QotW: What is the worst modern design trend?

There have been questionable design choices throughout the ages — the giant safety bumpers that disgraced everything from Corolla to the 280Z immediately come to mind. Today it seems that these questionable designs are becoming more prevalent. There are no shortage of design choices that need to be lost to time, but which is the worst? These designs aren’t because automotive designers today are less talented; they’re just dealing with a set of regulations that stifle design options. To satisfy these regulations, belt lines are sky high and all that metal is being contorted into bizarre shapes to break up the space as if it’s no longer acceptable to have flat surfaces or rectangular shapes.

What is the worst modern design trend that needs to be gone immediately?

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What will happen to JNCs once autonomous cars take over?

The majority of the responses were along the lines of this being the end of motoring. The winner this week is Bryan Kitsune with his summary of the plot line to what could be a great cyberpunk sci fi story.

When the robots rise up and destroy humanity, JNC’s will largely be dismissed or recycled by the robots, except those hidden and rescued by a small force of rebel cyborgs. Quietly and diligently they will build an elite team lead by Celi Karu, and his 18RG powered Dragon. Through perseverance and cunning they eventually overcome the soulless robots and their autonomous vehicles, leading to a glorious new era of Kyusha…but how long can it survive?

Omedetou! Your comment has earned you a set of decals from the JNC Shop.

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57 Responses to QotW: What is the worst modern design trend?

  1. Jan van Kleef says:

    The much two narrow windows. With all the increasing traffic, you need good visibility more than ever. But you get always less glass around you. Stupid, dangerous and neither elegant nor sporty.

  2. Lupus says:

    The ban on pop-up headlights. Sure, they might be dengerous for pedestrians in case of an accident, but i really miss that feature on modern cas. With closed lights cas looked more streamlined, or one could blink with one of them – literally, with minor elctric circuit mod.

  3. BlitzPig says:

    The giant, gaping maws that all cars seem to have these days.


    Toyota and Lexus seem to be the worse offenders here.

    Next are the contorted front fender lines that arch way to high over the front wheel openings, then plunge back down towards the front of the car.

    Japanese designers used to call this stuff “surface excitement”, but now it’s just surface excrement.

  4. Steeko says:

    plastic around wheel arches.
    These eventually fade with age and sun damage and make the car look like rubbish.

    Fake exhausts is probably another where the pipe exits elsewhere but they put a fancy fake outlet in the rear face.

  5. RX626 says:

    Front mask unified with brands.
    This robbed individuality the car.

    For example, Mazda.
    In the past. Demio, Familia, Sentia, had different front masks.
    Everything except MX-5 is the same now. You can see at a glance that it is a Mazda , but it has no personality.

    Many brands around the world are swallowed by this bad fashion, Lexus and Nissan all lose their personality. It is horrible.

    • Bryan Kitsune says:

      I’m with you here. I remember thinking it about Pontiac (and Dodge) back in the 90s…for some reason it spread like cancer, even though Pontiac is dead. Why Japanese automakers wanted to copy that, I really don’t get.

      • Ant says:

        There’s sound thinking behind it – most brands these days are aiming for a more premium slice of the market, and a family face is a trick long used by premium brands to build a very strong brand identity.

        As an extreme, think the Rolls-Royce grille, which has remained pretty much the same for over a century. But BMW, Mercedes-Benz etc have had a recognisable face for decades – while individual elements have changed, someone from the 1960s could probably identify a modern BMW by its kidney grille alone.

        Now whether mainstream brands *should* be aiming for the premium market is a different story, but as car manufacturing gets more expensive and profits are squeezed, moving upmarket is one of the only ways of making decent money in the car industry.

    • Ant says:

      In agreement with this, though I’d not personally have used Lexus as an example of a brand losing its personality with a constant grille design. Partly because some of the recent Lexus models have looked fantastic, but mostly because Lexus is a brand that for most of its time in existence hasn’t really *had* any personality. One or two models aside, it’s only the recent design trend that has given Lexus as distinct identity.

      All that said, the other styling features currently used on Lexus cars mean they’re easy to identify even if you’re not looking at the grille.

