By on February 27, 2012

 

Bill writes:

After reading you post on modern interior design, I had to ask about another fad that seems to be all the rage with designers: big grilles (they really love the grille on the Lancer X) With modern cars being all about gas mileage (judging by their advertising), would they get better highway gas mileage if they were a bit more aerodynamic?

Take the original Honda Insight for example, it could get around 70mpg on the highway and it had a very aerodynamic design with no fins, slits, nor much of a grille.

Today’s compacts are just a little better and thus use bigger engines, but their grilles are big enough to eat full pie! If modern cars were a little more aerodynamic, and less style-driven how much of a boost in gas mileage would we see?

PS: I’ve come up for a term for the black-painted sections on some grilles like the new Alfa Dart, I call it a “Mustache”.

Sajeev answers:

Maybe my time studying Industrial Design can come in handy once again.  No wait, my years studying Mechanical Engineering are actually better. Maybe it’s both. Well then, glad we got the self-congratulatory BS out of the way!

Your problem with grilles is valid, but not the underlying cause of the problem. Proof: the plankton filters on the Lincoln MKT. This whale of a beast has most of its cooling fins blocked off for better aerodynamics.  The grille on the original Chrysler Sebring coupe technically didn’t even exist, it was only black paint!

 

 

See?

My point?  Modern grilles are a part of a larger shape formed at the wind tunnel. All our technical advancements have made a low coefficient of drag a non-starter to this issue. Put it this way, your phone is far more powerful than the original technology used to make the slick, aero-cheating experiments from the 1970s. How can you not have a low-coefficient of drag with all of our processing power?

What concerns me is frontal area. Just like the restaurant biz, your real estate is how you hit automotive aerodynamic Gold. Or at least several positive foodie reviews on Yelp…

New cars are too tall and front overhang too short to be aerodyamic enough to justify the “buy me for fuel economy” marketing we hear these days. Overhang shaped like that of the 1980s Honda Accord is a nice place to start.

 

 

From there, we can narrow down the frontal area with a more aggressive rake to the nose. Which means less room for lights, bumpers and most importantly, grilles. Granted you can take this to an extreme, making a nose so small that the rest of the vehicle is unlivable, impossible to cool, etc. but that’s just being silly.

The biggest problem with reducing frontal area? Cars get generic.  And while the Honda Insight, Aston Martin Lagonda, Ford Sierra, Chrysler Airflow, Mercury Sable, Tatra V570 and even the Ferrari Testarossa are icons of their respective classes and markets, being truly aerodynamic is more about the socio-economic conditions (progressiveness, gas prices) that demand a certain performance outcome, and styling trends (modern or retro?) of the people in and around the car business. The Chrysler 300, the rise of the HUMMER brand and the climate surrounding these two come to mind.

 

Keeping with a plan and sticking with it?  Even Miami Vice’s addictive take on film noir couldn’t survive the end of the 1980s, son!

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

 

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62 Comments on “Piston Slap: Frontal Area, Our Friend?...”


  • avatar
    Zackman

    Grilles should be chrome. After all, the smoothness of the brightly coated metal allows air to slip over even faster than a mere painted surface. It also looks nicer, along with bright window reveal, chrome bumpers and chrome door handles.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

    It’s Monday, after all…

  • avatar
    threeer

    Loved that era of Accord! My uncle bought a new 1988 coupe, and then a few years later, a used one when he rotated to Germany. Open, airy and genuinely fun to drive…where have you gone, Honda (I know…Americans want it “bigger” and bigger must be better, right?)?

    Doubt many folks that could afford a redhead were overly worried about the fuel economy…

    Actually, many new cars have grills that “aren’t.” I can appreciate cars like the 300 that have rather upright grills…even if many aren’t functional anymore…

    • 0 avatar
      Advance_92

      Indeed, the 88-90 Accord was the last world car before an American version was created. If you want a similar small nose effect, though, look at the original Integra from 86-89. From the front seats you could barely see the hood at all.

