By on September 6, 2009

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beholders have beheld the new Honda Crosstour and found it not beautiful. Ugly, in fact. Ten years ago, this condem-nation wouldn’t have been a problem for the vehicle’s manufacturer. At worst, a few aesthetically-offended members of the automotive press would have nibbled the hand that feeds, gently alluding to the vehicle’s “challenging” exterior. Otherwise, the illusion that the Honda Crosstour isn’t a Gorgon-on-wheels would have been maintained—at least until “disappointing” sales proved the point. Those days are gone. These days, Honda’s decision to green light an ugly automobile has unleashed a major PR debacle. Welcome to the Internet, fellas. I did warn you.

True story. Once upon a time, I wrote that the Subaru B9 Tribeca was ugly. More specifically, I called the Subie SUV’s front end a “flying vagina.” Excrement and rotary air moving device collided. Subaru had me fired from my job as car reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle. The anti-TTAC backlash was fast and furious. BMW, Chrysler, Subaru, Toyota, GM—every single mainstream carmaker in the United States took TTAC off their press car list. Including Honda.

HoMoCo tried to dress up their contribution to the ban as a sudden realization that TTAC was too small for press car consideration. I didn’t argue the point. Why bother? We were small. But I told the PR flack in question that he was missing the point. The game was changing. Thanks to the Internet, the Japanese carmaker couldn’t hide from the truth about their cars. You know, eventually.

I figured GM’s bankruptcy would be the beginning of the end for decades of journalistic bribery and collusion. When the largest and most monolithic of the American automakers went down, the industry would realize they had to face the truth about their products, or face extinction. While I didn’t expect the chastened car companies to embrace their protagonist, I thought the post-GM C11 automakers would at least begin to see the value of a website that left no holds barred.

At that point, perhaps, carmakers might reach out to us and engage our writers and commentators in something roughly akin to a conversation. An open, honest and frank exchange of views about their vehicles’ shortcomings, leading to better products and customer relations. I predicted that the first car company to fully embrace Internet openness would have an enormous competitive advantage.

Here’s what I didn’t understand: TTAC was part of the problem. Yes, we host a not inconsiderable 1.1 million unique visitors per month. But we’re still an elitist outfit. Not to coin a phrase, we report, you decide. Old school. Or, more accurately, outdated.

The Crosstour controversy proves that the power of the truth has leapfrogged gatekeepers—both old and new—and landed on the keyboards of individual enthusiasts. To wit: a TTAC writer didn’t force Honda’s hand in the matter of its ugly ass CUV. Everyone did. Honda’s Facebook page was the medium. “The Crosstour is ugly” was the message.

And now that the message is out there, Honda can’t deal. Their efforts to do so, via their “Message to Fans,” misunderstands the fundamentally no-bullshit nature of Internet “debate.” By doing so, Honda only makes things worse.

Hi, Facebook fans. We’re listening, and we want to address a few things you’ve been talking about over the past few days. The photos: Arguably, the two studio photos we posted didn’t give you enough detail, nor were they the best to showcase the vehicle. There are more photos on the way. Maybe it’s like a bad yearbook photo or something, and we think the new photos will clear things up. It’s not the European wagon: We’ve seen a lot of comments about the desire for a wagon, but this is neither a wagon nor designed for wagon buyers. We think the Euro wagon is a cool vehicle, too, and we appreciate the feedback… but a version of that wasn’t our intention here. That’s another segment worthy of our consideration, but the Accord Crosstour, built on the larger, Accord platform, is meant to give you the best of two worlds – the versatility of an SUV with the sportiness of a car. Many of you don’t like the styling: It may not be for everyone. Our research suggests that the styling does test well among people shopping for a crossover.

Arguably? “A bad yearbook photo?” “Clear things up?” Honda’s rip-post is defensive, evasive, obfuscatory, condescending. Moreover, it shows that the automaker is so far out of the cultural loop they don’t realize that the phrase the “best of two worlds” evokes the deeply uncool Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus paradigm. And “We’re listening” brings to mind blowhard fictional shrink Frasier Crane. Taken as a whole, it’s hard to imagine Honda drafting a worse reply to their “fans” that doesn’t include the words FOAD.

More to the point, Honda fails to understand that the Internet wins. The web has revealed that their would-be emperor is buck naked and unattractive; rendering their previous product design and research worthless. And there’s nothing Honda can do to change this perception amongst the automotive opinion shapers. Because it’s not perception. It’s reality.

Honda can’t fix ugly. Unless, of course, they do. Honda could spend tens of millions of dollars to rectify this now-obvious mistake. Lest we forget, despite Subaru’s vicious anti-TTAC smear campaign, the car company quickly modified the Tribeca’s flying vagina front end into a Chrysler Pacifica-esque snout. Will Honda follow suit and change the Crosstour?

In some ways, it doesn’t matter. The autoblogosphere has forced Honda to face the truth about their car. For those of us who love cars—not forgetting that hatred is love turned upside down—the fact that Honda may be shamed into returning to product excellence is a truly wondrous thing.

It turns out that Gil Scott-Heron was right: the revolution will not be televised. It’s on Facebook.

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94 Comments on “Editorial: Honda Crosstour: You Can’t Fix Ugly. Or Can You?...”


  • avatar
    oldlt43

    Just want to give props to spyspeed for making mention of “It’s Alive” and the ZDX in the same sentence. I am always impressed with level of eruditeness (?) expressed by the readers of TTAC even though some of arcane knowledge shows a little too much familarity with the dark side. I had always thought I and three others were the only ones to have seen that film and its two sequels and the one remake in 2008.

    • 0 avatar
      passinglane

      Well written article! Keep ‘em coming!

      Preface:


      Sorry to revive an old thread, but this seems to be a good place to put this.

      My point of view does demonstrate that one man’s utopia can be another man’s hell.
      You might not like my view in the same way that I don’t care for Honda or Toyota’s view lately.

      Former Definition of Honda Automobiles:


      Cars that are small, efficient, and the embodiment of “form follows function”. The manufacturer’s motto “we make it simple”.

      Current Definition:
      Honda Crosstour, forced on all the other models until it swills down easier.

      I have owned 9 Honda vehicles, if I’m allowed to count Acura products as Honda. Each of them was reliable, sensible, conservatively styled (something most journalists would call “boring”, whereas I would call them “classic”), and fun to drive. I still have an Accord V6 EX with leather and no spy navigation system. Let that Accord rev a bit toward redline, and it just makes well intonated, beautiful music as it begs for someplace to really open it up. Every time I drive it on a mountain road or a pass another car, I mutter to myself (“Soichiro sure would have been proud of this magnificent engine”).

      I stopped buying Acura cars because it was not possible to avoid the tie-in GM OnStar system that was just a dead thing in the dash with no way to shut off its telemetric transmitters. I had just one of those. Later, I see that all Acura cars have a very ugly “beak”, plus no way to avoid even more subscription type options. Acura cars used to be clean and simple, similar to the early BMW automobiles they imitated, but without the premature brake wear and reliability issues or price tag. The boat-tail for retired real estate agents didn’t help much either.

      When we went to trade in the Accord V6 EX, which handles and feels like a sports car to drive), all the dealer could show us was the new models that have the look of flashlights duct taped to the foil covering a Thanksgiving turkey. Extending from every corner on the new Accord is a few thousand dollars of bulbous, fragile plastic that probably explodes on contact at less than one mile per hour. Things sticking out everywhere. To really add insult to injury, the new V6 has the cylinder disabling technology ala Cadillac that is sure to create reliability issues in the future, if not expensive repairs. Today’s automotive dealerships simply do not have much in the way of repair capability – imagine the nightmares if anything goes wrong. The old Honda motor company once offered its CVCC design to Cadillac for free because they felt sorry for Cadillac, whose cars had the V8-6-4 technology.