  6. Punto8 says:

    Cheap two-toned wheels most prevalent in Korean autos but copied by everyone.

    • RX626 says:

      And also we are tired of cheap two-tone colors like Copy of Abarth and Citroen and Lamborghini.
      It may be cool to incorporate red and yellow stripes into the spoiler, but doing it with stock is only vulgar.
      There is goodness of Type R in Type R, Nismo has goodness of Nismo.
      However, They ruined it with a cheap copy of Lamborghini.

      I want them to return to cool brand designs like Z-Tune, 400R, and classic Type R.

  7. Scotty G says:

    I vote to get rid of the lame, scowling, angry, aggressive “face” on far too many vehicles. First of all, car grilles / front clips aren’t human faces, why can’t someone come up with a really new concept? A grille and two headlights, even if it’s an EV? Really? Grille as human face. Strike one. And, as if people don’t tailgate enough, then you have this lame, pseudo-angry-faced car right behind you, showing you how angry the driver is by the angry-faced car he/she is driving – as if you’re supposed to pull onto the shoulder to let them go by when you’re already doing 9 mph over the speed limit in the right lane. Strike two. And, if you do pull over, you realize that 90% of those meatballs are speed poseurs anyway. Like those fish that hang onto the back of sharks, they do not go by you anyway, they just wanted you to run block for them. Lame. Strike three. Bye-bye, fake, angry-faced cars, your time is way overdue.

  8. Bryan Kitsune says:

    SUVs/Crossovers/Gigantic trucks. (OK, it’s not so much a design trend, as a complete platform…but my complaint stands.)

    • Omar Youssef says:

      Ok, but I actually have one of those separate from my two seater. Some of us just like to off road, or carry a lot of friends.My family is 9 people, so when we go out to dinner, our Toyota Sequoia is the only way.

  9. speedie says:

    Design standards for pedestrian safety and overall crash protection has produced a small box in which automotive designers can work their art. Because of this automakers are trying everything to add distinctiveness to a design that is basically the same for a given vehicle class across all manufacturers. A case in point is the new Honda Civic, especially the the Si, which has so many design elements in the rear that is it is actually painful to look at. The one item I dislike the most that is showing up on more “sporty” models, is the use of fake rear under body exhaust openings in the rear bumper. The new Civic Si sets a new standard here. Did the designers really think that four square feet of fake honeycomb outlets would appeal to younger drivers? My 25 year old just giggles every time he sees one. Please stop the madness!

  10. エーイダン says:

    All the cars being designed by a handful of Italian styling houses after the best designers have died. The wannabe supercar looks of so many new models. Take the new Civic Type R, with it’s Lamborghini-esque rear fascia. It looks so pretentious and like it’s dressing itself up to be more than it really is. Another horrid trend is the crossover, the pointless-on-wheels-mobile (We can thank the brilliance of Matra-Simca for starting that one). Crossovers don’t look like a car, SUV or an estate car, they just look like inflated and cartooned something with wheels underneath and some flashy chrome bits on the front. Why couldn’t the styling of say the R34 Nissan Skyline be inspiration for the modern designs????? Egads, back in the 1980s, an Austin Metro was said by British Leyland to be just as aerodynamic as a Porsche 911……and the Metro was more square than a box of chocolates! If a little hatchback the size of a packing crate can be as aerodynamic as a Porsche and be boxy, what’s with all the plastic bubbles on the roads????? God, please deliver me from the terror that is modern styling, save my eyes and send me back in time to the 80s or 90s please!!!!!

  11. Mark says:

    Lack of 2 door models. Automakers have gotten lazy by only offering a 4 door sedan, and that’s it. In the past, most car models came in 2 and 4 door models, convertible, and station wagon variants. Now, it seems that 2 door models are reserved for expensive cars.

    • speedie says:

      I just read an article this week that discussed how two door car sales have been steadily declining. The example they used was that four-door Jeep Wranglers outsell the two-door by a good margin. While I too would like to see more two doors, its not the automakers fault. Why make something if no one wants to buy it.

  12. Bill Wilkman says:

    Goofy tail lights, especially those on the current Prius models.

