By on January 1, 2016


Today, TTAC’s editors present their annual round-ups for 2015. Sajeev brings you his winners and losers in the highly subjective field of design. 


Best Styled Sedan, Tesla Model S: This sedan (okay, hatch) deserves to be a repeat winner. The Model S’ clean sheet of vellum has yet to be toppled in sleekness (cab backward-ish platform, low nose, relatively low butt) and Apple-like attention to detail. Exposed door handles? No thank you!

And just like Apple, beauty comes at a steeper price. But personally witnessing people lust after this whip in the same vein of a Ferrari? It may be getting long in the tooth, but good styling conquers all most.


Worst Styled Sedan, Jaguar XJ: Forget about the barn-door nose with that pixilated grille, the idiotic amount of C-pillar DLO FAIL makes this choice a no brainer.

Go ahead and tap on that black trim. This terribly executed flagship proves money doesn’t buy good taste.


Best Styled Coupe, Ford Mustang: With the perennial pony car’s redesign this year, the Mustang went from retro bruiser to a poor man’s Aston Martin. A bad thing when considering the “me too” grille, but the rest is the business: rear-wheel-drive proportions, muscular haunches, flowing C-pillar and a demure decklid with crystal-like taillights retaining its trademark sequential feature. Add the chrome frame on the 50th Anniversary’s taillights to the GT’s excellent posterior (i.e. no fake gas cap) and you have a stunning riff on the original Mustang with attention to detail not found on far pricier vehicles.

The taillight’s depth and complexity (yet, they look so simple!) merits this victory alone.


Worst Styled Coupe, Lexus RC: Hate the game and not the player: Lexus’ signature spindle grille is merely a natural extension of the big nose/pedestrian safe front-end phenomena of our time. But the overwrought details on an otherwise well proportioned body? Shameful. A rear-wheel-drive coupe can look cleaner without losing an ounce of macho. Not since the 1959 Cadillac has a luxury car’s over-zealousness been so clear.


Best Styled Hatch, VW Beetle: I’ve been a sucker for this ride ever since it’s Vellum Venom. Far from a raging VW fanboi, I respect the Beetle’s DNA and the latest iteration is brand correct. VW did a fantastic job being honest to the original while adding practical, modern and accommodating design for today’s consumer demands.


Worst Styled Hatch/Convertible, smart fourtwo (2016): The new smart arrived this year and, well, picking another ride for this low honor is impossible. Smart cars are anything but for the vast majority of wide-open-spaced America, and the redesign lost the best thing going for it: the flat, sleek-ish nose that wasn’t Euro pedestrian safety savvy.

Add the compliant nose with the body’s design sins and it’s a slam dunk.


Best Styled CUV, Jeep Cherokee: I can hear the accusations of witchcraft in the comments section! BURN HIM U BURN HIM NOW!

Here’s the thing: Modern interpretations of classic shapes are important, especially in the world of boring CUVs. Designs that go “out there” like Jazz-Rock Fusion are truly fantastic when reigned in by solid proportioning and pleasant surfacing. Add the DLO FAIL free greenhouse, modest lighting pods and that radical grille and it’s a winner on par with that naked chick walking downstairs.

Capture Capture2

Worst Styled CUV, Lincoln MKT or Infiniti QX60: I’ve aired my grievances with the yet-to-be-restyled Infiniti QX/JX, but let’s face facts: There are plenty of punching bags in the CUV genre.

So let’s give an honorable mention to the Lincoln MKT. From it’s mostly-fake front krill filter (i.e. mostly solid and pointless grille) to the frumpy body side haunches and that hearse-ish rear, this one’s a a style and a sales dud. And once the Town Car name joined the lineup — a slap in the face to long-hood-long-deck Panther Lovers — the recognition becomes well deserved.


Best Styled SUV, Jeep Wrangler: Questioning this genre’s unquestionable icon is beyond stupid. Jeep’s attention in keeping the Wrangler as true to Willys Jeep form in our modern world is worthy of much ballyhoo. The folding windshield, exposed door/hood hinges and excellent visibility mean it’s an easy win for the brand and the eyeball. Hard Rock Edition shown here.

Worst Styled SUV, Chevrolet Suburban/Tahoe: The traditional SUV market has few players, but the Chevy Tahoe/Suburban is an easy loser. Even with the properly macho rear-wheel-drive orientation, it felt the need for C-pillar DLO FAIL.

Why steal defeat from the hands of victory? This body never needed DLO FAIL to appear cooler — it was already cool! Factor the bizarre feathered headlights and this goose is cooked. Such a shame. The rest of the body is very appealing.


Best Styled Van of 2015, Honda Odyssey: While the new Kia offering comes close, there’s nothing quite as functional, well organized and funky-cool styled as the Odyssey. The jagged greenhouse, sleek-ish front grille and eye catching side slashes are the Gold Standard in Vanning Excellence. 


Worst Styled Van of 2015, Ford E-series Cutaway: How the mighty have fallen! The “Econoline” was the ubiquitous choice for businesses and organizations looking to move stuff in relative comfort and safety. With a body dating back to 1992, this van sported the aerodynamic credentials of a GEN I Taurus from its (once) demure grille, gently-sculpted fender flares to a logical greenhouse with flush glass. No more!

North America’s favorite full-size van had to go as it’s highly inefficient compared to what’s on European roads. But why now, why not 10+ years ago?

Now that the Ford Transit put the last nail in its space-wasting coffin, the E-series is offered as a chassis-cab only. Sad, but necessary until RV coachbuilders learn to love F-series cutaways instead!


Best Styled Truck of 2015, RAM 1500: Another repeat winner! While there are overdone elements available, spec-ing out a tidy-looking RAM is easy. Do so and this truck has the most logical face, the cleanest body sides and even a pleasant tailgate. Very hard to find in this era of over-styled, oversexed and ‘roided-out work vehicles. Texas Ranger Concept shown here.


Worst Styled Truck of 2015, Chevrolet Silverado: The fenders are almost perfect squares, but the wheels are still round. And yet Chevy fit that round peg into a square hole?

Thankfully devoid of its SUV cousin’s DLO FAIL, the Silverado does have a pleasant greenhouse and a macho-yet-logical front clip. But something doesn’t add up, especially in chrome-here-painted-there Rally trim, such as those headlights crammed between the grille, fender flare and front bumper. Those lights are simplistic and unrefined, sorted for 2016.

While the (very necessary) 2016 facelift adds refinement, this Silverado’s full-body restyle cannot come soon enough. Kill those square wheel wells!

[Lead image: Shutterstock user RossHelen]

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69 Comments on “Vellom Venom Vignette: 2015 Awards Edition...”

  • avatar

    The MkT sells so little, that it’s even hard to find within the Final area of OAC. But what a solid car to launch and play a pivotal role in the PPAP of D47X. I was responsible for a one off pre-production unit that had the technology package, but really didn’t. The adaptive cruise couldn’t calibrate so it would slam on the brakes when you drove under overpasses. It would have been worth millions on the auction block had they not crushed it! That’s what I told my boss at least. What collector doesn’t want non functional buttons, knobs and option screens on their IP?

    I personally knew every person who made the power steering lines for the entire E series. That production line was rock solid and predictable.

    My life is too closely tied with too many cars on the naughty list.

  • avatar

    So, what’s next? Buy new glasses? Take a crash course contemporary car design? Btw, I don’t think that the ForTwo’s nose job has anything to do with pedestrian safety.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      The ForTwo doesn’t have to be that ugly. Witness the Renault Twingo which is built on the same platform and meets the same safety standards, without the ugly.
      The ForTwo looks a little better in real life than in pictures, much like a bulldog does, but not by much.

  • avatar

    Holy Heave, Batman.. that fortwo looks like dropping a glob of ketchup in some milk and watching them fight each other.

  • avatar

    Check out a Tahoe PPV and tell me its still ugly. Something about dog-dish wheels, lowered ride height, and s**tloads of ancillary LEDs makes it the sexiest patrol car ever…

  • avatar

    “…finger-like dummy strakes on the RC bumper suggest a tongue-in-cheek reference to the grip of the horrifying goatse meme…”

    (note: highly NSFW, do *not* look this one up)

  • avatar

    Completely disagree on the CUV segment. For the best styled one, I’d go with the Mazda CX3. It’s fresh, funky and fun to look at – good enough that I’d actually consider it, which is pretty amazing given that CUVs are completely off my shopping list.

    And the worst? It’s not even close – I’d go with the Lexus RX, which looks like something H.R. Giger drew while on bad acid, threw away, and then dragged out of the trash when the folks making “Predator” came calling. Plus, it’s cheap looking inside to boot. Honorable mention would be the Jeep Renegade, which is just plain awful, right down to the tail lights with the “X” through them.

    And I’d also say Honda tried WAY too hard with the Odyssey – clearly they were looking to inject some style, but ended up with something that looks like a prop from “Flash Gordon.” The Kia is far better looking.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      The Sedona is pretty nice, but it doesn’t function terribly well as a minivan.

      Meanwhile, I’m extremely displeased with the 2016 Pilot redesign. It’s a funky mish-mash of bloat, abruptly-terminated shapes and misplaced swage lines. And those tail-lamps! I’m surprised Sajeev didn’t openly weep when he saw it.

    • 0 avatar

      “Completely disagree on the CUV segment. For the best styled one, I’d go with the Mazda CX3.”

      I disagree about the CX-3. I saw one the other day in traffic, and the blacked out fender flares look tacky, and the front overhang is odd. The wheels look too big on it. I don’t care for it’s looks.

      The driver looked relatively happy, though.

    • 0 avatar

      The Odyssey looks like a salvage vehicle: the rear of one unrelated car welded to another. And it looks like a hearse. Easily should have taken “worst styled van”.

    • 0 avatar

      Pointing out ugly CUVs is akin to shooting fish in a barrel. But I still find the Infiniti more offensive than the Lexus RX.

    • 0 avatar

      To me with the Honda it looks like the design committees for the front, middle and back were on different pages, especially in the greenhouse.

  • avatar

    It appears that the guys in the photo are responsible for the ’61 Ambassador (concept?) pictured behind them. That’s a pretty apropos example of how subjective is styling and how the labor of elephants can bring forth a platypus.

  • avatar

    Good choices as usual – I find your analyses very good overall, no doubt because after you explain them I can see why you came to the conclusion you did. And I have to say, the Cherokee is indeed growing on me. Several times in the past few months I’ve actually stopped to look at them with something close to admiration. They make all the other jacked-up boxes look just that. Pity the guts aren’t that great, but I do get the styling.

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you for your kind words. I don’t necessarily want people to 100% agree with me, rather to make them cast a critical eye to car design using the same diagnostic tools I use. I’m glad that is happening here.

  • avatar

    So, the 1962 Rambler Ambassador is a best styled car or a worst styled car?

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I pretty much agree with your assessment. The new Smart Fortwo looks like it comes pre-crashed, with that flat, tall front end. The MKT was always ugly. And whoever okayed those weird looking cut-outs on the Tahoe’s headlamps and the DLO fail on the C-pillar needs to go back to design school.

    But I think the new F-150 looks waaaay better than the Ram. Somehow, the thing looks downright demure and sophisticated. It’s just extremely overpriced is all…

  • avatar

    I’d like to see the Tesla without the DLO-ish fail faux grille.
    The thing has no radiator, why paste on a graphic representation of one?

  • avatar

    I like Cherokee – very cool looking SUV. I am not into trucks but all of them except Ram look terrible and overdone.

  • avatar

    For the Cherokee, for me it’s a case of photographs doing it an injustice. It’s funny how it works sometimes that way, and it reminds me not to judge the looks of a new car too quickly before seeing it in real life.

    The Cherokee looks absolutely terrible in most photographs, but see one in black or similar in real-life, and it just looks cool. I love it. The Mazda3 is the exact opposite: looks fabulous in photos, but strangely imbalanced and out of proportion in real life.

  • avatar

    The Fourtwo is cerebrally the ugliest of them to me, but for some reason the QX60 actually made a sour taste in my mouth. I’d like to have seen some mention of the disastrous tail lights on the new Prius.

  • avatar

    Seeing as how the E-Series is now ONLY sold as a cutaway, it isnt really a van. I find the recessed headlamps and black trim sorta handsome and workman-like, though.

    There is no comparison, the smaller Nissan van (Transit Connect sized) is easily one of the ugliest vans out there. The Chevy $#¡ГГ¥ Express (clone of the Nissan) looks only slightly better, but thats like saying having two broken arms is slightly better than having two broken legs because you can still walk. Neither choice is a good one, they both suck.

    The Ram ProMaster is also damned ugly. Youd think that Ram wouldve cleaned up Fiat’s poor styling rather than be embarassed by it. It looks like a 1st grade class came up with the front end styling, its silly and weird (but not in a good way like the Honda Element or even the Nissan Juke, which I personally do not like, however I believe it sorta works, unlike the ProMaster). Id take the E-Series front clip over the ProMaster anyday.

  • avatar

    Can someone explain to me the hatred for the square wheel well openings on GM’s pickups? They’ve been around since 1973, so they’re not going away any time soon. There are far more ugly things to hate on modern trucks, like just about every blinged-out front end that most brands cough up.

    • 0 avatar

      They look like an afterthought that was hurriedly accomplished with tin snips. The larger relative to the tire, the worse they offend because of gaping, empty corners.

      The effect is utterly Soviet, like they couldn’t do no better cuz they wuz drunk and stoopid to begin with.

    • 0 avatar

      I also don’t understand this, Toyota seems to get a pass on this to me their truck wheel wells are square too, but GM get crucified.

      • 0 avatar

        I was torn between giving the Tundra and Silverado this honor. Decided on the Silverado because it was so static and half-baked up front. The Tundra is overstyled to the point of shame, but it looks somewhat more refined than the Chevy.

  • avatar

    Sorry state of hatchbacks that the VW Beetle is the best styled.

    • 0 avatar

      What about the Golf?

      • 0 avatar

        The Golf is pretty outstanding in the hatch world…but its far easier to make the spiritual successor to the original Golf these days than it is to turn the original air-cooled Beetle into what it is today.

        • 0 avatar
          Dave M.

          The VW was a good call…its modern yet a toss-back to not only the original Beetle but Porsche as well. The interior is vastly better than on Gen 1 New Beetle.

          Still don’t get the Cherokee though – hideous then, hideous now. I haven’t warmed up at all to them apparently.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think it was a comment about the situation of other hatchbacks, as much as praising that model. It’s not THAT hard to style a good looking hatch. Most of the ones on the market are attractive, and pretty well proportioned (3, Focus, Cruze, Elantra, Golf, Forte, etc.).

      What was *really* a challenge is re-designing the Beetle to stay within the retro design ethos, but not having it as ‘cute’ and effeminate, one that can retain the image people liked, but appeal to a broader audience. That is hard to do, and I think VW managed it quite well.

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    So, he’s a big fan of taking great designs from the past and applying modern elements and construction.

    It’s immensely easy to take a masterpiece and edit it. (sure, T-bird and Prowler sucked, but so did most of their cars from that era) What’s hard is to come up with new iconic design.

    I’d rather edit others’ designs that have to come up with my own, and I know, because that’s what I do.

  • avatar

    The Lincoln MKT doesn’t even make a good looking hearse…the coachbuilders make the tailgate more vertical but use the same taillamp, so it appears to be smiling…which is the LAST thing you want a hearse to do. I can’t help but think that the Ford Flex would have lent itself to a more attractive hearse design.

  • avatar

    I saw an RC 350AWD yesterday, and in dark graphite paints with tinted windows, thought it looked pretty sharp!

    Like physically sharp, my eyes needed Band-Aids afterward.

    But I kinda liked it. It’s RWD PLC, with available V8. Can’t hate.