      How things have changed! Now Cadillac makes no more large sedans – they are getting smaller (sedans, not trucks such as the Escalade), yet Honda keeps bloating up bigger and uglier.

      Toyota seems to share the same ideas lately – have a look at the 2010 4Runner. Same flashlights taped to the fenders, same expensive plastic to cause a 7,000 repair bill after a small rub from a pucker bush on a trail.

      Japanese culture once regarded modesty highly. Americans, while not modest, often found practical benefit in that modesty as well as some inspiration. To drive a Honda was a way to be seen as successful yet practical and modest. Look at all the HUGE lettering on the cars now – 4RUNNER in HUGE chrome letters. More and more, Honda and Toyota are becoming the Cadillac of the past.

      Message to Honda and Toyota – economy and small cars need to stay trim, light, agile and clean. Your cars need to be reasonably simple where possible, be fun to drive, remain reliable, and for the most part, avoid all the needless accessories on every model. Your cars need to be easy to purchase (remember, Honda used to have only 3 trim levels). Toyota, your 4Runner needs to fit between rocks and bushes that a Hummer H1 cannot, and it must be retrievable from a narrow road without dynamite and a special helicopter. Making the thing bulkier only makes it ugly. Toyota – for the street people, give them a super bad-ass Highlander with AWD and a supercharged V8, but please put the 4Runner back to being a clean, metal-bodied truck with at least a couple of utility hooks and a place to put a winch, a camera or two, and perhaps bummers that somebody could actually clamp lights or accessories to without damaging the vehicle.

      Honda and Toyota have eaten of the ugly tree, and they will blame other things. For 4Runner, they will blame the electronics or the colors. Honda will keep blaming the soft economy or their photographs. They will still sell their cars until their reliability goes away, and that’s happening too.

      Honda and Toyota, you can always start another brand to cater to those who might like a catfish suppository with wheels and WIFI on-demand advertising. (Oh wait, Toyota, you could do that with Scion by changing the breadbox into a tube).

      If they listened to us, they might know that we want no-frills quality, repairable, durable vehicles that work well for their design class. A 4WD truck should remain great at 4WD where there are bushes, potholes and washboards. An Accord should be mid-small size and have a decent trunk while allowing the occasional sports drive on the way back from dropping the kids off from school. Both should last long enough to hand down to one of the kids when they grow up.

      Oh – I got it! What they are REALLY doing is preparing to merge with General Motors to form a new Pan-American Car Company – the quality of GM, the styling of BMW with an Edsel influence, and local manufacturing? Local manufacturing probably makes a lot of sense – the point here is that they are lowering the levels of quality and design standards.

      Blame Bangle and BMW for all of this? Sure. But it won’t do any good. Bangle lovers are contrarians by nature. Honda and Toyota, shame on you for imitating the part that doesn’t work so well – those cars will not be classics. Worse, the new head of styling at BMW pledges to carry on the same. It’s hopeless to dream of a clean and classic BMW again. Maybe it’s time for a new TV show – “Orca the Mutant Whale”, starring the BMW 6 series. It’s too late. Honda and Toyota have both internalized the Bangle, and now its rings bulge front and rear, distorting the whole car into a sort of boiled bratwurst with tied off ends.

      Honda, there are some exceptions. Your S2000 was a masterful rendition of the small sports car – Miata / MG in size, but with legroom and a spirited little engine that gave it that feeling of riding a great sports motorcycle. Small, but not a “girls-only” type car, with plenty of legroom. Sadly, that one is gone – a future classic because of its reliability, decent handling and moderate to low entry cost. The issue? Nice styling killed it? NO! The reality probably was that having barely enough room inside for a set of golf clubs just doesn’t cut it now that the economy here is shrinking. Who knows? Could Honda have a new sports car in the design shop to replace the S2000? A sports car with a tape worm styling called the Cestoda 3000?

      Honda and Toyota, thanks for subsidizing our weak dollar, and thanks for letting us have so many years of great cars. It’s obvious that now you can no longer do that. When your cars are too expensive, and they simply must get more expensive in dollars, we’ll have to restore our old cars that lay silently in the fields and deserts of our vast country. Oops! I forgot, we sold that scrap to another country so that we could have some cheap kitchen appliances.

      Honda, remember the saying “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down”. If you take that to heart, you’ll once again make cars that I want to buy. I’m in the market right now, and you have nothing I want!. Be modest, be practical. Trim the fat. Tone down the brash designs. Restore reliability. Keep it simple if you can.

      Honda and Toyota, the worst part is that there is no way to contact you. You leave us no choice but to write on a board. With luck, your Internet searches will find this post.

      Honda and Toyota – you were truly great. Soichero, may you rest in peace – your lifetime accomplishments are an inspiration to this American.

      To any decent manufacturer out there – build it and we will come. Don’t talk it, just do it. Drive the thing yourself while your at it, you might learn something.

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    What’s wrong with Honda? They were once the altar on which the vast middle class prayed. They built a jet plane – just because they could. But now they can’t build a car outside their comfort zone to save themselves. Just look at what they did to Acura. What’s next: a revival of Sterling?

    At least they still make a good snow blower.

  • avatar
    Jeff in NH

    I’m very happy that Honda has released such a polarizing design in the form of this Crosstour. Love it or hate it, this automobile is now seared in the memory of millions of car enthusiasts, not to mention the memory of those summoned to the enthusiasts’ computers in a moment of “share the awe” (alternatively, “share the morbid fascination”).

    The worst thing that Honda could do now is bow to the collective “wisdom” of the masses. There’s a very good reason why design-by-committee is derided in a vast number of professional fields; if you have to ask, your brain can’t afford the answer.

    All of this is simply my opinion, of course. I find the Element beautiful, purely a consequence of its supreme functionality as a transportation device. Does this make me an aberration? I like to think so.

  • avatar

    Jeff in NH:

    The worst thing that Honda could do now is bow to the collective “wisdom” of the masses.

    You mean give the people what they want?

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    I thought the stereotypical import buyer didn’t care much about looks, just ticking off the boxes on the spec sheet. At least that’s what happened the last few times I went car-shopping.

    The Crosstour will likely sell okay, controversy and vortex-inducing grill included. Heck, thanks to CfC Toyota sold almost 8500 Venzas last month.

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    You know what? They’re still going to sell plenty of them. Why? They’re Honda- they’ve been selling ugly vehicles for quite some time and nobody seems to have cared. Is this really any uglier than the Ridgeline? The Element? The Accord sedan?

    The only thing Honda screwed up was its marketing- it should’ve been dictating to its customers “you’ll like this, damnit” just like BMW has been doing ever since it shunned timeless design for ugly du jour. BMWs aren’t even good cars anymore, but their sales are through the roof. Why? Because they tell their customers they’re going to like the car, so they do. How else do you explain the X6?

    That’s GM’s problem as well. Hell, GM is the pioneer of this wretched category. These vehicles all should bow down to the Pontiac Aztek from which they were ripped off. But GM lacked the clout to cram it down the throats of their customers. GM is forced to sell pleasant-looking vehicles and beg you for the sale.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Irvine

    I tend to agree with “Jeff in NH”. The current Hollywood studio process of showing various endings to movie test audiences and going with the popular choice has resulted in bland pap relying on special effects to entertain. Real stories only come from the independent producers. The same will become true of cars. If the big guys make only “what the people ask for” they will become the lowest common denominator in the motor industry. Honda may have made a mistake this time but ….. maybe next time.

  • avatar

    Not so bad from this particular angle. Just from the other 359.

    And does anyone really think that this design wasn’t evaluated in clinics? This is what happened despite any research.

    As for next time, how many more “next times” do they get? Not too many design winners from Honda or Acura in the past five years.

  • avatar
    lawmonkey

    Here’s a question – is the target market for this vehicle likely to be clued in to negative press on Twitter and auto-friendly websites?