  13. Steve says:

    FWD cars.
    Specifically, the long, front overhang that was necessitated by having a transverse, FWD powertrain is now being carried over into RWD platforms. The C6 Corvette and BRZ/FRS are examples of cars with front overhangs that are greater than the rear overhangs but unnecessary because the have FR powertrains. If you look at the classically beautiful RWD cars that were available before the FWD era (Z-cars, Celicas, Jaguars, BMWs, MB, etc.), you will see that they ALL had short front overhangs and long rear overhangs.
    But I guess it is now inevitable; today’s designers are from the generation of kids who only know FWD Hondas, Camry’s and Maximas and I suppose that looks more normal to them…
    It sucks getting old…

  14. DerbyCityGinger says:

    Those plastic pieces that are solid plastic but have patterns that make them look like grilles, and fake exhaust tips inegated into rear trim panels. Those two design trends are awful, especially the latter. Even expensive cars are using them and it’s obvious when they’re fake.

  15. Alan says:

    The substitution of overwrought gimmicks in place of solid design based on established principles of function and necessity. Think modernism vs victorian. Even ze Germans have succumbed and they’re the original masters of rational, timeless design.

  16. Rowan Day says:

    windows are getting smaller and smaller. Particularly the rear windscreen. It’s getting harder to check your blind spots in modern cars.

  17. Dimitry says:

    Well, I guess everyone already named the most common items: grilles, fake exhaust tips, abundance of exterior curvacious plastic.
    Here is my 0.5CAD – I really, really dislike modern factory rim design. It’s as if the designers smoke a figurative bong and go a rampage of designing some extra complicated, but extremely unattractive to look at aluminum monstrosities. A lot of older vehicles, that are even 10-15 years old have much better looking wheels, than the modern stuff they ship with your brand new car at the dealership.
    While it’s not a JNC, I’m running ’04 TL rims on my ’04 Accord, and couldn’t be happier with the look.
    Speaking of 04′ Accords. The modern interiors. Or should I even say “interiors”? Modern cars are made with incredibly cheap looking plastic. And by cheap, I mean plastic that will put to shame (of cheapness) even stuff that has “Made in China” gloriously stamped on the side. Go ahead, get into the new Civic (not even the Type R), the steering wheel is littered with buttons that look like they are stolen from an old Logitech gaming wheel. Not even Logitech itself, but a knockoff of one.
    It’s incredible how stuff that was made 15 years ago and more has more character and is much more comfortable to the eye and the rear to be in. Literally that – comfortable.
    My coworker’s ’93 Accord 4-door is “richer” looking than a brand new Camry – despite it’s fancy screens and back up cameras.
    I’ll just finish this word vomit in this: The worst modern design trend is the lack of character.

  18. Dankan says:

    A lot of the changes are through regulations, and are not something which much can be done about by stylists. They know the gaping maws, high belt-lines and giant, bluff front ends are crap. They just can’t stop that.

    One thing that is not regulatory, but is a problem, is the popularity of SUVs/crossovers. This is a wonderful example of customers being idiots. They don’t want to drive a lame station wagon or minivan, so they need to look “tough” and active. What better way to do that than driving a hatchback version of a mid-size sedan that’s been jacked up 5 inches and gifted an extra 200lbs of plastic?

    It makes the car itself worse in every respect as a car, but it’s the fashionable choice, so it’s what the manufacturers will sell. Especially since the idiots buying them are willing to pay an extra 3 grand for the privilege.

    And it’s all because they’re the modern, trendy thing.

  19. Negishi no Keibajo says:

    Busy sheetmetal. We salivate over clean concepts with clean lines. By the time marketing gets a hold of it, we see all these creases and folds all over the body to the point, it’s barely recognizable. Kudos to Cadillac; the CTS Coupe was pretty much like the concept by leaving it alone.

  20. chris says:

    Size: cars keep getting bigger and higher. Not only SUVs, but also ‘normal’ cars. A car +10 years ago, I could wash the roof by hand without stretching, now you really have to stretch. But is not only washing. Higher car means you either have more glass (which doesn’t look sporty) or more sheetmetal.

