Spannerhead Dot

The Curse of the Transitional Model

June 21, 2013 by Matt

I’m not arguing that these types of cars are unattractive as a rule, although many of them are. Whatever or not they’re pleasing to the eye, the one common visual quirk is that their design has dated itself very rapidly.

What constitutes a transitional model? They can be tricky to pin down at the time since they necessarily define themselves in part with respect to the models that follow them. That said, the main tip-off that a car’s styling falls into that category is a hesitancy in its design, details that lack conviction, that are neither here nor there. Here are a few examples:

Mercedes Benz C-Class W203 Wagon Estate Silver

Mercedes W203 C-Class. The proportions are well-executed, but the headlights are a dead giveaway of its transitional model status, being neither totally separate nor together but in a sort of “amoebas dividing” limbo.

Nissan Datsun Z31 300ZX 300-ZX Red

Nissan Z31 300ZX. The same goes for the Z31 300ZX. Neither fully exposed nor legitimate pop-ups, the Z31’s headlights reveal a lack of resolve on Nissan’s part, and make the car look far more “’80s” than its contemporaries like the Toyota Supra and Mazda RX-7.

Audi B7 A4 S4 RS4 Front Silver Gray Grey

Audi B7 A4. The German automaker’s first entry-level model with their now-signature “deep” grille, the B7 generation’s styling suffered from a rare tentativeness, odd for Audi, whose designs typically bristle with confidence.

Volkswagen VW Passat CC Rear Black

Volkswagen CC. The first time I saw a CC in the flesh, I admired VW’s attempt to bring the “four-door coupe” aesthetic down into the family car segment, but I also remember thinking, “That design will look very old in 5 to 10 years.” I still stand by that statement—its rear is afflicted with the same malady as that of the W203’s nose: Free-form blobs of taillights, barely related to any of the car’s other design elements.

Image credits:,

Filed under: Aesthetics


  1. John D says:

    As the last of three brothers, I would like to carry that analogy over to siblings and posit that middle siblings “necessarily define themselves in part with respect to the models (siblings) that follow them.” It just makes me feel that much more important and good about myself today. Sorry ‘tweenies…that’s just the way it is. ;)

    • Matt says:

      Well played, but are you sure younger siblings don’t define themselves just as much in part with respect to the models (siblings) that precede them? :)

      • John D says:

        Perhaps. But that’s generally the way the latest model is mostly assured of being much improved over it’s predecessor.

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