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    OK, side rant here. Why does every crossover have to be bigger, heavier, fatter, bulkier, more caricaturish, and just plain balloon like?

    Whenever I see one, I think that the driver must be old, obese or both. It’s like looking at an SUV with a guilt complex.

    Cars like this Honda just make me realize that the classic ‘brick’ design of old Volvo wagons will continue to endure. Those with ovoids aplenty will simply come to pass.

    If Honda wants to appeal to families, they need to build bricks. Everything else in the CUV market already has 17 different swoops.

    NOTE TO HONDA: The real successor to the family wagon, was the Ford Explorer. Start with the box and make it functional as hell. Leave the plastique and squid inspired curvatures to whoever ends up buying Pontiac’s old tooling.

  • avatar
    esg

    If they would tighten that ass up, I would buy one. Wait a minute, are we talking about a vehicle or a woman?

  • avatar
    Jeff in NH

    Robert Farago:

    You mean give the people what they want?

    I mean compromise a design to suit everyone’s tastes. Nearly half the comments I’ve read on the Crosstour claim its front end is fine, just the back needs a redesign; a similar number claim the opposite. Lastly, a small percentage revert to childish claims that we’re harming the future of human society with the release of this car. This is all fine by me, naturally – I’m an ardent supporter of freedom of expression. These reactions also make me laugh, which is the greatest value I can derive from the whole episode.

    What concerns me is that progress will never be made by those that are forced to retract risky endeavors consequent to critical reaction. The best art, the best science, the best technological advancement is made by those that risk eliciting passions, good or bad, in those observing the process or product. Otherwise you end up with a Toyota. Perhaps Honda has a longer-term goal in mind with this particular design, one with a broader impact on the automobile industry; the company does have a reputation for long-term thinking. I don’t want to sound like an apologist here – just that I don’t believe this to be a simple case of ugly.

    I’m glad Honda took this risk, and I hope that its response to the deafening roar is equally venturesome.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Beauty is only skin deep.

    Ugly goes down to the bone.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Millions of consumers, including TTAC’s 1.1 million unique monthly visitors, know the automakers own the traditional auto journalists, publications and Internet sites. They no longer look to them for the facts they need to avoid wasting time and money on cars that fall short of expectations. If their traditional mouthpieces and shills cannot deliver buyers the carmakers must reevaluate their strategy, or perish.

  • avatar
    modemjunki

    I’m thinking it’s time to pack up and head for the hills, it’s all gone crazy now…

    Honda and Toyota both come out with cars that aren’t bland but instead downright ugly. Subaru comes out with multiple models that are mainstream and appealing.

  • avatar
    Mental Issues

    Steven Lang:

    Cars like this Honda just make me realize that the classic ‘brick’ design of old Volvo wagons will continue to endure. Those with ovoids aplenty will simply come to pass.

    As someone who believes that that Volvo 960 was the most beautiful car ever made, I hope that you’re right. Some of the current Audi wagons come close to my aesthetic ideal, but there’s still nothing more attractive than the 960′s long, squared-off lines and big greenhouse.

  • avatar
    Detroit Todd

    The worst thing that Honda could do now is bow to the collective “wisdom” of the masses.

    You mean give the people what they want?

    They aren’t even in the same galaxy of what people want.

  • avatar
    jmhm2003

    Sure, it may be ugly, but it still is better looking than the current queen of the ugly stick. I speak of course of the BMW X6. No one does ugly better than the Germans. So here, from Honda, you get 1/2 the ugly for less than half the price! I predict they sell all of them.

  • avatar
    stepon

    I think it is not pretty in the way we’d like to expect. It may be tuned to become endearing with time. Designed to be owned than purchased, approached than ogled. Maybe Honda’s design ethic doesn’t include anyone who actually cares to comment on a Facetube. People who marry tend not to shout about intimacy, this car may appeal to them. It may appeal to the middle class with as stable a home as finances. The kind of people who want to buy a Honda probably just don’t care what a bunch of opinionated narcissists leave as their digital graffiti. They’d just square a fair deal for it and become increasingly contented as their affection for their trusty Honda grew with their families. Again, I wouldn’t know. I think its a cubist hippo in drag.

  • avatar
    Hank

    Read the FB note…”Our research suggests that the styling does test well among people shopping for a crossover.”

    The Crosstour is a design by committee (or focus group, to be more accurate). That’s the problem. A bunch of people who wouldn’t know a Ford Fiesta from a chimichanga loved it.

  • avatar
    Potemkin

    Yes ugly is a form of freedom of expression, which is fine if you are an artist but not so good if your aim is to sell a lot of these objects d’art. What kills you as a car company is when you spend millions to build a vehicle that can only be described as fugly. Customers today vote with their feet. If they don’t like your product they have lots of other sources of the same type of product to choose from so you need to get it right the first time. What amazes me is that car companies pay out millions in market research money and don’t get much for their money. If I was Honda I would fire the market researchers who said this is what people wanted. Oh, I forgot this is the auto industry, the guys who screwed up probably got a bonus and a promotion.

  • avatar
    holydonut

    You should still consider that the beholders are fickle and change their beholdingness when it suits them.

    Does anyone remember all of the horrible “the sky is falling on my Subaru” rantings when the latest Impreza sedan and hatch launched? I believe the term suppository was used quite often to describe the car, and many die-hard customers asserted they would never consider the car because it was too ugly.

    But guess what – most of that fervor has died down. Heck, read those magazines (oh wait, you guys hate print magazines and think they’re poo… nevermind). Most long term testers of the car reiterate the notion that they think the car’s styling isn’t as bad now versus when they acquired the vehicle to their test fleet. And most consumers/owners I know recognize it’s not as ugly now as they first feared.

    I think this Crosstour incident has two components. One is Honda removing the comments from their Facebook page. Obviously a corporation would rather suppress negative feedback from their public media postings, but there seems to be some that believe this is cowardly. I’m sure if your sister knocked up you wouldn’t want somone to post a “slut” sign on your lawn even if it could be true to some beholders.

    The second issue is whether or not Honda should invest money in an emergency facelift… which I’m sure they are not going to do until about the 2013 model year.

  • avatar
    d002

    I’m sorry this is not as ugly as all Toyotas are currently (what’s with the nobs ?), and they have no problems selling.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    The idea above of a “revival of Sterling” brought to mind the five-door hatch version of the Acura Legend-based (Rover) Sterling sedan sold 20 years ago in the US. This was not a bad-looking car by any means, and was presumably aimed at the same market as this new Honda 5-door; it’s a shame that Sterling so quickly became an orphan marque (and deservedly so, from what I remember reading about their build quality).

  • avatar
    Lug Nuts

    The Crosstour is obviously Honda’s half-hearted (half-witted?) attempt to counter the Toyota Venza. The outcome should be little different than the new Insight versus the new Prius. If Honda continues down the road of delivering bunt singles, Toyota’s most direct Asian competition will soon be the duo of Hyundai and Kia.

  • avatar
    jimble

    I wouldn’t care so much about this thing’s aesthetic shortcomings if the shape had some utilitarian benefit. But it doesn’t. Rear-quarter visibility must be horrendous, and the sloped roofline destroys the thing’s capacity as a luggage hauler. Honda earned its reputation in the US market as a manufacturer of vehicles that were effective and efficient. Trim, blandly attractive designs reinforced the impression of purposefulness. The excess bulk of the current Accord has done some damage to that hard-earned reputation, but the Crosstour threatens to wreck it completely.

    A good historical analogy might be the Rambler Marlin, which was American Motors’ attempt to break away from a reputation as a maker of boring cars for little old ladies. Instead of making the company look hip, the Marlin made it look foolish and wasteful. Does Honda really want to head down that road?

  • avatar
    volvo

    Honda’s response sounds a lot like a letter sent from an elected official to a voter who questioned their stand on an issue.

    The Crosstour looks are not for me but the main problem with the design is use of space and outward visibility.

    I also am a fan of the Volvo 240/740/940 series (the bricks). Not because they are beautiful cars but because they are so functional. Reliable, lots of room and very good visibility. I would take that over an additional 5mpg any day.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    Photos of the Sterling 827 5-door hatch I mentioned earlier can be found online, and they show a car with uncompromised outward visibility; it really is possible in this configuration. Down with high beltlines!

    I agree with jimble, above, that “Honda earned its reputation in the US market as a manufacturer of vehicles that were effective and efficient. Trim, blandly attractive designs reinforced the impression of purposefulness.” In the 1980s my siblings bought several new Hondas, two-door hatchbacks of increasing size: a 1983 Civic 1300 (4-speed, 12-inch wheels) and ’84 and ’87 Accord LX’s – very purposeful cars all, and in addition the 5-speed ’87 was really fast when required.

    As for the Rambler Marlin: the 1967 Ambassador-based model (with stacked headlamps) was much more dignified and pretty than the garish 1965-66′s, but by then it was too late.

  • avatar
    zc1

    If the Crosstour had looked like everything else on the road (i.e. if Honda had taken the Hyundai/Kia/Toyota route) then people would have complained about how boring/bland the vehicle is.

    Until recently, I didn’t appreciate what (I think) Honda is trying to do. Honda has taken a risk over the last several years, and decided to build vehicles that *don’t* conform to what the auto industry has decided defines “beauty” for this period in automotive design. Does it really make sense to fault them for that?

    I’m not saying that we should completely reverse our stand and declare Honda the saviours of automotive design — I think many of their interiors are becoming unnecessarily cluttered and distracting, and I still think most of their recent designs (eg. Accord, Civic coupe, Element) look awkward — but that maybe we should remind ourselves that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

    I don’t like the styling of the Crosstour, but I certainly respect Honda for building it (and the ZDX) and trying to stand out from the crowd…ok, along with the X6 and Venza, but you get the point. Honda could have gone for mass appeal and designed a Toyotahyundaikia Camrygenesisorento and had it sell very well. To be honest, though, now I’m glad that they didn’t; their investors probably don’t share that sentiment.

  • avatar

    The worst thing that Honda could do now is bow to the collective “wisdom” of the masses.

    Bullshit. Honda has already bowed to the “wisdom” of the masses.

    Our research suggests that the styling does test well among people shopping for a crossover.

    This is where the friggin’ car fails. Honda tried to make a crossover because “that’s what people want”. This has nothing to do with avant-garde styling and everything to do with plain ol’ corporate cynicism. The car looks ugly because it’s trying to be something it isn’t. If it were an SUV and tried to look like a station wagon we’d have an AMC Eagle and it would be just as ugly.

    Americans continue to ask for a station wagon. Automakers continue to give them “crossovers” because “that’s what Americans want”.

    You can try to make a cocker spaniel look like a pitbull but why on Earth would you?

  • avatar
    frizzlefry

    Hate to say it but much has to do with the brand. If only such disgust was raised about the BMW Bangle Butt. THAT is hideous AND ruined the look of some really nice looking bimmers. And the Cadillac BLS sport wagon? It received some acclaim for its good looks (TTAC excluded). People, it looks like a Saab SportCombi which came out years ago. And the SportCombi was pretty much ignored.

    That said, this thing is ugly. But the people in the market for it are the same people who bought the Aztek. They are not enthusiasts, and want to look “different” while picking up the kids. In trying to stand out they will look ugly, and won’t even know it until years later when it’s widely agreed in the pages of car and driver that their car is ugly (just in time for new redesign to come out). Then they will fork out for the latest different looking car, and Honda’s sales will not be affected.

  • avatar
    marc_m

    It’s not that ugly now, is it? I don’t really care much for that, but what I do care about is Honda’s attitude, which is …. wrong… I guess that Honda is on the downward spiral now… They used to make decent vehicles…

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    So Honda bombed with the POS Insight and now this? Wow, really swingin and whiffin.

    Not what you’d expect from Honda. A mistake every now and then, well, maybe ok. But two in a row? 3 if you count the ZDX?

    This is not the Honda from the 90s that I loved. Its a damn shame.

  • avatar
    pnnyj

    “holydonut :
    Does anyone remember all of the horrible “the sky is falling on my Subaru” rantings when the latest Impreza sedan and hatch launched? I believe the term suppository was used quite often to describe the car, and many die-hard customers asserted they would never consider the car because it was too ugly.

    But guess what – most of that fervor has died down. Heck, read those magazines (oh wait, you guys hate print magazines and think they’re poo… nevermind). Most long term testers of the car reiterate the notion that they think the car’s styling isn’t as bad now versus when they acquired the vehicle to their test fleet. And most consumers/owners I know recognize it’s not as ugly now as they first feared.”

    All that proves is that long term exposure to a strong stimulus desensitizes one to its effects.

    Besides, how many owners are going to say to their neighbour: “Yeah, the car I paid $20 grand+ for is butt ugly (and gets lousy gas mileage.) I have absolutely no aesthetic taste or common sense.”

    As for the magazine testers they’re professional turd polishers.

    The Impreza is still as ugly as ever.

  • avatar
    Blue387

    That rear reminds me of the Hyundai Elantra.

  • avatar
    cpmanx

    Seems to me there are 3 issues here.

    Is it ugly? I find it moderately unattractive. I still say it looks like a guppy with an eating disorder, or like an X6 shoved into a pencil sharpener. But styling is subjective, so all this discussion is very entertaining but of course ultimately unanswerable.

    Is it bad design? Here I think it’s safe to say a clear-cut yes (echoing jimble). Honda made its reputation on clever engineering and thoughtful design. The bloated fastback look here means significantly compromised visibility and cargo space, and so far the company has mentioned nary an interesting engineering detail. This from the company that brought us the Civic CVCC (right up to the cleverly packaged Fit). Honda’s idea of Americanized design seems to be elevating styling above function, which would be misguided even if the styling were top-notch.

    Is the opinion of the Facebook masses important? Well heck yeah, since the early buzz has a huge impact on whether or not people think they are buying a cool car. Honda utterly messed up in this regard, failing to understand that naysayers are more vocal than fans, that any polarizing design is going to bring on the hate, and that the resulting publicity is just going to look terrible.

    In the company’s defense, we all know that posters love to get hot under the collar, and then the emotions just feed on each other. It’s not just about cars–almost any political blog ends up with commentators calling each other Hitler. If 99 percent of the public hates the Crosstour and 1 percent loves it enough to buy it, that would make the car a solid hit.

    The problem for Honda is that this logic might have worked in the old, one-way media world–but now that 1 percent (or whatever) knows that the other 99 percent thinks this CUVish thing is hideous. That’s a tough stigma to overcome.

    I strongly sympathize with the people here writing in defense of polarizing design. Honda’s mistake, though, was not being too adventurous. It was trying to have things both ways–to follow the masses with a CUV while making halfhearted attempts at differentiation, to submit the car to the very harsh consumer clinic that is Facebook while making halfhearted defenses of artistic purity.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    Honda have spent the last 15 years trying to be BMW, but with FWD.

    Now this abomination proves they weren’t watching for their own breaking point and followed the leader into a sand-trap.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    Remember the movie Snakes on a Plane? While the Crosstour looks pretty damn ugly to me, too, one thing should be remembered about Internet buzz – it’s been wrong before.

    Honda seems to be doing about as well as can be expected on dealing with and confronting the Facebook assault on what is admittedly a ‘polarizing’ design. I mean, what are they supposed to do? Say, “Yeah, you guys are all correct, the car looks like hell, don’t buy it”?

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ rudiger

    I mean, what are they supposed to do? Say, “Yeah, you guys are all correct, the car looks like hell, don’t buy it”?

    Maybe. Are Honda committed to it? Is it all tooled up and ready for production? If not, then they ought to take another look at their market research.

    Toyota’s “bland” designs work because they do not offend the eyes. They’re right down the middle, very deliberately. You read stories about this car, the hideous X6, the “smiley faced” Mazdas, the guppy mouthed Audi’s etc, because they tend to polarise. The worst people say about Toyota is “bland” – that’s an achievement.

  • avatar
    PanzerJaeger

    Excellent editorial. I bet Honda’s wishing Facebook had a “comments disabled” option like Youtube. I’ve been checking back every time I get on Facebook and the hits just keep rolling in. Who would have thought there were so many creative ways to say a car is ugly?

  • avatar
    wmba

    Very well reasoned editorial. I believe it is spot on.

    I remember that the first truly ugly car produced was the 1982 or so Chevy Monte Carlo, which even C/D saw as a blight on the landscape.

    Despite Horbury’s enforced return to Sweden to style Volvos, his observations on styling are to the point. No more nightmares for him, attempting to conceive such zombie-walking whale toothed front grille absurdities as the Lincoln whatever its name is version of the Flex.

    The Japanese just don’t get it when it comes to styling. I’ve read that all the whiz-bang curlicues on Japanese cars are for drivers stuck in endless Tokyo traffic jams. Yes, they get to appreciate little styling flourishes on various vehicles, because the place is so crowded, they never get to see the car as a whole. Is that why the Venza has a ridiculous winglet just below the rear wagon window?

    Meanwhile, this new Honda’s front looks like the rictus-like grin of a walking skeleton in a sci-fi movie.

    The Koreans make much better looking cars. Saw a Kia Soul and a Nissan Qube together recently. One is smart and saucy, the other is the blob from the swamp.

    Meanwhile, Honda’s actions on Facebook are as I predicted. They are just going to sulk, and foist this vehicle onto the landscape. They’re going to show US who’s right if it kills them.

  • avatar
    findude

    I’ll throw in my lot with the folks who want a real station wagon (hint, it has a near-vertical hatch). I’ve had Volvo 850s, 740s, and 240s and I agree that they define the genre.

    But what I’m really pining for is some good ol’ function over form (practicality) along with some understated elegance. And, yes, this is a lofty and difficult design goal.

    One of the print mags used to do a “biggest box” test in which they assembled “boxes” out of PVC pipe and joints. They duly reported the biggest box that they could get in the car and close all the openings. It’s an excellent test; please bring it back.

    I think the Ford Flex is a good honest effort in this genre. I’d seriously consider one if it were 10% smaller and had no third row.

  • avatar
    tscurt

    When did Chris Bangle start working for Honda???

  • avatar
    Autosavant

    “# Robert Farago :
    September 6th, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    Jeff in NH:

    The worst thing that Honda could do now is bow to the collective “wisdom” of the masses.

    You mean give the people what they want?”

    Hi Bob, thanks and congrats for your excellent site and for allowing us to comment (Unlike our buddy Autoextremist..LOL)

    Cars designed by committee suck. If the committee has 310 million members instead of one, will they suck any less?

    A great car designer should be able to give the people not what they want NOW, but what they will want 4 years from now anyway, since it takes about that long to go from concept to production, and then remember it has to be produced basically uncnahged for 4-6 years to make a dime.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    The key question that will need to be watched is: will consensous on the ‘net translate to the real world. As the influences have grown it’s become a valid question whether mass opinion reflects reality.

    Honda has become more American focussed as it has aged, I think to its detriment. Wrong models, larger sizes and styling that is meant to appeal to the US market will only work so long.

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    It’s not the European wagon: We’ve seen a lot of comments about the desire for a wagon, but this is neither a wagon nor designed for wagon buyers.

    Sounds like “Yes we know you want the European wagon, but nothing you say or do will make us sell them here. This is not designed for wagon buyers. In fact, nothing we sell in this country is designed for wagon buyers. Get over it.”

    And that’s supposed to be good communication in the Web 2.0 age?

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    Contrary to most I don’t think it’s such an ugly car. Much better looking than the X6. If Honda can sell the Element they can certainly sell this. Even though it’s not the class of vehicle I would buy I think it’s a distinctive entry. Honda IMO proved a long time ago it wasn’t the styling that sold their vehicles.

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    @mtymsi :
    Honda IMO proved a long time ago it wasn’t the styling that sold their vehicles.

    Counterpoint: Civic hatchback. Looks much less bland than the last generation and sells much better.

  • avatar
    jeremy5000

    Do I jump on the bandwagon or not? All I have to say is Honda basically releases nothing but ugly cars with a pretty one here and there probably by accident. I think the truth is that crossovers are never pretty, ever, but this one will likely make up for it in usefulness and years of reliability, as most Hondas do.

  • avatar
    Billy Bobb 2

    Mugen Type R Crosstour FTW!

  • avatar

    Why is it that North America seems to be such a fertile ground for bloated vehicles such as this one? In Europe Toyota Matrix or Elantra Touring would be considered good-size cars, yet here they are “compacts”. The argument that there is much more space here (NA) is not really true for urban areas. It seems that in Europe people are more practical in some ways. Or could it be laziness of NA folks? One can easily fit tons of stuff into a Matrix with a little bit of thinking, but it might be much easier to loosely throw stuff in the back of an SUV. I think there are very few bloated vehicles that look good.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The car doesn’t move me and I wouldn’t particularly want one. But I don’t see the disaster that others here see, either.

    I have my doubts that the average member of the target audience is going to find this design particularly offensive. Car enthusiasts probably don’t provide the best barometer for judging the reaction of the public at large.

    It strikes me that if there is a sales problem here, it’s with the sloping rear hatch. That move must have compromised cargo capacity, which means that it won’t compare well to its competition when it comes to what CUV buyers (claim to) need.

    It seems that in Europe people are more practical in some ways.

    The practicality gene tends to kick in when fuel is expensive.

  • avatar
    shaker

    People have been lamenting the loss of the Civic hatchback here, hell, hatchbacks in general. What we were bamboozled into were SUV’s and CUV’s to get that function – imports and domestics both guilty, so those big vehicles were essentially (gently) forced on Americans. Thus, profits soared as people who could have easily lived day-to-day with Civic and Cobalt hatchbacks/mini wagons (remember the boxy, cool little Cavalier wagon?) were buying something much larger than they intended.

    I think if gas had stayed @ $4/gal, this thing would not have seen the light of day.

    Now, the schitzo side of the argument: Older folks will appreciate the ride height, ease of entry/exit, relative utility and efficiency of this vehicle, and the male purchaser will appreciate having a “sportback” CUV that is different than the NDN (next-door-neighbors). Teamed with Honda reliability, it’s quite possible (if gas prices stay stable) that sales targets will be met.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    @Micheal Blue: people have gotten large, kids’ cars seats even more so. My first thought looking at that booty was, “Can it fit 3 car seats in the rear?”

    I was recently thinking about the lauded 1982 Accord sedan, the first of several Hondas my parents had. A vehicle that size, smaller than the Fit (and with 2/3 the horsepower) would be laughed out of the marketplace today.

  • avatar
    Patrickj

    20 years ago, this type of 4-door hatch was part of an entirely practical and popular class of vehicles. I would have bought a Mazda 626 hatch at the time if I could have found one without a sunroof (which left me without enough headroom).

    This Accord isn’t hideously ugly and is likely to be reasonably practical. It is way too porky to carry off the hatchback style, I’m afraid.

  • avatar
    Wizerud

    I find the car inoffensive, certainly no more of an eye-sore than the regular Accord but the main question is…

    …is the car any good? Guess we’ll find out.

  • avatar

    I have to reserve my final judgment until I see one up close and personal, but I’m not as repulsed by it as a lot of people seem to be. What I object to is the basic concept of taking a sedan, grafting on a hatchback, jacking it up a bit and calling it a “crossover.”

    As far as its looks are concerned, practically every other automaker has one or two (or three or four) models that look like they were the result of a bad acid trip while watching anime. It would appear that automotive styling is a dying art.

    And I can’t help but wonder what would have been the reaction had Honda had a Facebook page for the Ridgeline before they released it!

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    @Patrickj :
    20 years ago, this type of 4-door hatch was part of an entirely practical and popular class of vehicles.

    It still is today in the Rest Of The World™.
    Mazda6, Toyota Avensis, Opel Insignia, Ford Mondeo are all available in sedan/hatch/wagon – for the Mondeo, it’s about 80% wagons and 18% hatchbacks, the sedan is kind of rare.

    @Frank Williams :
    What I object to is the basic concept of taking a sedan, grafting on a hatchback, jacking it up a bit and calling it a “crossover.”

    Exactly. Just try the following recipe:
    1) Take a sedan
    2) Graft on a hatchback
    3) Call it a hatchback
    4) Profit

  • avatar
    bucksnort

    It looks a little like the new Porsche Panamerica
    from this angle.

  • avatar
    Srynerson

    I’m not a big fan of the Crosstour design, but I’m a little bit puzzled about the broader Honda bashing that seems to be going on with it. Isn’t the Fit generally considered a big success? I’m also pretty sure that Honda’s U.S. market share has noticeably increased over the past year, so the company seems to be doing something right.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    So, so many years after the “Flying Vagina” debacle. When will the auto makers and MSM lift their ban on TTAC?

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    I’m with Srynerson. The Crosstour is no beauty, but it works. What matters is how it looks in person, and since none of us have actually seen it up close….

    The people bashing Honda more broadly should consider how it is that Honda has been gaining market share in the U.S. so consistently. They might be interested to see that Honda is actually profitable, unlike just about every other carmaker.
    They might recall that many of the B&B bashed the CR-V’s nose 3 years ago, just before it became the bestselling SUV in America.

    Maybe Honda just builds better cars.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    You know what, I’m glad we have cars that do crazy shit and try new things and styles. It keeps things interesting. I hope that Honda succeeds with this car and a better version evolves in the next generation.

    It is probably the reason I hate the new Camaro. It is a rehash of the 67 (i think) with 20″ wheels. Where is the creativity in that? What new is going to evolve out of that? If it isn’t difficult, it isn’t worth doing.

  • avatar
    Rspaight

    Can we call a moratorium on the word “fugly,” please?

  • avatar

    I actually like the looks overall, though don’t love it. The front grill didn’t need to be that large, but it’s not bad. Like I said on their Facebook page, I’m not the target market. Even if it is AWD, it’s FWD-based AWD and I’m a RWD kinda guy. Now if they got smart like Audi and started making their AWD rear-biased, I wouldn’t dismiss it outright.

    As many Buick Rendezvous (tarted up Aztek) as I see on the road, people will surely buy something that’s not even remotely that ugly and comes with Honda reliability.

    Also, Honda does need new photographers. The “better” pics aren’t very good. I think I might even be able to take better snaps given a decent SLR.

    Also, it amuses me when people start comparing 20 year old cars to new ones (weight, design, etc.). The old Sterling didn’t have to conform to newer rollover standards and would probably crumple up if it did end up on it roof. More and more new cars are going to have thicker pillars, even if we don’t like them (myself included).

  • avatar
    George B

    I wish Honda had just offered a much less rounded station wagon version of the Accord. A non-humpback/non-fastback body style like the Mazda6 wagon would look much better. Better yet, don’t make the Crosstour and simply bring the European market Accord wagon to the US as the Acura TSX wagon and drop a V6 into it.

    What happened between the 2004-2008 Acura TL, in my opinion the most attractive Honda, and their current trend toward ugly? Did they hire different staff or management at their California design studio? Hard to blame Japan for all the big ugly US market models. It’s ok for Honda styling to be bland as long as the basic proportions are ok and the vehicle does it’s job well.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Honda has deleted the comments again.

    … What I object to is the basic concept of taking a sedan, grafting on a hatchback, jacking it up a bit and calling it a “crossover.”

    +1

    I think the Crosstour is ugly, but then I think that of each and every crossover I’ve ever seen.

    All automakers produce some ugly ducklings. To my mind the bigger problem is diluting the Accord name by attaching it to this thing. Honda, do some research and find out what happened to Olds when they tried to call damn near everything they sold a “cutlass”. This is a different vehicle. It needs a different name.

  • avatar
    segfault

    “Our research suggests that the styling does test well among people shopping for a crossover.”

    They must’ve hired the same focus group that green-lighted the Pontiac Aztek. The Crossturd’s styling would be forgivable if it accelerated, handled, and stopped as well as an X6 (at half the price).

  • avatar
    hiptech

    There have been many occasions where I have wished for the opportunity to be a “fly on the wall” during vehicle design reviews. You know listen in when someone shows a new design that everyone looks at and says “oh, that has potential.” Then you might understand how political posturing and ass kissnig might have justified a new model that is completely hideous.

    Either that, or I wish I could have interviewed the lead design manager and asked… “what the hell we’re you guys thinking (or smoking) when you came up with that one!?”

    But lately it seems Honda (and several other manufacturers) have lost their minds or at the very least, their way – and not geographically speaking either.

    It started a few years ago when Toyota designers began to drink the Kool-Aid and redid the the ’07 Camry. Honda quickly followed when they infected the all new ’08 Accord, the hideous design-disease migrated faster than the H1N1 virus through the company including the Acura lineup; MDX, TSX, RL, RDX and so on. With each succeeding design change, Honda single-handedly ruined what once were some of the best (albeit conservative) looking models available within the USDM.

    Perhaps it was stressed out over worked workers making due with less. Or perhaps hubris, possibly nepotism but whatever or whoever it was someone needs to be held accountable. Someone is responsible for these disasters and deserves to be tied to a chair, deprived of sleep and forced to atone and explain to each and every legitimate hate-mail Honda receives concerning these latest abominations.

    There is no doubt Honda is an excellent engineering company capably building some of the world’s most technically advanced power trains, but maybe they need to consider “outsourcing” their design work?

    I’m not suggesting hiring another company to do their designs, but rather let their overseas divisions take on the responsibility. It’s very apparent the ppl in California have spiraled out of control… either that or Honda needs to clean house and start combing the ranks of the unemployed and find some capably talented ppl who give a crap about good design.

    I realize styling is subjective but good design is not that difficult nor more expensive. Ironically, I believe Maximum Bob Lutz himself once said “it doesn’t cost more to create a good design than it does a bad one.”

    BTW, if you think this isn’t possible then perhaps you haven’t seen the upcoming Hyundai Sonata?
    http://mydrives.wordpress.com/2009/07/16/hyundai-to-unveil-2011-sonata-at-2010-detroit-auto-show/

    For a car company that 20 years ago I avoided like the plaque – all I can say is what a turnaround!

    Watch out Honda and Toyota as I will publicly state here and now that if you continue designing cars in your current drunken stupor… within the next 5 years you will become as relevant as GM and Chrysler are today and Hyundai/Kia will supplant you – mark my words.

    There is no owner loyalty anymore, in this 21st century world economy you are only as good as your last success (just ask thousands of unemployed workers) and car buyers will abandon you faster than you can say “herpes” at a hooker convention.

    All I know is it took more than one person to “green light” these latest abortions for production so no one person is truly accountable, right!? Well not quite, for as we all aware in this glorious economic age of Enron, Bernie Madoff, credit derivatives and the mortgage meltdown, when corporate mistakes occur someone needs to be made an example of… and someone deserves to be punished.

  • avatar

    There are a couple of different flavors of ugly in the automotive world, and I think it’s helpful to distinguish them.