    Busy sheetmetal: just because you now can add all kinds of creases, doesn’t mean you should. But because more sheetmetal is needed because bigger cars, the big vertical area needs to be visually broken somehow.

    Big rear lights: I thought with LED they would move past big plastic blocks and do something creative. Alas…

    Fender design: the big arch around the wheels really bugs me. Again probable needed to visually break the height of the fender. Or is there some aerodynamic benefit?

    For me, a Miata NA or Honda Accord 1990 are just perfect!

    • SaveTheDragons says:

      Yes, I have noted many cars I like have a thin area from the top of the hood to the wheel arch.. This makes the cars look appealing to me, like 1980s Cadillacs, early Celicas, 60s Impalas, 80s/90s Hondas.

      Now most cars have a giant area above the wheel well and it looks trash

    • DerbyCityGinger says:

      I love my NA, the exterior is amazingly simple styling that works, no unnecessary overstyling.

  21. Mike says:

    The SUV is a plague upon our highways. The “hourglass” grills on Lexus and Toyota products are an offense to our sight. But the Acura beak has ruined more potentially nice models than any other styling cue in the history of mankind. Fortunately, Acura is finally abandoning this hideous icon, but I can never un-see the front end of a mid-teens TL.

    • Mike says:

      Oops…The Toyota/Lexus grill treatment is commonly referred to as the “spindle” grill, not the hourglass grill. Either way, its just awful.

      • Speedie says:

        Toyota calls it a spindle grill based on its heritage as a textile machine manufacturer. Most people I know call it an hourglass grill mainly because hardly anyone knows what a spindle is anymore.

  22. glenn says:

    American car designers.

  23. Dutch 1960 says:

    It’s all been downhill from the Civic Si of 1999-2000. It’s the entire package. That car was the last honestly and simply styled performance (yeah, I know) Japanese car that doesn’t have a bad line or feature, inside or out, top to bottom, front to back. EM1 in Electron Blue. You can’t get there with visual bling.

  24. Matchthebox says:

    We need real bumpers not Big plastic bumper which looks more like part of the car body which actually serves more as cosmetic than actually protecting the car. Long tilted windshield that takes up more space of the car and now requires longer wipers.

  25. ahja says:

    I don’t buy many of the excuses people are giving for why the news cars supposedly HAVE to have their hideous features. An FRS for example is quite low in the nose, so the claim that they have to have gaping maws because pedestrian crash standards mandates a 4′ tall blunt front doesn’t ring true. Don’t get me wrong, I despise the BS regulations as much as anybody, but I think quite a bit of the blame for the sorry state of car design has to go to bad designers.

    I disagree with Ryan in that they ARE less talented today. Because they design using focus groups and computer programs. In the past designs were done on paper and clay, and workshopped amongst the design team only, not the general public. Keeping new models a secret used to be a bigger deal back when people had original ideas. In this day of bogus “retro” cars and reheated movie remakes design is all but dead. Its all about giving dumb focus groups what they say the want. Think of the types of morons in those Chevy commercials and imagine car companies designing the new model based on their input. Yeah. That’s what happens now.

    Ugly and unergonomic things like small windows and high beltlines are only partially because of crash standards. They also focus group well because they make the driver feel safe or the car look “tough”. The auto industry pretty much can’t make a nice sleek sedan these days, because they are too busy thinking the lowest common denominator should be the one deciding a cars looks and making creased up lardboxes with “aggresive” fascias instead…

  26. Kane says:

    Plastic head lights….. There is probably some safety reason as to why they use plastic, But over time they just deteriorate. Glass always looks new. Glass is superior.

    • Randy says:

      Probably weight; definitely cost.

      • Kane says:

        Huh, I can’t believe I didn’t think about it like that. It makes scene….. But I still dislike plastic head lights.

        • Randy says:

          Yeah, that fading thing is a PITA… Can’t really be stopped, and polishing them is an ongoing battle. Can you imagine what those monsters on today’s vehicles would weigh!? Of course, maybe they’d go back to lights that look like lights, rather than something out of a sci-fi (sy-fy? Really?) movie.

