By on October 23, 2017

mini electric concept

Contrasting paint hasn’t been commonplace on automobiles in over half a century, but it appears to be regaining some of its lost momentum lately. Everything from the Bugatti Chiron to the Toyota Camry offers separate bodywork hues these days.

Of course, we don’t know if this is a trend poised to explode across the industry or something that will be relegated to a handful of models before fizzling out. However, with new crossovers like the Volkswagen T-Roc, Range Rover Velar, and Volvo XC40 available with contrasting rooflines, it seems ready to enjoy at least 15 minutes of fame. 

According to Automotive News, manufacturers have at least realized they’re onto something. Ford’s former head of design, J Mays, admitted to being heavily influenced by the returning Mini’s two-tone color scheme while working on the retro-inspired Flex.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t influenced by the first-generation New Mini, which had beautiful wraparound glass and this lovely little skullcap in white and later in black,” he said. “[The Flex’s white roof] added a little bit of panache to the car and made it feel a bit like a modern-day woody, which is what we were trying to do.”

“I think it influenced a lot of other manufacturers,” Mays continued. “Some of them are quite successful, and some are really terrible, but everyone seems to have jumped on that bandwagon.”

Dozens of cars, mainly crossovers and SUVs, have received the treatment since the early 2000s. Automakers saw that they could dramatically alter the persona of a given model, adding an element of fun or class, and the trend started to take hold in Europe before spilling over to the rest of the globe.


“It’s incredible how people react to the bitone colors,” stated Alexandre Malval, head of design at Citroen, which offers two-tone options on four models. “If you give them two colors to assemble, immediately the car has different personalities. Red with a white roof is a little bit sporty; cream with a black roof is a little more solid and tough. One in pastel with a white roof could be a little more feminine.”

The downside is that two-tone models often increases the cost of production. Sending a model through for a second coat of entirely different paint takes more time, money, and effort than a single solid color — which easily results in a higher MSRP.

“Bitone paint finishes are always more labor intensive because of the masking they require,” a spokeswoman from Axalta Coating Systems in Switzerland explained. “That means the need for more people, which in turn can mean the potential for mistakes.”

The second color is applied either in a second line, which means additional investment, or via a second run on the main line, which reduces capacity. This is one of the reasons most manufacturers are only offering bitone paint as an optional extra on a handful of models.

Range Rover Velar

“The demand is much higher than we thought,” said Matthew Harrison, vice president of sales and marketing at Toyota Motors Europe. “One of our headaches is keeping up with the bitone trend. We’re having to constantly argue with manufacturing to raise the production capacity levels.”

Hopefully its a trend you’re fond of, as the odds are good it will persist for at least a few more years. Manufacturers are developing solutions to make the process less intensive and more are opting into having it as a standard option. Volvo, for example, baked the two-tone concept into the XC40 from day one. It offers two separate trims with distinctive roof colors as well as a single-color variant.

However, no trend lasts forever.

“Ubiquity usually relegates everything to the trash bin,” Mays explained. “The companies that have this as part of their brand DNA like Mini or Land Rover, it won’t go out of style … It’s going to be one of those things you look back on in 10 years’ time and say, ‘Oh yeah, that was from that era right around 2016-2017 when everybody seemed to be doing two-tone.'”


[Images: BMW Group, Volvo Cars, Land Rover]

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43 Comments on “Are Two-tone Paint Jobs the Next Big Automotive Trend?...”

  • avatar

    Are Two-tone Paint Jobs the Next Big Automotive Trend?

    Please please please… (fingers crossed)

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge


      Ford has basically been out there by itself with two-tone (tutone) things. Two-Tone has been making F150s, SuperDutys, and Expeditions look better for decades.

      • 0 avatar

        Dodge/RAM has also continued to offer 2-tone paint on its pickup trucks. The lower colour is dependent on trim level: silver on Laramie, light gold on Laramie Limited, black on Outdoorsman. (The Outdoorsman used to come with gunmetal, which looked much better IMO.)

        I expect to see it disappear soon though, as the contrasting lower body colour can be deleted when ordering. Most trucks I see driving around have opted to forego the 2-tone paint, unfortunately.

    • 0 avatar

      Nothing beats a two-tone paint job! Ask me how!

  • avatar

    A large roof in white? Attractive and practical — just look at UPS trucks.

    Black? If it’s a panoramic sunroof or carbon fiber, absolutely. Otherwise it’s just lame contrast for its own sake. Bandwagoning. Sort of like the flowing black D-pillar that everyone is doing now.

    We need more interesting colors, but the roof thing can be tricky. If it’s a “floating” roof like the MINI or Flex (or Range Rover, etc) then it can work. But if it touches the rest of the body color, it can be awkward.

  • avatar

    Color separation should follow the natural panel gaps of the car to save on manual labor. I think that’s how Subaru managed to do it for so many years, by painting the parts separately and assembling them after.

    • 0 avatar

      They were able to do two tone on single panels in the ’50s, but they covered the line with chrome/aluminum spears and other brightwork. They might not be able to do that with the ultra-thin sheet metal used today, unless they glue plastic strips or use contrasting pinstriping. Neither would last that long. Mating plastic body panels like those used on Saturns might be easier and would last much longer.

  • avatar

    “Dozens of cars, mainly crossovers and SUVs, have received the treatment since the early 2000s.”

    Are you taking of contrasting roofs, or two tone paint at all? I mean, one look at a 1980s-1990s Ford truck or SUV brochure (even the Aerostar) shows two-tone paint options go much further back than the “early 2000s”. 1990s Toyota cars, namely the Camry and Avalon, also offered two-tone paint schemes. GM trucks have as well.

    Its been going on far longer than you give it credit for. If you were only referring to contrasting roofs, that’s a different point entirely, but two-tone paint in general isn’t just a recent fad.

    • 0 avatar

      “Hasn’t been commonplace in over half a century…” Even for cars this isn’t correct. While mostly unattractive, there were two-tone cars in the early 80’s from GM and Ford that I know of. As for trucks, Two-tone was the norm until about year 2000. My 94 Silverado is black with beige sides and tailgate. In those years there was a large selection of colors to mix and match as well as two-tone styles. Some were contrasting along the bottom, while others were like mine with a wider band of contrasting color mid-way on the body.

      • 0 avatar

        Mid-to-late ’80s rather than early ’80s, but depending on the colors I kind of liked the two-tone 6000’s and 8th-gen Bonnevilles. It helped that they had a functional rub strip that provided a logical break in terms of upper versus lower surfaces. They didn’t necessarily look better or worse than the single-color cars, just different.×495.jpg

  • avatar

    But will two-tones be in lemon-lime like on 1955 Studebakers?

  • avatar

    Why stop with two-tones. Bring back the old Chrysler three-tones (Black/White/Coral).

  • avatar

    The 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix LJ would approve of two tone paint options.

  • avatar

    I hate 2 tone, and hope it dies a quick death.

    I wanted a king ranch F350, but I bought a Lariat JUST so I could get single tone paint. I couldn’t believe you couldn’t get the king ranch in 1 tone?!?!?

    I don’t mind black stripes on a yellow sports car, or anything like that but the black or white roofs on a color car looks to me like the manufacturer couldn’t afford to paint the whole car. It always looks cheap and funny to me.

    It makes me chuckle to realize it costs MORE to look funny…. but to each their own!

  • avatar

    As has been discussed here before, most cars in North America are purchased off the lot, not factory ordered by the end customer. Dealers want to stock vehicles that most people will find unobjectionable, so you wind up with a selection of black, white and various shades of silver to choose from. Most dealers wouldn’t order 2-tone paint for inventory.

    I commented above that I see a lot of pickup trucks with single colour paint, even though I know they were available with 2-tone. My guess is many were originally for dealer inventory, and were ordered with 2-tone delete because the truck would be easier to sell.