      All that said the new Dart’s hood looks a lot lower than many other cars today.

      • 0 avatar

        From the driver’s seat, I CAN’T see the hood at all on my ’08 Civic. 39-plus mpg Northern VA to Lexington MA yesterday, averaging 70-plus mph, and including a brief jam on the NJtpk and a drive through Manhattan.

      • 0 avatar
        ciddyguy

        I loved the 86-89 Integra, it’s all kinds of win in the styling department IMO, the same year Accords were close.

        It’s true, you can’t see the hood too much, but with both cars, you have the pop up lights to help you greatly see where the car’s nose is though.

        I had an 88 Honda Accord 4 door sedan (LX-I) with all the trimmings and outside of the broken AC, it was a fantastic car (got it from my Dad in 1998 after he’d had it barely a year when he passed away).

        My only fault with the Accord was despite some 120HP with a 2.0L 4, the car’s launch (w/ 5Spd) wasn’t as punchy off the line as my old, but lighter 83 Civic was with considerably less hp.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      I purchased the Accord in the picture, a 1989 SEi coupe, same wheels, same color. Great design, great engineering, just a GREAT car. The only car I ever paid sticker price for, and don’t regret it. If Honda had kept the same design values I’d be driving a Honda today.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    The “partially blocked off” grile is an abomination that must be stopped. If the engine only needs a small opening for cooling… figure out how to make it attractive.

    • 0 avatar
      racebeer

      Agreed …. This is why I like my 2 fourth generation Firebirds. There is no grill in the bumper area, just an opening at the bottom of the bumper parallel to the ground and a small lip spoiler mounted almost at the axis of the front wheels. It is essentially a “bottom breather”. Just gotta laugh at the equivelent Camaro with the sorta fake grill.

      Also, the windshield is more steeply raked than the one on the Corvette …. which is probably why it gets around 30 mpg on the road at 70mph.

      • 0 avatar
        patman

        Corvettes are known for their excellent real-world highway MPGs too – those big V8s can loaf along sipping gas barely above idle at highway speeds with the super tall overdrives GM used in the ‘Vette and F-body T56 6-speeds. Ultra low RPMs means there’s less internal friction and much less energy spent on reciprocal and rotational motion.

        Before the effects of age and miles and ethanol gas, my 4.6L SOHC Mustang could knock down some pretty good MPG on the interstate breaking 30 MPG on one trip. These days she can still top the EPA’s 24 MPG highway rating.

  • avatar
    talkstoanimals

    I think the biggest obstacle to the low hood and front end shapes we used to see in the past are modern pedestrian impact protection regulations. The regs in many lands require inches of space between the hood and the top of the engine (for front engined cars), and strike points that don’t line up with the heights where the average pedestrian’s knee resides.

    BTW, a mere two days ago I watched that scene where Crockett and Tubbs go out to look at Crockett’s new Testarossa. So cheesy and yet so awesome. Love the screen grab from that scene you put in this article, Sajeev!

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      Wouldn’t it also be that we demand bigger, more refined engines for our lust for HP? That Honda you have depicted had a choice of two four cylinder engines to choose from. It was the early 90′s when the big news was Honda would finally have a V6 to offer in the Accord.

      Add to that the obsessive need to have at least 17″ wheels on regardless of size of car and the grille is ordered to compensate by gaping like Cletus the slack-jawed yokel. Good example of this technique is the huge, flat maw of the Chevy Sonic.

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        Modern engine blocks are pretty compact compared to the height of the bay. That Honda in particular had a miniature four pot but 6 and 8 cylinder cars of that era didn’t have towering cowls either.

        Oversized grills and wheels, huge wrap around headlights, skin creases, fake fender ports, blacked out rocker panels, all the current styling ills are attempts at camoflage for the underlying tall hood problem.

        Compare a 2012 Taurus which uses these tricks with the old Five Hundred which didn’t and they clearly help a lot.

        Compare it with the Accord pictured at the top of this page and they clearly don’t help enough.