    There’s polarizing design — something that challenges design sensibilities in a way that’s controversial in its time. The 1969 Lincoln Mark III felt into this category; slapping a Rolls-Royce grille and Continental hump onto an oversize T-Bird was heavy-handed and vulgar to some, and rich-looking retro design to others. Some people hated it (I still do), some loved it, it sold like mad and inspired a trend. The 1983 Thunderbird and 1986 Taurus were also polarizing designs, because their embrace of Euro streamlining represented a complete departure from the upright-grille/vinyl-roof/opera-window school of Continental Mark-inspired design. The hideous but amazingly practical late-90s Fiat Multipla is another; it’s either a brave triumph of function over form or a visual abomination, with very little middle ground.

    There’s excessive clutter — an ordinary, perhaps even attractive basic shape that is rendered hideous by an excess of “surface excitement”: plastic body cladding, weird shut-lines, skegs, fins, chrome gewgaws. Pontiacs of the past 15 years are prime modern examples, but many 70s and 80s Japanese cars had this problem in spades. For the ne plus ultra, look up images of the 1956-1957 Nash and Hudson lines, particularly the Rambler.

    There’s the conceptual misfire, the original idea has been so totally compromised by inappropriate platform sharing, contradictory impulses, budget restrictions, or cerebral hemorrhage that it’s hard to know what to make of the result. The original 1964 Plymouth Valiant Barracuda is a good example, as is the AMC Rambler Marlin. It’s not so much that they’re blindingly ugly as they are puzzling. You stare at them, asking yourself why.

    And then there’s the inspiration black hole, where a lack of any cohesive design concept other than a vague reluctance to offend has resulted in a displeasing agglomeration of pieces with no apparent theme. Most Korean cars up until very recently fell into this category — the old Hyundai Elantra being perhaps a case in point.

    I think the Honda Crosstour falls into the latter category. If they were trying to do something edgy and failed, I’d give them credit for that, even if I didn’t like it, but I think that would be giving it too much credit. It’s like a goulash of ingredients that are all fairly bland to begin with, but that don’t go together well, taking the result from flavorless to distasteful.

  • avatar
    richard0729

    Like, doood, what am I, an old fuddy-duddy doing here? Well, for one, I like the reviews by Robert Farago. Short on words, he is not. But, I’ve been accused of being verbose so I suppose therein lies some perverse kindredship.

    But, to the point. I finally succumbed to uxorial proddings to go see for myself the hyped Toyota Venza. Farago described it pretty much to a T. After one glance at the el cheapo 4-cylinder, no frills, I asked the salesman if I could look at one fully loaded.

    On a muggy Texas September day I trudged over to the lot where I got to sit in the upscale version. I decided then and there I didn’t even want to drive it. It may appeal to a certain Sun City resident but not for me or — to my satisfaction — my wife either.

    We’ll keep our Honda Pilot until something else comes along that we can ooh and ahh over. I’ll read Mr. Farago’s review first though.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    argentla: Thanks for a very stimulating post, with well-thought-out categories and examples thereof.

    It turns out that these same categories can be successfully applied to other sorts of work, as for example the post-1960 novels of Robert Heinlein: polarizing design (Stranger in a Strange Land), excessive clutter (the narrator’s pseudo-Russian voice throughout The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress), conceptual misfire (I Will Fear No Evil), and the inspiration black hole (The Number of the Beast and its indirect sequels).

  • avatar
    marc_m

    Everyone used to blame Toyota for years for making appliances. What’s this then? Yep, it’s an appliance of four wheels. Get over it. From the looks of it, it’s supposed to be cheap to make and … it’s going to probably start somewhere at 24,995+destination charge, so that Honda can turn a profit. Look at all Hondas: they’re all cheaply built, and sold at a premium. Go figure…

  • avatar
    KalapanaBlack

    wmba :
    September 7th, 2009 at 7:14 am

    Very well reasoned editorial. I believe it is spot on.

    I remember that the first truly ugly car produced was the 1982 or so Chevy Monte Carlo, which even C/D saw as a blight on the landscape.

    Despite Horbury’s enforced return to Sweden to style Volvos, his observations on styling are to the point. No more nightmares for him, attempting to conceive such zombie-walking whale toothed front grille absurdities as the Lincoln whatever its name is version of the Flex.

    The Japanese just don’t get it when it comes to styling. I’ve read that all the whiz-bang curlicues on Japanese cars are for drivers stuck in endless Tokyo traffic jams. Yes, they get to appreciate little styling flourishes on various vehicles, because the place is so crowded, they never get to see the car as a whole. Is that why the Venza has a ridiculous winglet just below the rear wagon window?

    Meanwhile, this new Honda’s front looks like the rictus-like grin of a walking skeleton in a sci-fi movie.

    The Koreans make much better looking cars. Saw a Kia Soul and a Nissan Qube together recently. One is smart and saucy, the other is the blob from the swamp.

    I’m not trying to pile on, but I feel the need to comment on several points in your post.

    1. The 1982 Monte Carlo? Are you positive? It was redesigned in ’79 from a large brick to a smaller brick. If anything, it’s nearly impossible to tell from the other RWD G-Body derivatives of the day (Cutlass Supreme, Buick Regal, Pontiac Grand Am). Granted, I wasn’t around then (b. 1986) and am a big fan of the Cutlass Supreme from that era (mother had one in 1986), so I could be wrong, but I just cannot believe that the utterly inoffensive ’79-88 G-Body MC could ever have been considered ugly enough to comment on.

    2. The Venza isn’t sold in Japan. The mechanically identical Mark X ZiO is sold there, instead, but it has completely different exterior and interior styling. Arguably, it’s vastly better than the California-styled, North America-only Venza wagon. The ZiO was styled in Japan as a quasi-replacement/upsize of the Caldina wagon.

    3. Nearly every ugly car list will include several Korean vehicles from the past ten years. Google Ssangyong to see what I mean. Every model is regarded as outlandishly ugly, especially the minivan-sized Rodius. As for Hyundai-Kia, yes they’ve gotten better, but it really didn’t start until the past 3-4 years (perhaps the 2006 NF Sonata, an Accord ripoff that looked respectable). They’ve still got plenty of misses (the current Kia Opirus/Amanti is just plain wierd, the current Kia Rio and Hyundai Elantra sedan have both been heavily panned for awkward proportions and details). Their styling hits, Soul aside, have largely been bland enough not to offend and are largely an amalgamation of current styling trends (Genesis = German luxury sedans; 2009 Optima = Acura TSX; Forte = Mitsu Lancer w/o large grille).

  • avatar
    veefiddy

    1. If the Internet=”truth” than cats can haz cheezburgers.

    2. If the revolution was on Facebook my mom wouldn’t be. So it isn’t.

    3. If Honda had balls they’d post on 4chan.

    4. Ugly car is ugly.

  • avatar
    GrandCharles

    Leave me alone with the crosstour and a hammer…i’ll fix it….(evil laugh)

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I drive a Gen 1 xB (which is at least beautiful on the inside), so it’s hard for me to say the Honda Crosstour is ugly.

    Acura has nosedived, but I can’t fault the Crosstour’s looks.

    BMW is doing a good job uglifying their cars.

  • avatar

    I’m sorry but it’s just plain stupid looking. Blame the designers yes, but the bosses approved it.

    If Lexus is Cadillac then this thing’s a Pacer.

  • avatar
    niky

    argentla: I pretty much agree with that assessment.

    The BMW X6 is not classically ugly. Instead, it’s more of a challenge to “common sense” and sensibility. It’s of the “polarizing” type.

    The same can be said of the current CR-V. Recognizing the danger of anonymity due to the rounded shape (designed, likely, for maximum space utilization), Honda stuck the CR-V with the strangest grill design they could find. It grows on you, though… after about six months with the car, I actually like it. It’s striking, if not classically pretty.