  27. Nathan says:

    Ugliness for the sake of being different, especially with CUVs, family sedans, and design.languages. Where the Nissan Aztek failed, the Nissan Nuke “succeeded”, at least as much as something so heinous can be said to do so. Not being one to take a clue after years spent wandering in the Desert of Blah, Toyota decided to copy this awful idea with the C-HR, which must stand for “Call Human Resources”, because its mere presence in a workplace parking lot is offensive. While not quite as eye-stabbing, the new Camry looks as if it was designed by many teams that never talked to each other. The optional blacked-out roof makes it worse and that grill makes me want to vomit. Speaking of puke, can we talk about the Nissan V Motion grill or the outgoing Acura “bird beak”? …or the hardly better geometry throwup of angles that replaced it? I better not, on second thought. Such torture is banned under most countries’ laws.

  28. Socarboy says:

    Purely speaking of aesthetics here, but IMO hands down is the hideous spindle grille Lexus has been pushing the last few years. On some of their larger models like the LX570 it reminds me of a cow catcher from a 19th century coal powered locomotive

  29. I think the worst design-Thing that comes out from all the big manufacturers at the Moment (except Mazda maybe, which still makes cars as we knew them) is the “All-in-one-car”.

    Thos compact cars that should be small, but at the same time offer lots of space. want to look sporty but at the same time have a eco-engine.

    Often These days cars ain’t a sedan, Station wagon or hatchback anymore, they’re all-in one. and i hate it.

    as a customer i was looking for a japanese Station wagon available in europe to haul Restauration parts for my JNC Projects around but also have it as a nice daily Driver. i came up with only 3 or so Options available total two of them beeing strange looking Toyotas. one of them the Mazda 6 / Atenza Station wagon which i now own and love. but if you want to choose from some compact cars which are all in one you have like hundreds to choose from. but a normal hatchback These days? Almost impossible to find something good…

  30. SaveTheDragons says:

    The Landcruiser GXL looks the same in 2017 as a 1982 model.
    Because the functionality works and Toyota keeps it that way… people buy it.

    The latest designs will be worthless in years to come as they look terrible.

    And rim design, why is 99.9% of new wheels a flat face for front wheel drive?
    Even RWD cars have flat faced wheels, nothing has dish!

    I WANT DISH DAMMIT! On errthang including new cars.

  31. DesignerD says:

    This thread is the best thing I’ve read all year… good to know what real people think

    • Ant says:

      Not sure if that’s sarcasm or not, because it’s melting my brain! I know this is a site primarily for classic Japanese cars but it’s a shame there seems to be so little middle ground between people who appreciate classic and modern vehicles.

      Some of today’s cars are absolutely stunning and it’s amazing that some manufacturers can produce such cars *despite* the myriad regulations they must now comply with.

      While there are trends I’d like to see reintroduced on modern vehicles – larger DLO and slimmer pillars mainly (which of course are both related), it’s a shame that so few people seem to appreciate modern car design.

      But then, I guess it’s always been that way. There were some great looking JNCs in say, the 80s or 90s, but I bet there are plenty of people who grew up with cars of the 50s and 60s who think it’s been all downhill since then…

      • DesignerD says:

        I certainly wasn’t being sarcastic, ask Ben Hsu what I do! 😉

        I certainly think some of those trends may make a come back; a lot of the time it’s down to pure personal styling on how the car is aesthetically laid out. Believe it or not every engineer wants bigger windows for visisbility for example!

        Every decade has its icons, but if you can appreciate all of them I think it gives you a wonderful insight into how verihcle design and society at large has evolved with its needs and desires in taste and function. And it’s always the wierd and rare that are sought after and coveted

        • Ant says:

          If I recall correctly (I’ve been reading JNC for a while now), you were behind the Nissan IDX concepts, weren’t you?

          Which is why I asked if it was sarcasm – I was surprised a current car designer would be taking so much enjoyment from a thread almost universally critical of modern car design!

          • DesignerD says:

            Yup, that’s me… that was a great project still and a superb team; some of the best designers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.

