’t we all think we’d be driving cars with overtones of the CX-7? I did.

Couple the winning design with a dose of Mazda’s traditional dynamic excellence (such as it can be on something with a CG so high), and it’s a true shame the CX-7 is leaving the market.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring cars whose design I find appealing, in contrast to mainstream opinion. Read the other installments here:


Underrated Lookers: The ’93-’01 Subaru Impreza

March 23, 2012 by Matt

Subaru Impreza 2.5RS Blue

A discussion of the Subaru Impreza could have fit into a couple categories: The one it’s featured under, Underrated Lookers; or another one, Sophomore Slumps. The grounds for its inclusion under the latter would been the atrocious, bug-eyed styling visited upon the second-generation car; however, apart from its looks, the 2nd gen is actually a brilliant machine: relatively lightweight, tossable, simple, rugged and easy to tune for power. It certainly isn’t slumping as far as its dynamics. So, by process of elimination, the first-generation ’93-’01 Impreza slots into the category you see; and I might add, one that it fits very well.

Subaru Impreza 2.5RS Blue

It’s one of Subaru’s most cohesive designs. Even with the addition in later years of rally-racing-themed scoops, vents, spoilers and lighting, the basic shape still looks understated, handsome and capable. Chiefly responsible for the ’93-’01 Impreza’s visual impact are its simple-yet-aggressive grille treatment, its athletic stance and especially its subtly-flared fenders, which give the car an ever-so-slight waisted look. The effect emphasizes Subaru’s characteristic AWD system and the fact that tractive power can be transmitted through the tires’ contact patches at all four corners. The fender flares also make the car look lithe, agile, nimble and playful. It’s a car that invites a drive, in other words.

Subaru Impreza 4 Four Door Silver

Even the four-door form looks fresh, as the automaker wisely decided to retain all the key styling features from the coupe version. Both body styles shared all underpinnings, in the same way that BMW 3 Series coupes and sedans are mechanically identical, and to this day I (and most enthusiasts) lament the fact that Subaru declined to market the very fast, turbocharged variants of the Impreza—the WRX and WRX STI—in North America (the rest of the world got them). No, we had to make do with a naturally-aspirated, 165-hp 2.5l flat-4 and wait until the arrival of the 2nd generation car for forced induction and real speed. So we American enthusiasts are placed in the awkward position of having to decide between looks (1st gen) or factory speed (2nd gen). Unless, that is, one was willing to undertake an engine swap and combine the best of both, which in this case might be the way to go for the Subaru buff who wants to construct a modern classic.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring cars whose design I find appealing, in contrast to mainstream opinion. Read the other installments here:

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Underrated Lookers:
The ’96-’98 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

February 12, 2012 by Matt

Chrysler Sebring Convertible Vert Cabriolet Cabrio Droptop Ragtop Beige Brown Tan Bronze 1996 96

As the adage goes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Ever in the midst of wild design flailings, everything miraculously came together for Chrysler with the above car, the ’96-’98 Chrysler Sebring Convertible. I want to be very specific about the model year range I have in mind, because the train jumped the tracks, as it were, very quickly.

For a moment, though, let’s examine the design under consideration. Long, low proportions? Check. Well-resolved lines and absence of fussy surface detail? Yessir. Understated grille shape with stroke-of-genius Jag E-Type chrome bar bisecting the opening? Got it. Nicely-shaped wheels complementing the overall styling? Yep. For what the car needed to be—a dedicated boulevard cruiser than drew just enough (but not too much) attention to itself to reflect well on its occupants—the design was absolutely, stunningly perfect. I honestly don’t know if even as established a high-roller droptop as the Mercedes SL has anything on the ’96-’98 Sebring Convertible, if you take the “badge prestige” factor out of the equation. It’s that good.

Chrysler Sebring Convertible Vert Cabriolet Cabrio Droptop Ragtop Green 1996 96

As mentioned above, though, Chrysler just couldn’t well enough (or in this case, excellent) alone and had to fiddle with the design. The car lost its lovely grille bar for ’99, and received a few other design tweaks that negatively altered the coherency of the shape. And the second- and third-generation Sebring convertibles aren’t really even worth mentioning in the same article as the ’96-’98 car; they’re as hideously abominable as the original was gorgeous. We’re talking paper-bag-over-the-head territory here.