    • 0 avatar

      I hear a lot about those regulations, but Sajeev did not write a word about them. Are they an urban legend?

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      Yes, but why do big cars made for Americans have follow stupid European pedestrian impact regulations? Here in America people walking and people driving are usually separated by a vegetation covered buffer zone.

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        They don’t have to follow them, but the US sees the results because EU pedestrian safety regulations don’t just impact cosmetic parts – they dictate the whole layout and underlying structure of the car.

        So, anything intended to be sold in Europe will comply; and it’s not possible to get the look you want without comprehensively re-engineering the deep down parts of the car, so nobody does it.

        Also, in the places where most Americans live (cities) sidewalks run right next to streets with minimal “buffer zones”, and frequently cross them. In the boondocks, there are typically not any sidewalks at all.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      haha oh I remember that episode, I was a huge Vice geek… remember the truck he was driving… “goin to drug deals looking like lil abner” LOL

      Then he gets the new Ferarri, all excited like a kid on Christmas… so fun… I wanted to be a cop back then!

    • 0 avatar
      statikboy

      “The regs in many lands require inches of space between the hood and the top of the engine”

      “Modern engine blocks are pretty compact compared to the height of the bay. That Honda in particular had a miniature four pot”

      Had an ’87 Hatchback version of that car several years ago. At one point I was underhood dealing with some minor maintenance issue and afterward I noticed the car was shaking and moaning while I drove. I opened up the hood to find I’d left a small socket wrench on the air cleaner (carburated model) where it was pinched by a hood brace when I’d closed the hood. It left not insignificant dents in both the air cleaner cover and the hood brace. There is no way that the hood on an ’87 Accord would pass new ped safety regs, but I’d still rather be hit by one than a much larger and heavier 2012 Accord.

      “Add to that the obsessive need to have at least 17″ wheels on regardless of size of car and the grille is ordered to compensate by gaping like Cletus the slack-jawed yokel.”

      The same engines (with upgrades) were available in the same-era Prelude which had an even lower hood. These cars (and the Accords) looked RIGHT with 13″ and 14″ wheels and skinny tires. Light weight and a sophisticated suspension design meant that wide tires weren’t needed. A case could be made that slightly bigger rims improved the looks of the car, but from experience I can tell you that even “upgrading” to 15″ rims, unless you wanted to spend a LOT of money to maintain the OEM weight, the ride quality suffered quite a bit, as did the sound level (who would think 2cm of width would make that much difference), the fuel economy, the acceleration (more than an extra passenger) and the low speed steering. The cornering was a mixed bag: on smooth roads, it stuck better for longer and the wider tires eliminated the car’s natural understeer, but the engine didn’t have enough torque to overcome the weight of the wheels and keep the corner from scrubbing off speed… on slightly rippled or cracked roads, the suspension couldn’t keep up with the extra weight and handling was simply worse than stock. The reduced body roll was nice though. The only clear improvement was in the braking, though I suspect that the brakes (and various suspension components) wore out faster dealing with the extra weight.

      I think oversize wheels are the major culprit in modern automotive design. They require more power, beefier brakes and suspension, more fuel to move and higher cost for materials and design to keep the same characteristics of the same lighter-wheeled model. All for a dubious visual benefit.

  • avatar
    Buck-O

    One of the biggest reasons for this, that you seem to be forgetting, is the larger number of “world cars”, and their requirement to meet European Pedestrian Impact standards. That is what started the whole high nose, flat profile grills, and smooth sloped hoods design in the first place.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      This is the reason. The big grilles are just there to give features to the high, blunt noses required. When BMW was still a worthy company, trying to fight the implementation of the ugly car rules, they mocked up a Z3 and an E38 7 series to show what they’d look like if they had to meet the proposed rules. The mock ups were hideous, looking remarkably like the E65 7 series and Z4s to come.

    • 0 avatar
      statikboy

      The next step should be to have handgun bullet safety requirements to reduce the impact on innocent bystanders when someone does a drive-by.