    The Crosstour? Goes on the same boat as the new Panamera, the upcoming BMW 5-series abomination in the same vein and the lamentable R-Class and the new Accord’s rear-end. Not even proudly ugly, like Ssangyong’s Picasso-esque designs, but apologetically unappealing… as if built to say: “see what we had to do to give you the space you want? You should appreciate these sacrifices!”

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    Mirko Reinhardt :
    September 7th, 2009 at 8:29 am

    @mtymsi :
    Honda IMO proved a long time ago it wasn’t the styling that sold their vehicles.

    Counterpoint: Civic hatchback. Looks much less bland than the last generation and sells much better.

    You lost me on this one, what Civic hatchback? Last I checked they only offered a sedan and coupe. Are you referring to an offering in other than the US market?

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    Now if we could just harness the “Power of Crowdsourcing” to convince one of these car manufacturers to build the spiritual successor to the Datsun 510/BMW 2002 … a durable, fun-to-drive basic sport sedan.

    Then a lot of us would STFU, because we’d be out driving our new cars and having fun.

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    @mtymsi :
    You lost me on this one, what Civic hatchback? Last I checked they only offered a sedan and coupe. Are you referring to an offering in other than the US market?

    The one for sale in most of The Rest Of The World™?

    http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Datei:Honda_Civic_Type-S_Sapphireblue_Facelift.JPG&filetimestamp=20090419175339

  • avatar
    brokeguy

    Who would have thought Honda would bring back the 1978 Buick Century sedan? At least it has a hatch..

    http://www.chooseyouritem.com/classics/files/90000/90078.html

  • avatar
    Bruce from DC

    Well, I may be blind as a bet, but these photos don’t hit me between the eyes in the way that the Aztec does, or the front end of the first-gen Tribeca, or some of the other odd creations from Subaru over the years.

    That said, a couple of things puzzle me. First, why make a relatively large hatchback? To my eye, the hatchback design is one that does not scale up very well. I recall, without fondness, the large Ford “Torino” hatchback of the late 1960s. I think it’s harder to make a large hatchback isolated from road noise. Something about not being able to isolate the rear axle/suspension in a separate compartment from the passengers and the larger interior volume of a big hatch, as opposed to a small one.
    Secondly, what is all this “CUV” business, but a refusal to go back to making station wagons? Two years ago, my wife and I shopped for a replacement for our aging mini-van, now that several of our children have grown up and left home. We shopped the new GM CUVs, the new MDX, the new Highlander and the “old” Pilot. The Pilot got our dollars, mostly because it was/is just a big box, which is what we wanted. The MDX was ridiculous in the amount of space it wasted; and the Buick Enclave, while nice, wasn’t a whole lot better. Our other car actually is a station wagon . . . a Saab 9-5; but my wife found it a bit small.

    So, I don’t see the need for this new Honda . . . or the Venza (finally just saw one driving somewhere in the midwest on a trip a few weeks ago), regardless of what they look like. (And, in the higher price brackets, I would say the same of all of the BMW X-vehicles, the Mercedes M-vehicles, the Toureg/Cayenne, and the Infiniti FX.

    Maybe I’m weird, but when I buy a car, I buy it for me, not for everyone else. If I want to transport people, I get a car; and if I want to transport stuff, I get a truck, or something that looks pretty much like a truck. Being tall (6’4″), I certainly appreciate headroom. But if you want to give people like I am headroom and not have them sitting on the floor, build a high car, just like the sedans of the 1940s and early 1950s.

  • avatar
    Power6

    I am having trouble seeing any conclusion here from the article or comments. Seems to me the “death” of this concept has as much to do with group-think and Internet crowd social theory as it does with the true personal reactions of the commenters on facebook.

    I am also pretty sure that people buy ugly cars every day. Looks are only one aspect of a car purchase. We don’t know how would people behave if the full specs and driving impressions had been released at the same time as the photos. The problem for Honda is that they are releasing only one facet of the new product for evalauation. For the moment at least, the Crosstour lives and dies by those pictures.

    This is only my personal theory and speculation: what is going to kill the Crosstour is that people won’t buy a car that they feel everyone else thinks is ugly, regardless of their personal feeling about it. So some spin control is warranted, Honda doesn’t have to turn it around fron ugly to beuatiful, they only need to get to “polarizing”

    Look at all Hondas: they’re all cheaply built, and sold at a premium. Go figure…

    This is probably another whole topic altogether, but aren’t all cars getting cheaper? Back in the 80′s every old car that I drove or rode in had soft touch upholstering on the doors, usually vinyl, with a nice panel of cloth. The bottom of the door was carpeted. Even my Dad’s stripper ’86 Subaru GL was like this. My new WRX has completely plastic door panels. It does have a small vinyl armrest and silver toned plastic. They make the plastic look really nice these days. This seems to hold true for every new car I look at, to varying degrees of course based on price range.

    The trend seems to be towards better looking plastics with less complexity to assemble. Much of the criticism leveled at Honda and Toyota seems to focus on this trend, which to me looks like more of an industry trend in general.

  • avatar
    wmba

    @ KalapanaBlack:

    Thanks for your reply. I took more looks at the old Monte Carlos, and see that I was a few years too late. It was the 1979 through ’81 I found hideous. The 1983 was a bit better, but we used to kid a fellow worker about his. The droop butt, “racy” rear fender lines, and the car perched high on top of its inadequate suspension all contributed.

    I agree with you that the Cutlass and Pontiacs looked just fine on the same frame, but the Malibu looked tubby and had a high front end, saggy butt. Compared to the full size GM cars that came out in 1977, all of the intermediates were overweight and overwrought, IMO. And panel fit was terrible.

    So far as Korean vehicles go, sure the ones from a few years ago ranged from bland to hideous (the aforementioned SS Radius), but in the last few years, at least reasonably pleasant shapes have come from Hyundai/Kia. Maybe the new Sonata will change that, who knows.

    To me the Venza looks like a medium battle tank, but its not weirdly ugly like this Crosstour, or the Subies. Lights way up along the fenders? Have any of these designers driven in snow? — I feel we should demand some practicality as well as handsomeness from our vehicles.

  • avatar
    richard0729

    Power6, that’s a good point, “This is only my personal theory and speculation: what is going to kill the Crosstour is that people won’t buy a car that they feel everyone else thinks is ugly…”

    My wife and I drove several SUVs before we settled on the Honda Pilot. Given her druthers, my wife would have liked the Murano, Mazda CX7, Hyundai Santa Fe. She liked a used Lexus 350 but it had too many miles in spite of the fact she loved the feel and styling of the vehicle.

    Yesterday I looked at and sat in the Toyota Venza. Mr. Farago’s review pretty much sums it up in my opinion. I didn’t like it and my wife didn’t either. To both of us, it was like sitting in an ordinary car that had far worse visibility, especially after sitting higher in our Pilot that has excellent visibility in spite of its boxy appearance.

    We’ll wait and see what comes out in 2011. Who knows what the future holds, especially if we’re faced with $150/barrel oil or higher?

    On another note, I highly recommend picking up the September 5-11 issue of The Economist which features the technology quarterly. There is an excellent article (pages 75-77) on the future of electric cars and technological advancements in batteries.

  • avatar
    grudan

    One word: Hyundai Elantra Touring. (OK, three words.) A bit underpowered, but a small, practical, spacious inside and large cargo capacity euro-styled wagon.

  • avatar
    NoChryslers

    I think it’s attractive.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    grudan,

    I had the same thought. Who’d buy this when you could get a Hyundai for 10 grand less? Unless Americans have started loving mid-size hatches, this will be a disaster. I don’t hate it personally, but I don’t see it doing well.

  • avatar
    NoChryslers

    It reminds me of the Sterling Vitesse they came out with back in the 80s. That was a joint venture with Acura, IIRC. Didn’t do well.

  • avatar
    bugo

    It’s ugly, but no uglier than, say, a Camry.


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