But for one brief, shining moment, Chrysler pulled it together and delivered a stunner. Shame they didn’t learn from their success.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring cars whose design I find appealing, in contrast to mainstream opinion. Read the other installments here:

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Underrated Lookers:
The ’86-’91 Mazda RX-7

January 27, 2012 by Matt

Mazda RX-7 RX7 FC 2nd Gen Generation Red Turbo II 2

Overshadowed by Mazda’s later, stunning, 3rd generation rotary-powered sports car, the ’86-’91 2nd gen plays an aspirational role for many owners. Much like its contemporary from Toyota, the ’86-’92 Supra, the 2nd gen RX-7 lives in the shadow of its faster, better-looking and far more potent sequel.

That said, the FC, as it’s known, is quite a handsomely-penned car in its own right. The Porsche 944‘s shape inspired the Japanese designers, and while the 2nd gen might not be quite as baroque and sultry as its counterpart from Stuttgart, the similarities proportion-wise are evident. Notable differences include a lack of an actual quarter light for the Mazda, and its unique headlight treatment that allows flash-to-pass while the high beams are still stowed. The Japanese car features less surface detail than the 944 as well, but it displays a taut and confident—if not overly interesting—profile.

Mazda RX-7 RX7 FC 2nd Gen Generation Red GTU GTUs

Several details in particular stand out to me: The strong “keystone” of a C-pillar, the ever-so-slightly flared wheel arches, and especially the minimal thickness between the top of the front arch and the beginning of the sheet metal’s turn inward toward the hood. That last detail visually lowers the front end and gives the car an especially agile, grippy appearance.

No, even if its lines doesn’t deserve the admiration of the FD’s, the FC is a cohesive, attractive and often overlooked shape, one that I wouldn’t mind in the least to be seen behind the wheel of.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring cars whose design I find appealing, in contrast to mainstream opinion. Read the other installments here:


Underrated Lookers:
The ’92-’97 Cadillac Seville STS

December 27, 2011 by Matt

Cadillac Seville STS Black

Keeping on the Cadillac theme from yesterday, I thought it’d be worthwhile to revisit a classic example of an American automaker at least getting the shape right, even if they got the chassis completely wrong.

Leaving aside the redundant acronym that is the car’s trim line (Seville STS = Seville Seville Touring Sedan), the redesigned ’92 car was a semi-credible effort in Cadillac’s longstanding pursuit of its European rivals. The STS exemplified the uniquely American luxury and performance formula the automaker espoused at the time: Big transverse V8 in the front, FWD, broad-shouldered proportions, relaxed-fit interior and handling. Its girth, softness and inherent weight distribution limitations (not to mention the lack of a manual option) meant that it was no match dynamically for the BMWs and Mercs it was pitted against in magazine comparos—but it did win praise for its looks.

Cadillac Seville STS Red Rear Taillights Back

I would agree with their positive assessment. The car is large, no doubt, and the wrong wheel/tire combination can easily make the car look like the bloated pig it kind of is, but… Toned down and tucked in, the creased, tailored sheetmetal and wedge-y profile give the STS’s shape a kind of big-and-tall linebacker-in-a-suit-on-an-NFL-post-game-show elegance. It’s not lithe and svelte, but its proportions suggest a higher ratio of muscle to fat than is common with most luxury cars on this side of the pond. If I could ignore everything about the chassis (except for the 300 hp Northstar’s grunt, natch), it’d be one American sedan I wouldn’t be ashamed to be seen behind the wheel of. Turn the engine 90°, bolt it to a 6-speed, firm up the suspension and sign me up.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring cars whose design I find appealing, in contrast to mainstream opinion. Read the other installments here:


Underrated Lookers: The ’95-’96 Nissan 240SX

October 31, 2011 by Matt

Nissan 240SX 1995 1996 S14 Silvia Stock OEM Unmodified Red

I include this one less for its oversaturated popularity nowadays, where the car has effectively become the Honda Civic of the drift crowd, but more for the fact that during its original model run, it was widely considered to be a snoozer of a design.