      Make them out of Jell-o or, I don’t know?… paint, or something…

      Making the world a better place one snarky quip at a time!

  • avatar
    Squirrel19

    One major concern, I know from any car sold in a European market, is pedestrian crash test rating. Blunt front ends lend themselves to less pedestrian damage. Chrysler 300 vs. 2000-ish Camaro, the Camaro will snap your legs, the chrysler will just hurt a bit.

  • avatar
    graham

    Yawn…The Truth about Old News: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/12/the-truth-about-europes-pedestrian-safety-legislation/

  • avatar
    TireIrony

    Then there was the debut of the Japanese luxury brands. Infiniti’s Q45 had no grille, while Lexus conducted clinics and found that people equated prominent grilles with luxury.

  • avatar
    TR4

    The ultimate in pointy noses:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Jamais_Contente

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    The high hood lines demanded by pedestrian collision standards gives rise to another recent styling phenomena, the high belt line.

    Now I am pondering how many extra accidents limited outward visibility will cause, and how much that might offset the reduced pedestrian casualties?

    • 0 avatar

      I think the Scion FR-S might change that belief. The beltline sure looks low enough to be a nice blend of legality and beauty.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Beltlines and hoods were rising before pedestrian standards. Example: the Chrysler 300/Dodge Magnum, generally considered the “canaries in the coalmine” for this styling trend, were in the pipe when hoods were still quite low.

      Hoods are tall because we have cars that are imitating trucks.

      This has everything to do styling. Tall hoods, thick pillars and so forth let designers make the pillbox-on-dubs that they’ve always wanted to do. Blaming regulations when many an economy car that doesn’t get blessed with a senior stylist’s pen still has a low hood, small wheels and such is just letting these guys off the hook.

      Another point is that this isn’t unique to automobilia. Making your product imposing (or, if not imposing, at least providing a place to plaster a big, fat corporate logo) is how design is done at present. I’m sure in a decade or so we’ll go back to unassuming-and-clean again. It’s just part of the binge-and-purge cycle of fashion.

      • 0 avatar
        drylbrg

        I totally agree, at least when it comes to cars from the Detroit 3. Somebody, somewhere decided that pickups had to look like 18 wheelers so they plastered the biggest grill that the front could take on them. Then another genius decided that the cars had to have similar grills for branding purposes. This gave us the big cross hair maws of Dodges and the ugly split grills on Chevy cars.

  • avatar
    A Caving Ape

    Hold on here. My undergrad fluids education is making some noises in protest from its deep, nearly forgotten corner of my brain.

    Frontal area doesn’t just mean nose. It’s the total area of the shape when projected into the frontal plane. So that would include nose, a bit of hood, windshield, wing mirrors, tires, and other styling bits. Multiply that area by drag coefficient, and you’ve got the effective surface area that you’re pushing through the air.

    So dropping the nose won’t make a difference in frontal area if you don’t change the shape of the cabin. What it will change is the drag coefficient.

    • 0 avatar

      Very good point. Given the need for proportion in any design, *some* elements of frontal area can shrink when you drop the nose. Especially if the platform is changed radically enough that the beltline lowers and the firewall gets a bit lower: with any luck these changes make for a better greenhouse and less need for the towing mirrors you see on most modern cars.

  • avatar
    Darth Lefty

    You would not believe how many tiny aerodynamic features are built into the styling of cars. My favorite example is the subtle fat top lip of the rear window gasket, which turbulates the flow so it stays attached down the window to the trunk lid. Another is the rounded edge of the front on old van / microbuses, which also keeps things smoother than you think.

    The main aero rules are, don’t send flow around a sharp outside corner. When you must, make sure it’s a very sharp one at the very end so you can keep the flow predictable (see the back end of the Prius & Volt for example). The other main rule is that once you’ve pushed air out of the way bring it back in gradually – this is why fish and airplanes and Apteras are blunt at the front and sharp at the end. Again, see Prius and other modern eco-semi-hatchbacks. The front center of a car where these giant grilles are is not that important. The corners of the fascia and the edges of the greenhouse are the important areas. Overhang and hood height aren’t strong causes.