  • avatar

    Love the Tesla, but why does it have a grille? The Jag, yeah, I’ve seen them in most colours and the C-pillar fail is still a fail. I do like the big ‘Leaper’ on the trunk lid though. The new Mustang is fab, really looks well put together and far pricier than it is. Don’t like the hood-bulge treatment, would have preferred a nod to the NACA-ducted ’72 hood. I love the Suburban/Tahoe they’re completely unapologetic about what they are and surprisingly a bit elegant from rear 3/4 view. CUVs I just don’t even get at all, that market is so crowded and they’re all so overwrought yet share identical hard-points, a huge mess. I was looking at a Lexus RC-F while waiting service on my old GS400 and thought wow, this looks like some of the crazy design stuff that came out of Japan in the ’70s! I give them props for pulling out the stops, but want to see how it evolves.

  • avatar

    My votes:

    Best styled sedan: Mazda6
    Worst: Nissan Versa

    Best styled coupe: Ford Mustang
    Worst styled: Scion TC

    Best styled hatchback: Hyundai Elantra GT
    Worst: Honda Fit

    Best styled CUV: Mazda CX3
    Worst: Nissan Juke

    Best styled van: Kia Sedona
    Worst: Nissan Quest

    Best styled truck: GMC Sierra
    Worst: Ford F150

  • avatar

    I liked the older Honda Odysseys, but find the newer ones ugly. That jog in the side hints of two designers that didn’t quite meet in the middle. The tail lights remind me of Storm Troopers’ helmets.
    And I’ll start liking Mazdas again once they’re over that big stupid grille grin.

  • avatar

    My votes: Audi A7 for best-styled sedan, hatchback *and* coupe. Bam!

  • avatar

    You know, as a failed car designer myself (Coventry Graduate) I have to say I’m not totally on-board with the DLO-Fail obsession. If it wasn’t for a little (or in some cases, a lot) of cheating with matte or gloss-black paneling the ambitiously swoopy, dynamic intentions of the designer might have never come anywhere near production.

    In the ’80s and ’90s we were swooning over the floating roof, where every single pillar was concealed behind non-functional glass. This wasn’t DLO fail, this was lateral thinking. If you can’t make something out of glass, make it look a bit like glass instead. No harm, no foul.

    I’m far more aggrieved whenever I see a tail-lamp where over 50% of the surface is non-illuminating shiny plastic shaped simply to fill a gap.

    Despite this, I applaud you for supporting honesty in design. Though I fear that, as neither of us made it into the design life proper, maybe it’s us who are in the wrong?

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t get me wrong, I hate the non-functional head/tail lamps when that real estate should be the body’s surrounding plastic/metal. Mercifully it seems like more vehicles are slimming down the lighting pods to only the bare necessity.

      DLO Fail is only the plastic trims on vehicles costing more than a garden variety Mirage, glass sheets are a clever way to cheat the DLO’s design for extra sleekness. While I usually believe that all vehicles look better without any sort of greenhouse cheating, adding glass is usually fine. Minivans do a fantastic job with them.

      And yes, I have come to terms with my failed life choices, being okay with being wrong is fine thanks to the world of Autoblogging. Because if you can’t do it, criticize it.

  • avatar

    I would have to guess “Sanjeev” wrote a few of the knocks on this subject, but even though I can agree with some of the plusses and minuses, I do take issue with the Silverado – yes, I know I’m in GM’s camp right now, but I have no issue with square-ish wheel well openings, and to me, their trucks are very appealing, but so are Ford’s & Chrysler’s offerings.

    Square-ish wheel wells are nothing new to GM, for that goes back to the 1973 models.

    As far as DLO fail, I don’t understand why, in the case of the Camaro, why the actual clear portion of the quarter glass is so small – it’s pretty useless. I’d have to compare the body skeleton vs. the finished body to see how the glass opening differs, but aside from that, why aren’t the OEMs FORCED to offer better visibility on their cars? It’s a safety issue for me, probably more personal due to my eye problem, and I’d rather sacrifice the bunker style in favor of being able to see safely out of the vehicle. I still want a Camaro… in yellow… a convertible…

    Subjective? you got it!

  • avatar

    Sajeev is just mad about the MkT Town Car. Let your hate flow, son.

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