Popularly known in tuning circles as the S14 (Nissan’s internal model code), its manufacturer took the tired wannabe-sports-car shape of its precessor the S13 and “Skyline-ized” it, injecting a considerable amount of ’95-’98 R33 Skyline GT-R, which some consider to be the most graceful incarnation of that legendary car. Never imported to the US, the Skyline wasn’t widely known, and thus the S14 redesign left many enthusiasts scratching their heads, wondering why Nissan had excised all the “wedge” out of the profile in favor of a handsome, upscale—but still sporty—look.

Nissan 240SX 1995 1996 S14 Silvia Stock OEM Unmodified Green Blue Turquoise

I should specify that my admiration for the styling only extends through the ’96 model year. Nissan refreshed the 240SX for ’97, and in the process made the bizarre “change for change’s sake” decision to torture the headlight and grille area of the fascia, completely jerking it out of conformity with the rest of the car’s proportions. Mercifully, the tweaked S14 was only with us for one year after that; it departed our shores after ’98.

For those two shining years, though, Nissan had a crisp, tidy-looking coupe in their lineup. It’s a shame that in the ensuing decade and a half, the 240SX became a poster car for the drift and Japanese tuner community, and finding an unmolested example is far and away the exception rather than the rule. Searching for pictures for this article, for instance, took me much longer than it usually does simply because every image I found depicted an S14 with some combination of hideous body kit, sketchy wheels and aircraft wing spoiler, festooned with graphics and logos. The picture above was the most stock rear view I could find, and even it features an ill-fitting, ugly aftermarket muffler. For those who appreciate the finesse of the OEM car’s design, we can only hope, as with the FD RX-7, that the tuner wolves move on to fresh meat—a more recent model—and leave whatever remains of the stock S14 240SX population alone.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring cars whose design I find appealing, in contrast to mainstream opinion. Read the other installments here:

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Underrated Lookers: The ’87-’88 Ford T-Bird

October 4, 2011 by Matt

1987 1988 Ford Thunderbird T-bird Tbird Turbo Coupe Super

Coming down off the dreadnought-sized Thunderbirds of the ’70s, in ’83 Ford took the opportunity to foreshadow the introduction of their mold-breaking Taurus with the unveiling of the T-Bird’s smaller, sleeker ninth generation. Then, after the Taurus was introduced, Ford further whittled the T-Bird shape in response, lopping off the upright grille and honing the profile to create the most downright aquiline of all T-Bird generations, and a very pleasing shape: The car’s ’87-’88 refresh.

The front-end styling was offered in a couple of variations for those two years of goodness: The LX and Sport trim levels received an integrated chrome grille, while my favorite, the Turbo Coupe (shown at top), forsook a grille entirely in favor of a smoothly aerodynamic nose. It’s a remarkably cohesive shape harkening back to the beautiful restraint of the original T-Bird; not only that, there’s bite to match the visual bark: Ford fitted the Mustang SVO’s very tunable 190 hp turbocharged 4-cyl and specified a 5-speed manual as standard equipment. The power wasn’t much out of the box for the big coupe, but as with the contemporary Buick Grand National—though to a much lesser degree—there was more to be had with a few simple mods. And, if all else failed, the ’87-’88 T-Bird was built on the contemporary Mustang’s Fox platform and would accept virtually the full range of Mustang performance goodies, including the Windsor V8, also known as the 5.0, or 302.

1987 1988 Ford Thunderbird T-bird Tbird Rear Taillights

Here’s an excellent example of what can occur when an owner is committed to preserving the purity of the factory lines, but decides to go for a bit more oomph. I applaud his effort, one of the few to see the car for what it is. It’s a shame the car’s tasteful lines aren’t more widely appreciated, a fault perhaps of the short two-year model run of the refresh, and the fact that the infinitely more boring tenth generation T-Bird and shameless nostalgia exercise eleventh generation immediately followed, and in addition to the original car, define “Ford Thunderbird” in the minds of many.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring cars whose design I find appealing, in contrast to mainstream opinion. Read the other installments here: