By on April 24, 2015

Porsche-911-GT3-RS-07

I recently realized that Porsche – once noted for producing subtle, performance-focused alternatives to crazy, emotional Italian vehicles – has officially become the German equivalent of Lamborghini.

Consider the 911 GT3. When the GT3 first came out back in the early 2000s, it was one of the most subtle performance cars on the road. It had slightly different wheels, slightly updated bodywork, and a slightly enlarged wing. That was it. There was no other way you could possibly know you were dealing with a car that could run rings around any Ferrari on the race track.

Well, that isn’t the case anymore. The latest GT3 has huge wheels. Huge inlets and scoops and air intakes and cooling ducts. Major changes to the bodywork that say “Look at me! I’m a GT3!” And a giant rear wing that could – truly and honestly – double as a desk, or a park bench, or the kind of table you use to mount a circular saw and cut wood, plus the occasional finger.

The GT3 RS is even worse. Back when the 997.2 GT3 RS came out, it was already becoming clear that Porsche had diverted from its status as a formerly great purveyor of subtle sports cars. But in case you weren’t sure, they painted the wheels red, stuck an even larger wing on the back, and stuck red “checkered flag” decals down the sides. I can’t even imagine being seen in this car.

It’s not just the 911 that seems to be more ostentatious than ever before. The rest of the Porsche lineup has also embraced the changes: there are now giant wheels where there used to be average-sized ones. There are huge LED running lights on the front. The Panamera is about as subtle as a brick through a window.

Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG. Photo courtesy Autoblog

But it isn’t just Porsche who’s making these changes. When I was growing up, base-model Mercedes products were really restrained. You had dull, simple wheels, and dull, simple designs, and some of them even had black plastic cladding on the bottom to remind everyone that no, this person didn’t opt for a high-performance version or the most expensive S-Class.

Well, that seems to have changed. In 2015, there is no possible way to distinguish AMG cars from non-AMG cars unless you get a look under the hood. I have especially noticed this on the CLA: I once drove the CLA45 AMG, and I thought it was amazing, so I always get very excited when I see a CLA45 on the roads. Except it’s almost never an actual CLA45. It’s usually just a CLA250, with a bigger bumper, and bigger wheels, and even factory AMG badging as part of some annoying “AMG Sport Package.”

Audi, too, is playing this game. Remember the B5 S4, the early-2000s model that offered only subtle updates — painted rocker panels and different wheels — over the standard model? Today’s Audi “S” and “RS” cars are far different. They’re subtle, but showy. They have huge grilles, and big wheels, and obvious body kits. They’re like the kid who raises his hand in class and casually mentions that his dad is a CEO.

This annoys me, because I’ve always enjoyed the automotive “sleeper.” I once had a Mercedes E63 AMG station wagon painted metallic gold that looked – to the vast majority of observers – like the kind of car your grandfather would buy once he got too old to climb up into SUVs. But to people who knew, it was a monster: 500 horsepower, giant V8, Ferrari-style acceleration. It was one of the most exciting cars I’ve ever driven, largely because no one had any idea what it was capable of.

But in today’s world, we’ve gone the other way. More and more modern cars are offering the look of a fast car without the actual goods to back it up. How did this happen? Why did this happen? And in today’s automotive world, is it really necessary to be showy in order to sell cars?

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76 Comments on “QOTD: Do You Have To Be Showy To Sell Cars?...”


  • avatar
    dwford

    Everything these days seems to need to be turned up to 11. Besides overdone styling on cars, we have to have giant logos on our clothes, wear ridiculous oversized headphones as we walk down the street, use extreme descriptors in our language like “outraged.” Apparently we all need to express our inner Nicki Minaj and get noticed. The worst thing these days is to not get noticed.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. Companies have turned most into walking billboards and most like it. The only part I don’t agree with is the part referring to a person because I don’t know who that is, ;)!

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      Epic post

    • 0 avatar
      Veee8

      Spot on.
      Look at the E39 M5 – from super clean and understated to “kitschy” bling of today’s model.

