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Posts filed under ‘Underrated Lookers’

Underrated Lookers: The ’95-’97 Lexus LS400

September 8, 2011 by Matt

1995 1996 1997 Lexus LS400 UCF20

I have a thing for understatement. Maybe it’s borne out of a latent muscle car fandom—you know, look harmless but pack a whopping engine—whatever the case, I’ll almost always take the well-tailored q-ship over a flashier equivalent, performance-wise.

Besides, cars with understated styling tend to age better. They’re less tethered to design trends and fads of a particular period, but instead rely more on proportion and overall shape for their appeal. The car under consideration today, the ’95-’97 Lexus LS400, is a case study in how careful design craft and attention to detail can produce an unsung paragon of understatement.

1995 1996 1997 Lexus LS400 UCF20 Rear Back

Faced with the prospect of refreshing the styling of their successful foray into the luxury market, Lexus chose to retain many of the original LS400‘s overall themes, but discarded the flabby, soap-like proportions in favor of a tauter, more energetic stance. That said, the subdued nature of the update means you really do have to ponder the lines for a while to appreciate the harmonious convergence of subtle details. But the car rewards the work with pleasing effects like the beautifully-executed character lines on the hood, the perfect weight of the C-pillar and the fluid curve of the beltline. The more you consider it, the more the fine-tuning of the car’s design just comes together. Where the original LS400 seemed to be sagging under its own weight, the update looks fleet and effortless.

Underscoring the impact of the nip-and-tuck job are a couple of engineering details. First, the more aerodynamic presence of the LS400 isn’t mere posturing—the wind tunnel had a large hand in helping define many of the car’s contours, bringing the drag coefficient down to a very impressive 0.28. And more significantly, with the update Lexus managed to excise over 200 lbs from the car, trimming the full-size luxury sedan down to a gloriously lightweight 3600 lbs. There’s little I admire more than an automaker exhibiting that kind of devotion to stemming the ballooning weight of cars across the automotive spectrum, and the high end in particular, where nowadays the going weight of a car in the LS400’s class is well north of 4000 lbs. Just being aware of those under-the-skin properties—the actual slipperiness of the body as well as its admirably low weight—reinforces my regard for its design.

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 Subaru SVX

August 29, 2011 by Matt

Subaru SVX

This one taps into my inner nerd.

Was there ever a more spaceship-looking car? The strip of lights on the front, the fighter canopy, the Battlestar Galactica rear end… Just add a pair of S-foils in attack position and a few photon torpedo launchers, and you’re set to defend the galaxy or something. Of course, the element that grabs everyone’s attention is the “window-within-a-window” side glass treatment, carried over whole hog from the concept car the SVX was based on.

Subaru SVX Rear

Ironically, in spite of the obvious (and possibly intentional) sci-fi styling overtones, it’s actually a very handsome car. The proportions are nicely done, with just a hint of wedge in profile, entirely appropriate for a GT. And for all the derision heaped upon the exterior, it’s not nearly as gimmicky or chintzy as the 3000GT/Stealth twins, with their bumps, fins, side strakes and spoilers halfway up the rear glass. The SVX’s styling is actually cohesive and unique; it’s not an otherwise normal-looking car with half a dozen tacked-on geegaws—everything has a context, and I admire that about it.

Even if it does look like the spaceship car from The Last Starfighter. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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 Y34 Infiniti M45

August 15, 2011 by Matt

2003 Y34 Infiniti M45

During the course of any model year, the automotive press and community investigate the merits of hundreds of different cars. Given the amount of sheetmetal that passes in front of the eyes of the typical automotive journalist, it’s inevitable that the styling of a few otherwise worthy-looking cars would be simply passed over as a matter of expediency. Today we take a look at an example of one such aesthetic diamond in the rough: The ’03-’04 Infiniti M45.

2003 Y34 Infiniti M45

Assigned the factory model code Y34 and only present in the US market for 2 years, the ’03-’04 M45 was hastily adapted from the Japanese-market-only Nissan Gloria, then nearing the end of its model run, in order to plug a BMW 5-series and Lexus GS-sized gap in the Infiniti model range. Its styling, then, was a bit long in the tooth from the get-go, in addition to being ill-tailored for the American market. So the cards were stacked against it, and the automotive press was cool in their appraisal of its looks; Edmunds wrote:

The M45 offers the sort of sheetmetal that would never get accused of walking on the wild side; viewed head-on, it calls to mind the infinitely unobtrusive Ford Crown Victoria, with a front end that’s broad and low. Wide rectangular high-intensity discharge xenon headlamps light the way, flanking a prominent, chunky grille. In back, rear overhang is significant.

Whatever the merits of the above critique, I think the car is a timeless classic. It will be said that in order to truly appreciate its lines, it helps to view it in the flesh. Last school year, a silver Y34 was always in the line of cars when I dropped my son off in the morning, and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Overall, the quality that stands out is proportion. Contrasting with more modern vehicles (even the current iteration of the M45) whose distribution of visual masses is more or less identical from car to car, differentiated only through details like splashes of chrome or sheetmetal flourishes, the Y34 M45 achieves its distinctiveness not through bling, but through relative sizing of key components like the greenhouse, beltline and overhangs. The upshot is that as automotive detail fashions (twin exhaust tips, clear taillights, etc) come and go, the emphasis on proportion gives the car a more tailored, classic feel, meaning the Y34 looks fresh even 8 years after its introduction. And even from a distance, when all you see are the proportions, you’ll never mistake it for anything else on the road, so it achieves a kind of distinctiveness in spite of itself. I love it; I’d drive one.

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:

11 Comments