    • 0 avatar

      I ordered my ’02 Dodge Dakota and got the single color (boring silver too). Big mistake – I should have gone with the two tone, Dodge had a nice blue over tan scheme that really looked good. They even painted the wheel arches to match the bottom color which tied things in nicely.

      In the 80s I had a two tone Honda Civic S hatchback, red over silver. However that was a specific trim level, going down to a DX got you a solid color car but with ugly black bumpers, while moving up to an Si got you the monotone look where all the parts were painted the same color as the body. The S model had the silver bumpers and bottom only with white, red or a light grey on top. Thus you could easily tell from a distant which Civic model you were looking at.

  • avatar

    Add the new Jeep Compass to the list of crossovers/SUVs with a contrast-roof option. FCA also offers black-painted rooves on the Charger and 300.

    • 0 avatar

      Fiat basically ‘restarted’ this trend back in the late nineties, with the 1998 Fiat Seicento Brush, and the 2003 Lancia Ypsilo B-colore. The combination of the ‘floating roof’ and two-tone paint job started with the ’08 Lancia Delta.

  • avatar

    There is an old fella in my suburb who drives a two tone Grand Marquis. A lighter color of champagne brown on the bottom of the doors/fenders. It’s unique and I’ve never seen one like it.

  • avatar

    Also a two-tone paintjob does stand out – even a white Mini with a black roof and fender cladding has more eye appeal than an all-white version would.

    Also I love my wife’s old Yellow 2002 Mini with a black roof and double black stripes that go from the hood down the front bumper bottom, and down the hatch to the rear bumper. It’s still an eye catcher and gets lots of positive comments.

  • avatar

    Curious if the Gen-1 NSX’s with the solid body colours are more desirable today than the ones with the blacked-out roofs?

  • avatar

    A small collection of Chevy Astro two-tone paint jobs for your viewing dis/pleasure:

  • avatar

    Two tone paint jobs ? Like Black and White ? Cheap to put different colors on the car as assembled, but….

    are we discussing Police Cars ?

  • avatar

    This could save a lot of money at the paint shop…

    I wasn’t in a crash… that front left fender being dull black is just my non-symmetrical 2-tone paint job!

  • avatar

    Two-tone is so so good.

  • avatar

    Next big thing? Its been out there. Minis were running white roofs while others had different colors on the bottom. Don’t we remember these things

  • avatar

    I think the FLEX’s designer was more than “influenced” by MINI’s glass and roof, since he totally ripped-off its shape. The Flex is the shape of a ginormous MINI Hardtop à la Chinese knock-off.

  • avatar

    I remember Mercedes-Benz offering two-toned vehicles until about 1997 and Lexus had ’em until they redesigned the LS in 2001 and ES in 2002. Various KIAs and Hyundais were 2-toned into the mid-aughts.

  • avatar

    Makes sense as cars get taller. Look at the Rav4, especially its rear – it could benefit from being visually broken up.

  • avatar

    My 2012 MX-5 SE is two toned – the body is red, and the Power Retractable Hard Top is black.

  • avatar

    Two-Tone Nissan Kicks has come to Mexico; based on the same platform and wheelbase as the current Versa and Versa Note and sharing drivetrain parts, it is essentially the Note on stilts with swoopier sheetmetal and posher appointments and a hefty price hike for the privilege.

  • avatar

    This is why I always preferred the Eagle Talon to the Mitsubishi Eclipse, especially on the first gen. The major visual difference was that the Talon always had a black roof and made it much more visually interesting.

  • avatar

    love 2 tone. give me a simple pinstripe and we are done. seen the new maxima, it was lowered white with a black top, and with nascar style thick white lettering on the tires. it was sick.

  • avatar

    I have NEVER, EVER seen a two-tone paint job that I thought looked good.

  • avatar

    Hello, Ford? 1983 wants its paint job back.

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