  • avatar
    stottpie

    my mustang svo has no grille.

    http://i.imgur.com/39LIA.jpg

  • avatar

    As I understand it (not an aerodynamicist, trust me!) projected frontal area is the “projected cross-section” (essentially, the silhouette of the body, as viewed from the front).

    As a result, the nose (tall, short, or otherwise) doesn’t really affect the frontal area, unless the nose manages to project outside the dimensions of the cabin and the body (which is almost impossible in a typical car design). The modern tendency to make cars taller (everything from CUVs to compact hatches like the Fit and Versa; the extreme is the Smart Fortwo, of course) does affect frontal area, because the cabin roof gets higher.

    Obviously, there are compromises involved: the reason tall cars are popular is because other things being equal, they’re nice to see out of, and easier to park (being shorter, for the same interior space). In exchange, the frontal area is worse than shorter cars. But as Sajeev noted, Cd has tended to drop over the years, largely offsetting the growth in the “A” (frontal area) part of CdA. Here’s an interesting list of a lot of Cds, frontal areas, and CdAs:

    http://ecomodder.com/wiki/index.php/Vehicle_Coefficient_of_Drag_List

    Tall noses aren’t making modern cars less aero, in my opinion. To get an idea of how much the existence of grilles is costing the aerodynamics of cars, consider that the Nissan Versa and Leaf are Cd 0.31 and 0.28 respectively (and the Leaf gives most of that back in frontal area, partly because this generation of EVs are focused on city-speed (and distance) efficiency, which is sensible.

    • 0 avatar
      TireIrony

      Cars are also taller because they’re now curved on top (front to back) instead of flat, reducing the low-pressure area on the roof. Car hoods are bulbous rather than flat for a similar reason. IIRC.

    • 0 avatar
      statikboy

      Looking at the list you provided, it would seem that most manufacturers and models have not improved their drag ratings at all. Some specific lines are getting consistently better (Audi) and certain models (Corolla and of course Prius) but others are significantly worse (Subaru Outback). Most bounce up and down within one or two hundredths.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “If modern cars were a little more aerodynamic, and less style-driven how much of a boost in gas mileage would we see?”

    I’m not an engineer, but I would presume that the answer is “not much.” Unless we change our tastes so that we demand cars that look like wingless airplanes on wheels, they’re just about as aerodynamic as they’re going to get. (There may be more potential with semi-trucks and trailers, but the typical passenger car is far more aerodynamic than the best truck could ever be.)

    We could use less fuel by driving lighter, less powerful cars, at lower speeds. But not many of us really want that.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      Semi truck aerodynamics are hard (but not impossible) to work on because the overall length of the vehicle is regulated. Every inch of aerodynamic bodywork is one less inch of cargo space, and cargo is what pays the bills. Plus body parts and various extensions get damaged over the million mile life of the truck and/or trailer, and repairs can cost more than any fuel saved.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    Two tales of aerodynamics in my experience.

    1. My 190 hp turbo Plymouth Laser’s (car magazines observed road test)top speed of 135 mph vs my rental 8 valve 1.8 110hp liter E36 3 series BMW that could top out at 125mph in Germany. The blunt sedan BMW must have had better aerodynamics than the wedgey bubbly Laser.

    2. My 2.0 4cyl 5 speed manual Suzuki Vitara getting less highway mpg’s than my long gone original model Mercury Sable 3.0 six with 4 speed auto.

    • 0 avatar

      1. That also depends on gearing.

    • 0 avatar
      statikboy

      My own tale: I’ve owned a 1987 Accord and a 1991 Integra, both 5-speed manuals. They have an almost identical sized interior. Both are apparently rated at 0.32Cd and, looking at the specs, would be around the same frontal area (Integra slightly less.) I achieved almost identical fuel economy with both cars (about 44mpg imp. hwy, 37US) despite the Integra being heavier (300lbs), 1/3 more powerful and having a 5th gear lower than 4th in the Accord.

      Obviously there is more going on there than just Cd and gearing.

      Hmmm, I wonder what kind of hwy mileage I could get with the Integra with a 6th or even 7th gear?

      FWIW, fueleconomy.gov rates the ’87 Accord at 31mpg hwy and the ’91 Integra at 26mpg hwy

  • avatar
    James2

    I blame Audi for the current fixation with oversized grilles. Bloated mouths are probably useful for disguising the blunter noses required to meet pedestrian impact standards. OTOH, I wouldn’t want to go back to the days of the Ford Sierra (Merkur XR4Ti), which was very aerodynamic but had all the style of… no, wait, it didn’t have any style.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I drove one of those Merkurs once, it was an odd knock off the Porsh 928 as far as styling goes, and the 928 copied the AMC Pacer.

      For being a turbo the Merkur was pretty slow, though the autmatic didn’t help.

      • 0 avatar
        nrd515

        You haven’t been to the eye doctor in a long time, have you? How does a 928 resemble a Pacer in any way?

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        You might want to check in with Tony Lapine, who designed the 928 and commented on its similarity to the Pacer in the June, 1979 issue of Road & Track. Just google Tony Lapine Pacer 928 if you want evidence that Ryoku75 isn’t alone in noting the relationship. There are many mentions of Lapine even saying the Pacer inspired the 928.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    The shorter front area would be nice, but as noted above better gearing would help a car with a bigger engine get decent gas mileage.

    As for cars that look like “wignless planes”, that dosen’t sound like a bad idea (considering most recent Lambos and Ferraris are baseed off jet fighters), can I have an SR-71 without wings?

  • avatar
    fincar1

    Watch a couple of NASCAR races and you learn that the very small openings on the front of those cars are all that’s needed for engine cooling, and that the placement of a little piece of tape can make a noticeable difference in the tradeoff between aerodynamics and engine cooling. Thus it should be clear that oversized grilles on production cars are for reasons other than engine cooling.

  • avatar
    phargophil

    Some of the current front end styling has seemed to center around a “black hole” appearance. Certainly as many others have stated, pedestrian safety regulations have contributed to the tall front look.

    In the malaise era, many cars had the prominent external bumper with grille openings above and below. Developments in aerodynamic studies led to having a blocker beam hidden behind a plastic fascia which could be more successfully defined for wind cheating properties. This still led to an appearance of a solid beam with grille openings top and bottom.

    Where Audi led the pack, however, is they attempted to make the grille opening look like it consisted of only one slotted area. Arguably it could be said that this simplified and cleaned up the front styling.

    With that said, there is another very important reason for the newer, larger grilles–heat rejection.

    As new restrictions have been put in place to curb emissions, and engine operating temperatures have risen to help in that compliance, the heat must be removed. Also, the trend toward smaller engines to move larger masses has also contributed to the heat load that the lowly radiator must remove.

    Engine cooling can be improved in two basic ways: Increase airflow across the radiator, or enlarge the radiator core. Speed limits, stop and go traffic, cooling fan size are some of the limits to airflow. What a designer is left with is radiator size. Increasing the core thickness is not as effective in improving heat rejection as increasing the frontal area.

    Thus another reason for the big blunt fronts of today’s cars.

  • avatar

    Everyone: to answer the “you didn’t mention that Europe is the reason for this” concern:

    Detroit has been doing this well before these standards: like the blunt nose face of the 2005 Mustang. The purposely tall (and marketed so) shape of the Ford Five Hundred-Taurus. And those are just the two I could come up off the top of my head.

    Am I correct or full of it?

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      In part, companies like these just don’t respond to existing legislation, but they try to anticipate and negotiate down possible future requirements.

      They create some sort of internal standard that would match a mild or middle-of-the-road version of what those laws could be, and then use their voluntary actions as evidence that the rules don’t need to be more stringent.

      • 0 avatar

        Given that the 2005 Mustang’s hard points were probably set in stone in 2003-2004, did Europe say anything back then?

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        I don’t know what went into Ford’s planning for the Mustang, but I doubt that Europe played a direct role in that specific car.

        Again, it’s more a matter of planning ahead. If the Europeans start passing rules, then it wouldn’t be a surprise if the US borrowed from at least some of them. It would be better for the automakers to make changes in advance so that they have more authority and credibility when negotiating what ends up in future legislation.

  • avatar
    JMII

    One thing not mentioned: popup headlights. My 1989 Prelude Si had them, thus by day it was a smooth nosed creature, but at night it became an aero mess. Today headlights themselves have gotten smaller, but the surrounding lenses seem to be even bigger. Clearly there is more to it then just grills and people-friend euro bumpers… so maybe the light clusters are to blame?

    However I bet large frontal areas are the result of crash testing: more steel = safer. As a result the bigmouth bass or whale look has taken over. One company bucking this trend: Volvo, they have gone away from their tradition “brick” front-end and start making smoother looking shapes. Notice I said “looking” because I’d bet the frontal area has actually increased.

    Interesting discussion.

  • avatar
    ThatMustangGuy

    I’m no expert on the subject either, but just a few things I’d like to add to the discussion:

    Many cars from the 80s and 90s where mouth breathers, where most of the air for the engine bay was picked up from low on the car. Usually an air dam would be used on the radiator support to create a low pressure, which causes air to travel through the radiator and cool the car. In the interest of underbody aerodynamics for fuel economy and high speed stability, many cars have some degree of belly panning the bottom of the car, which would not work well with said design.

    To make up for this, some amount of extra air must come through the front end of the car. Also, I would imagine that since most airflow must be provided from higher up the front of the car, the 2 tier openings many cars now have would be to possibly separate functions, with the upper opening for the radiator, and lower for power steering/intercooler/AC condenser/etc.

    Styling is probably part of it, but cars like the Volt or Leaf show that car companies are not afraid of no or nearly no grill front end styling if it would make the most sense… though they do try to emulate a grill somewhat I suppose…

    This doesn’t answer all the concerns with the larger front ends, but might just be another line item in the list.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Also, notice how the front of most cars curve, that is, they are flat through the center, more or less, then slant back to the corner where the front fenders meet.

    This gives the often awkward appearance of a severe frontal overhang as found on some of the latest models of the past couple of years or so if viewed from the side. It seems to me, that on some larger cars (C and D segments and up), the wheels, both front AND back seem to be far from the corners than they once were, giving the appearance that the car has an overly short wheelbase for its length and that to me looks awkward.

    Small cars, such as the A/B segment models tend to have MUCH shorter overhangs overall, especially for the rear wheels which now almost meet up with the rear bumper in many cases, but the front still has a bit of an overhang. I totally get it that with FWD on most cars built these days, some overhang is unavoidable due to the machicals, such as the cooling system that fit up in front of the motor.

    As for grills, it was once fashionable I believe to have little to no grill above the front bumper, 86-89 Integra/Accord come to mind with the main functional grill discreetly mounted below the bumper. The Fiat 500 only has a slit just above the front bumper, but has a more discreet looking egg crate grill down below and yet it’s still a rather blunt front end, but it IS mimicking the original 500 stylistically speaking. Yet, when you get it above 70mph, this shape becomes a disadvantage and one’s mileage suffers more so than some other shapes (besides, it’s short at 140″ long and is tall for its size).

    But despite having taller hoods (actually, not a bad thing since now we have some way of seeing them when we drive), what I would like to see are frontal designs that are more wedge like in that the front can remain somewhat on the tall side, but slant the grill/headlight area back some, while pushing the front bumper area out some to let the air slip over the front a little easier – all the while meeting pedestrian regs.

    Also let’s not have windshields that slope so far away that you see acres of dash before you even see the hood as that can be a bit disconcerting while driving.

    Plus, if we got rid of Ethanol, then our gas mileage would go up just by that one change alone.


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