      Don’t get me started about cyclists of the modern era, they appear head to toe like they’re competing in the Tour de France…

      • 0 avatar
        kmoney

        “Don’t get me started about cyclists of the modern era, they appear head to toe like they’re competing in the Tour de France…”

        We were talking the other day about how cycling has become the new golf — low impact, can be done into old age, get to dress up, get to buy tons of new gear every season. Speaking of which, look at modern golf equipment compared to stuff 10 years ago. If it doesn’t have a focus grouped name, infinite adjustability and a multi-metal composite head it’s deadstock.

    • 0 avatar
      Waftable Torque aka Daniel Ho

      Speaking of headphones, there used to be a time when the white Apple earbuds were status symbols of the bus-taking hipster elite.

      If anyone still has them or the Earpods, they should download the Dirac HD Player app. It has active equalization for Apple’s earphones, and dramatically changes the sound for the better. And the Lite version is free too. I tossed all my old brand name headphones once I got it, even though it only works with the iTunes library.

      Dirac is in the business of audio engineering for car manufacturers, and it’s a showcase of what they can do.

    • 0 avatar
      typ901

      You realize you just described the 1980’s?

  • avatar
    ajla

    In North America at least the “showiness” of cars seems to be cyclical.

    With a few notable exceptions, cars with increasing ornamentaion were big in the 20s, 50s, 60s, and 70s while a more subtle look was favored in the 40s, 80s, and 90s.

    The big grille, side vents, and big wheels of today are the tailfins, opera windows, and wood-vinyl of yesteryear.

  • avatar
    tedward

    They are doing this because it turns out people love bodykits. R/s/m line, that’s all they are, and they have done so well that you can’t have an actual m (or whatever) show up looking like it cost the same money.

    Also it’s starting to grow on me a bit and it is easily reversible. I can only imagine the Craigslist feeding frenzy now. “Have rs4 looking to swap for a4 bumper trim and valence. “

  • avatar
    John R

    On the article about the Civic Type R North American sales aspirations I had intimated in the comments that Honda did need to tone down the styling no louder than a Lan Evo. Another reader had replied that Lan Evos were barely noticible.

    We have really turned a corner if that’s true.

    • 0 avatar
      Zykotec

      That was me XD, and tbh, the Evo was always noticeable, but it was never ‘extreme’ in my eyes. And after the ‘ricer’ craze in the lte 90’s there was no way of know if an Evo was real or not, since ‘everyone’ had the same spoilers and kits.
      The Integra Type R in the 90’s compared to an early GT3 Porsche, just as the new Civic compares to a new GT3RS
      Like it has been said abover here, these things go in cycles. Most people would find and early 70’s Carerra RS pretty extreme, not to mention a 1970 Plymouth Superbird, or 58 Buick, while a ‘basemodel’ 911 Carerra today is still relatively subtle.
      I do like cars that stick out in a crowd though, I have owned two cars with flames and 2.5 Sierra Xr4is (same as Merkur XR4ti)

  • avatar

    Your own words in the article describe what is going on and shows that you probably agree with it on some level. Simple is not necessarily dull. Emotional doesn’t have to be loud or look-at-me.

  • avatar

    Oh yes. Watch the creeping progression of the ///M symbol on BMW. Older cars, very subtle. My 03 had tiny M’s on the wheels, that was all. Over time, you got the M on the stick shift…the wheels…a few stripes…

    This happens in the beer world too. Americans are accused of destroying every beer style by also turning it up to eleven. A pilsner isn’t big or 8%…but there are american versions that are.

    • 0 avatar
      energetik9

      I don’t disagree that there are more M logos, although actual M cars have remained fairly consistent on badging. My 2000 M had wheels, stickshift, steering wheel, trunk, and gauge badging from what I remember. But you could also get M packages on BMW cars back with the e30 models in the 1980s, I believed called M-technic then. The concept isn’t new.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      IPAs are bitter to the point I am pretty sure they have dangerously low PH

      It’s so silly. Subtlety is a highly lost art.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        IPA – blech… my brother-in-law keeps kegs of the stuff around. I ought to tell him it’s a damn shame given his German and Mexican heritage.