            As a designer, we’re constantly striving and searching for something new which in some cases leads to interesting design solutions to test the public’a reaction… we could design something that’s universally liked but then it may not have that special something that makes people want to part with their hard earned money.

            Modern cars are difficult to design for anyway with all the regulations and technical hard points to cover… sure, it doesn’t help that a design can end up looking like a naked mole rat, but in defence of the above offending mole rat, it is memorable and might have a little some aesthetically that the next car can build upon and get right.

            I personally like to design cars that are in the “love or hate” box; since not every single person is going to like my design, then I prefer to push the design to a point where people really really love it or absolutely hate it. Sometimes people hate something because they don’t understand it; it’s too new or different from before. Eventually they may come round to the design as it starts to become the new normal for them, or every other manufacturer realises the potential of the idea. Of course, all this has to also be done with respect to the particular vehicle and the customer we’re designing for. That’s how cross overs came about.

            The reason I think this thread is good is simply you’re saying what a lot of designers think anyway and that’s normal in design… try and try again, sketch and sketch again, because we simply want to improve of the last design, good or bad. 🙂

          • Ant says:

            Can’t seem to reply in a thread format any further so hopefully you’ll see this, DesignerD!

            Thanks for your response – absolutely makes sense and I know from other designers I’ve chatted with that you guys can be your own worst critics, so perhaps the comments on this page aren’t so bad…

        • David says:

          Most important, thank you for participating. It is great to have input from a professional.
          My tastes are all over the board! For example, although I am not enthusiastic about the appearance of the Nissan Juke, I am crazy for the 2010-2013 Mazda3, especially the Speed3. I also think the current Mazda6 looks fabulous, as does the Nissan 370Z. And, I am a fanatic for the NC MX-5 Miata. See what I mean? All over the board. In general, I do think that the fronts of some modern Japanese cars are too aggressive. I know that statement runs counter to my enthusiasm for the Speed3! I have no adequate defense for my styling preferences.
          On an unrelated topic, the biggest drawback to modern cars is high weight. I’m with Colin Chapman on this topic: Add lightness. But I know it must be very hard to do.
          Best regards.

  32. Khoua says:

    No sure if it qualifies as “design” but these new cars a design flaw would be having the car ‘drive’ for you. There are so many sensors in a car that helps the driver. It’s great but at the same time, these ‘luxuries’ can spoil your driving.
    Cars were meant to be driven. When you drive, you’re putting 110% of your attention to driving. These new sensors that prevent you from driving the way you want can be good and bad as every situation is different but EVERY situation can be averted if the driver pays attention to driving and not their phones.

    As for aesthetic designs, look at the 2017 Camry, Accord, Fusion, Elantra, Lancer, etc. They all have very similar head light designs. Maybe it’s just me but I remember, roughly just 10 years ago, when the whole line of cars looked very different from each other.

  33. xs10shl says:

    Anything DOT-mandated. Fat bumpers which spoil the lines, A-pillars so thick that you can’t see pedestrians st the crosswalk. High hoods and sills which make you feel like you’re driving a bunker. I swear, if cars ever truly become autonomous, the DOT will mandate the removal of the “dangerous windscreen” in favor of a windowless rubber cube.

  34. Rizqi Dawami says:

    massive chrome everywhere either in the grill, bumper, tinted glass, even on head lights. It is actually disturbing because italways reflect the hot sun from the chrome. That’s very annoying

  35. alvin says:

    Cut-off fender flares. You know what I’m talking about.

    Remember when cars had real, sexy fender flares?
    FD RX-7

    Well, if you look at just about any car built in the last decade, that tiny radius has been turned into a flat wall, sometimes of gargantuan proportions. Like this Honda Accord:

    Even GM had it right with the C4 ‘Vette:

    Bring back the fender! Your eyes will thank you.

  36. Alex Traw says:

    The blacked out/flying roof C-pillar that has become popular in the past year or two. It’s ridiculous.
    Over styled cars like the new Civic Type R. What an abortion. I don’t mind an aggressive look, I drive a ’16 Focus ST after all, but it looks like a wallflower next to one of those things.
    Most cars are overstyled these days.

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