        I’d rather have a hefeweizen but then 3/4 of my ancestry traces back to Bavaria so I’m not exactly unbiased.

  • avatar
    energetik9

    For me this is really a discussion of degree. At least the 911 (in my opinion) is more tame than the competition. Many of those items you mock are functional improving downforce, efficiency, cooling, etc and let’s be honest, the GT3 will see more track time than many other cars. I don’t have the slightest issue with the new changes.

    It’s real simple. Supply/demand. People want it and manufacturers add to their profit margin.

  • avatar
    ElAntonius

    Flat yes.

    The sales success of the Chevrolet Camaro vs the 11-14 Mustang was evidence of that. The Camaro had a showier look, more “lookit me” ornamentation at the expense of practicality, visibility, and performance.

    (Full disclosure, I owned a ’10 Camaro SS, and now own a ’13 Boss 302)

    By any objective measure, the Mustang was a better car. It was faster, it handled better, it was lighter, roomier, had better visibility, a better interior, and was better appointed.

    But the Camaro looks like a rolling concept car. That sells cars, especially in that segment.

    It’s really no surprise that Mustang sales popped up in ’13 with the addition of the more extroverted lighting package and exterior cues from the Shelby, and have exploded with the ’15, which similarly concedes some of the previous generation’s practicality in favor of a visibly lower roofline and a tighter package.

    • 0 avatar
      Marone

      Wait a second, that doesn’t make sense to me. There are other factors that influence the sales of both cars. I think your oversimplifying to exclude those. It’s like saying the Camry outsells the Accord because it looks better.

      • 0 avatar
        Zykotec

        It makes perfect sense in that segment. When you buy a muscle car you want to be seen. When you buy a CamCord you either don’t care, or you want to try and avoid ugly. Since taste is subjective, ‘better looking’ to soem can mean ‘ugly’ to some, so the trick is to make a car that is as bland as possible, while still adding enough of what is fashionable at the time to not look dated. So the Camry sells better because it’s not as good looking or as ugly as the Accord.
        (in both these cases there will always be some fanboys who will never buy a Camaro/Camry, or who will never buy a Mustang/Accord, but those will not change their mind anyway)

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        Zyk and El are correct. The pony cars are largely purchased for their extroverted nature. The largest purchases for these cars in the aftermarket are appearance mods or mods that make them louder ( both intake and exhuast ) with the e-penis growing power mods coming in next.

        Of particular note to me are Camaro enthusiasts who cite one of the reasons they dislike Mustangs are that they are too popular ( while simultaneously trumpeting Camaro sales victories ) and too common.

        You simply don’t buy a Mustang or Camaro unless you want to be noticed in some fashion.

    • 0 avatar
      juicy sushi

      Yeah, I really disliked that ’13 re-style. I never have liked the Shelby’s appearance, and seeing it spread over the whole range just kind of confirmed that. It’s big-schnozed body cladding for idiots.

      The new car unfortunately carried that look over in the front, which is the main flaw I find in its styling. And that bugs me, because I really want to like the new Mustang.

      Arguably this even happened with the new Miata. We’ve seen it go from a subtle jelly-bean to a very curvy shape. I don’t care, because I think they did an almost flawless job in the modern age of crash standards, but it is a LOT louder than the old car.

      • 0 avatar
        ElAntonius

        Zyk and raph cover it. I was very tuned in to camaro5.com when I ordered/owned a Camaro, and I was on the first wave of orders for that car…a big factor in a lot of those early orders (including my own), was the quickly-getting-dated-but-so-HOTWHEELSAWESOME styling and the large power advantage over anything else in the segment.

        There’s other elements at play, sure, but if you were the type to assume that a favorable magazine comparo corresponded to the sales rankings, the Mustang should have stolen the show and run away with it since the 5.0 was introduced.

        Hell, my wife’s Mustang GT/CS projects the pony logo onto the ground next to car when you unlock it. There is literally no functional reason to do that except “lookitme”, and yet it’s one of the most commented on features by people that see her car.

        It’s why the GTO failed so badly against the Mustang, despite enjoying many of the same advantages the Camaro did against the ’10 lineup (4.6L/4.0L engines). It just didn’t look the part.

        I’m not saying you can sell a totally crap car with rockstar styling, but in the sport segment rockstar styling is a very, very strong marketing force.

        This is also why there’s such a proliferation of what amounts to body kit ‘n’ sticker “packages” in this segment.

  • avatar
    Sam Hell Jr

    China.

    • 0 avatar
      krayzie

      Someone hit the nail right there. All the rich mainlander folks around Toronto drive these outlandishly modified high end cars in really bright neon colors. Seems to be their thing.

      I think the Japanese actually started the trend of wearing clothing with gigantic logos back in the early 90’s cuz it was some cool show off thing.

      Nobody has mentioned how big even watches are getting these days, as if everybody grew up wearing the POP Swatch.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    Out: Gold plated badges
    In: No parallel body panels

  • avatar
    Marone

    “This annoys me, because I’ve always enjoyed the automotive “sleeper.” I once had a Mercedes E63 AMG station wagon painted metallic gold that looked – to the vast majority of observers – like the kind of car your grandfather would buy once he got too old to climb up into SUVs.”

    Look I realize I’m shaking the hornet’s nest here, but I see lots of Merc AMG wagons where I live and the preponderance of them are driven by 50 year old women. I can spot an AMG wagon a mile away and I’m usually looking to pass them because them drive ’em like they’re on their way to the community center and yoga class.

    • 0 avatar
      doctorv8

      Where do you live, Marone? MB only imported 60-100 E55/E63 wagons to the US per year. You’re probably seeing what Doug was referring to; base cars with “AMG Sport” appearance packages. I guarantee the wagons you’re seeing don’t have 4 tailpipes. I had an E55 wagon years ago here in car crazy Houston, and only saw one other in 5 years.

      • 0 avatar
        Marone

        I live on the North Shore of Chicago. It’s a very affluent area. Even this morning on my commute I saw a beautiful orange mp4-12C McLaren and an FF. There’s no way to convince you here, so it’s OK if you don’t. But I know the subtle nuances of an AMG, just like I know the subtle nuances of an M, 911, or an RS. 4-tailpipes is the first and easiest indicator to look for, and I am not new to this. These are AMG wagons. I should have been more careful with my “lots of them comment”. I see far more AMG G-wagons and Cayene turbo/GTS cars, but I do see the AMG wagons. e63 wagons are not that rare here. I see them about as often as I see s63 sedans.

        • 0 avatar
          doctorv8

          E 55 AMG Wagon
          2005: 129
          2006: 64

          E 63 AMG Wagon
          2007: 67
          2008: 62
          2009: 24

          Read more: http://mbworld.org/forums/w211-amg/362776-production-numbers-amg-w211.html#ixzz3YEfDfrAS

          Maybe they are all in Chi-town?

        • 0 avatar
          energetik9

          You must live near me Marone. I’m Chicago also. North end. I see e63s around here occasionally too. Mostly sedans, but I see a e63 wagon once and awhile. I agree, I see more AMG G-wagons than e63s.

  • avatar
    mitchw

    I’d argue cars today are a lot duller. Asphalt grey paint camouflages most cars on the road. Electric steering is numb. Interior cabins are quiet. Gas pedals aren’t connected to throttles, but to a computer. Fewer manuals or sports cars being bought. Fewer option packages replace our past ability to option a car to taste. Govt regulations imposing a sameness to cars’ front ends, A-pillars, etc. An older, fatter, and more physically decrepit population opting for easier to get into CUVs.

    Dullness seems to work alright, too. Maybe that’s why we need all those stinking badges.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    The other issue is base cars are so competent their extreme versions have to be that much more extreme. I remember an episode on Afterdrive where one of those Manhattan Car Club hipsters said an engineer at Porsche liked to drive the 991 GT3 on a mountain road by his house. That’s about the only place you can even begin to enjoy such a car on the street.

  • avatar
    redav

    Hold on–past performance variants are praised because they were nearly indistinguishable from their non-performance brethren, but now modern non-performance variants are criticized for being nearly indistinguishable from their performance siblings?

    Am I missing something?

    • 0 avatar
      energetik9

      No. Modern high performance variants simple add more aerodynamics, cooling, etc. Sure there is design element involved, but modern engineering allows more more control and more performance and the manifestation of that adds vents, spoilers, and air ducts. I said it above, much of this is functional improvement.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    We no longer do subtle. It is all ME ME ME. Look at the culture that drives rice burners. Most do nothing to the car to make it better but they do weigh it down with body kits and wings and chop the springs. How fast it is doesn’t matter as long as it “looks” like it could go fast to the uneducated.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      You could say the same thing about guys with their weekend classic muscle cars. They handle terrible and they aren’t really that fast (a V6 Camry would ravage most any 60s muscle car). They sure are loud and ask for attention, though.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Everything is in your face. Look at truck logos and the size of lettering. Chrysler should change the name of its truck brand from RAM to BULL because it will match the truck nutz hanging off the rear.

    We’re advertising Camrys and Altimas with “RACE INSPIRED” commercials. Mitsubishi Outlanders are barreling across deserts…

    Everything is subtle as a brick.

  • avatar
    TW5

    Honda Accord. Toyota Camry. Nissan Altima. Honda Civic. Toyota Corolla. Nissan Sentra. Toyota RAV4. Honda CR-V. Chevrolet Equinox. Ford Escape.

    The market still appreciates austere, functional blandness.

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    But would you drop Porsche money down if it had generic CamCord styling?

  • avatar
    Charlie84

    Almost all performance-bred German cars have gone this route. Certain buyers want all the blingy performance signifiers: The quad exhaust tips, the painted brake calipers, Recaro seats, fender flares, etc.

    Subtle performance sedans like BMW once made wouldn’t sell in today’s enthusiast market. The E34 and E39 M5, E36 M3, Audi’s S- and RS cars of the 90’s, Mercedes’ 500E, were all about speaking softly and carrying a big stick. Q-ships for those who knew. Check out the clean, straight sides of a Porsche 996 — fried egg headlights notwithstanding, the 996 Carrera was an elegantly styled sports coupe. The 991, by comparison, is a bit of a barge.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Subtlety doesn’t work because no vehicle is frustratingly slow or has dangerously bad handling anymore.

      So, the only way differentiate the high dollar stuff is bling. Because you can get everything else at middle class prices if you want it (though maybe not all in the same car).

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I don’t care about how gaudy cars like the 911 GT3 get. At this point the great bulk of buyers are buying them for the sole purpose of showing they have more money than the guy down the street with a Carrera 4S. I don’t want one anyway because the level of performance is useless on the street.

    But I don’t like how overstyled many mainstream performance-ish cars have become. I couldn’t live with the garishness of a Focus ST or the obnoxiousness of a Camaro SS. If all the reviews say that a car is too plain or too subtle, chances are I like it — a couple of good examples are the Chevy SS and the Audi A6.

    • 0 avatar
      cpthaddock

      “If all the reviews say that a car is too plain or too subtle, chances are I like it — a couple of good examples are the Chevy SS and the Audi A6.”

      A comment frequently noted about these designs is that they look dated (I disagree), but I’ll wager they won’t look half as dated as the current conglomeration of awful, contrived styling fads in a few years time.

      I’ll say it again. No class.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      “the great bulk of buyers are buying them for the sole purpose of showing they have more money than the guy down the street”

      This has been the case to some degree with any non-base trim car since day one, and luxury vehicles in general. Even if a 560SEC is modest by today’s standards it’s still appointed in chrome with that big 3 pointed star in the dash. Back when the differences between an ///M and base car were subtle the significance of a BMW period was much higher, so there was no need for huge trim signifiers.

      Now with the ubiquity of luxury cars thanks to accumulation over time (i.e. there are more 10 year old 5 series’ on the road today than there were 10, 15, 20 years ago), there is a somewhat legitimate “need” for further differentiation- especially as Germans have put themselves in a design silo of overly cautious evolution and understatedness. Everyone hated the E60 & E65 when they came out but in my opinion both have aged well and really influenced design today, for better or worse. The Germans need to be at the forefront of design again and take more risks, rather than slathering up boring base designs.

  • avatar
    Revd

    996.1 GT3 was subtle? No, it wasn’t. It had tuner-like bodykit and crazy wing.
    The new GT3 may have big wheels, but do they look out of proportion on the longest and widest 911 ever? I don’t think they do! You do also realize that you can order regular Carrera with 20″s nowadays much in the same way as you could order a normal 996 Carrera with GT3 or Turbo 18″ wheels back in the day?

    “Huge inlets, scoops and cooling ducts”. 991 GT3 has no more of these than 997 GT3. Now if you were talking about 991 GT3 RS, then yes it has a lot of various scoops and ducts, but that just shows how serious Porsche Motorsport are about bringing production cars closer to their racing counterparts. Doug, why do you hate cool cars?

    How is 997.2 GT3 RS with red wheels and decals less subtle than a 1974 2.7 RS with red wheels and contrasting decals? How are 4 LED DRLs integrated within the headlamp unit ostentatious? Your arguments don’t hold any water.

    Basically, this article should have been titled: “Wheels are getting bigger and I hate it. Give me my 15″s back!”

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    “This annoys me, because I’ve always enjoyed the automotive “sleeper.” ”

    In this paragraph, you described what for me is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the Flex EgoBoost.

  • avatar
    meefer

    My friend’s mother purchased a 911 4S Cab. They live in Manhattan Beach, so it weirdly kind of blends in. The only reason she got the S and I quote “it has those 4 exhausts.”

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “I can’t even imagine being seen in this car.”

    Says the H1 driver.

    lolz

    • 0 avatar
      energetik9

      Yeah, no enthusiast I know would have the slightest delay in driving the GT3 RS, no matter the color or stripes. I wouldn’t care if it was neon yellow with purple strips. It’s a freaking GT3 RS. Yes please.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    Chevy SS. Understated performance sedan. I love it, along with three other guys.

    • 0 avatar
      energetik9

      Remember when Pontiac released the new GTO? What, 10 years ago now? There were all the comments that it didn’t stand out in the field of cars. Too understated. That’s when they added the hood scoops and whatever else they did to have it look the part.

      The author may not love it, but this isn’t new. Author…let me introduce you to marketing.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      I’m one of those three guys. I bought one, but when I did it was called a Pontiac G8 GXP and had a craptastic interior. If I weren’t trying to be a financially responsible new parent I would very likely have a manual SS to replace it on order.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    VW is still making cars like that. If you want to broadcast to the moon that you bought the fastest, most expensive version available, the Golf R isn’t the way to do that. It’s arguably more subtle and more restrained than the GTI is. No red stripe either. Other than the big wheels and quad exhausts, it’s not that different from a plain 1.8T.

  • avatar
    ajla

    The best styled car ever was the Series III Jaguar XJ.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    Doug, why don’t you like us?!?! Over at the other site you answer questions, solve problems, and interact with people on satan’s online commenting system. Here, you drop off 600-1000 word posts twice a week (that could be whittled down to under 500 words without trying), and are mostly absent from the comments. Why is that?

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Around here it’s trucks. The new F150 looks like a CN locomotive from the front. Every detail on trucks is out-sized, door handles look like they belong on a bank vault. The last car with any subtlety was the KIA optima.

  • avatar
    hgrunt

    Cars don’t need to be showy to sell, but being showy sells *more* cars with sports appearance packages.

    I noticed the “loud” trend when I realzied AMG and M were being marketed as a trim level rather than as their own cars began to be treated less like a limited run of spec’d out cars (ie. Audi RS, Alpina), and more like a trim level.

    QOTDs like this make me geek out over how various car companies approach how they market and sell cars.

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