Now that we are officially into 2024, it may be useful to take one last look back at 2023 and assess some of the good, and not so good designs that came out last year.
This isn’t an exhaustive list. Rather it’s vehicles that I have found visually intriguing or disturbing and as such represents no other truth but my own.
Starting with the positive and in no particular order, the Toyota Prius surely has to be included if there was a Most Visually Improved award. The vehicle has gone from an awkward, ungainly, Crocs-like car to a svelte, graceful looker.
Distinguished by a profile that’s enabled by a very fast windshield angle that continues into the hood in one continuous sweep, the Prius’ newfound visual appeal does come with a price, in being less spacious, more difficult to get in and out of, and compromised visibility compared to its predecessor.
Still, I believe it’s one of Toyotas best designs in a long time, while other Toyota efforts over the last few years have given new meaning to “stylish” as a derogatory term. I wonder, though if former (and new?) customers will be as enamored by it as much as I am just looking at it.
Admittedly I’m not the biggest fan of SUVs and their like, having successfully avoided them despite their popularity.
Yet upon seeing my first Alfa Romeo Tonale, a Verde Fangio green (pictured above) with 20-inch five-hole wheels, I thought, ‘What’s that? It’s great looking,’ even as a small-ish SUV.
And that’s the point: The Tonale has enough curves and fluid surfaces, despite its two-box SUV profile, to make you forget it is an SUV.
Yes, I know it shares a platform and most of its sheetmetal with the very similar Dodge Hornet, and perhaps I should give it an honorable mention.
But the distinctive front-end graphics and nicely detailed horizontal taillamps—along with that surfacing—really help convey the visual impression of a proper Alfa.
So much so that the Hornet looks more like a de-contented Alfa than the other way around. Along with the Stelvio, Alfa Romeo now produce some of the prettiest SUVs on the market.
Though I’ve recently written about the Mercedes-AMG GT, I’m including it here because no other car had me contemplate doing serious damage to my 401K more than this one.
The newest AMG GT is a refined and updated version of its predecessor, with perhaps less dramatic proportions (less dash to axle) but with a more tightly drawn, purposeful look.
And it’s those looks—combining the right amount of aggression with elegance that telegraphs the car’s intended purpose. It’s the iron fist in a velvet glove. Despite borrowing some elements from Porsche’s 911, it is its own design, and one of the best-looking GTs money can buy.
In 2023 there were also new introductions that were frankly a letdown.
No one would call the new Honda Accord an eyesore or visually challenging in any way. It’s very—shall we say—pleasant. And I would think that for most of its buyers, that’s perfectly fine.
My issue with the car is it is so nondescript and generic that it tends to look like a car from an insurance ad where the identity of the vehicle has been blurred or disguised.
What makes this even more troubling is, the previous-generation Accord had a distinctive identity.
It was a sedan with a fast rear profile and a muscular body surface that didn’t rely on typical wheel opening flairs, combined with a distinctive arching character line that gave the car an appreciated degree of tension.
In comparison, the 2024 Accord has none of this, and that’s a shame really as it seemed like the designers of the previous generation were really trying to achieve something fresh, and maybe just a little unexpected for an Accord. With the new one, it’s as if they just phoned it in.
In the past I’ve been critical of the current BMW design direction, and unfortunately the new G60 5-Series sedan does nothing to change my mind.
Like the Accord, its predecessor was a better effort, possessing clear BMW DNA with a sporty, mature confidence that had been the hallmark of their best designs.
But unlike the Accord, this isn’t a pleasant car to look at. In fact, with a snout-like front end, kicked-up rear, and heavier, strange proportions, it’s downright irritating.
It may be a better car than the former G30. Indeed it may be a great car—it’s just that it doesn’t look like one.
I’m still a fan of BMW, despite my misgivings about the look of their latest offerings. We won’t see a new 3-Series for a while, which is rumored to be a big departure from the current car.
Perhaps the meager US sales in 2023 of fewer than 33,000 3-Series sedans (well behind sales of even the 4-Series coupe) explain the new styling language expected for a 3-Series replacement. They used to sell 100,000 3-Series sedans annually in the US not long ago.
Meanwhile, the importance of stylish sedans for BMW has diminished as the brand’s crossover SUVs now dominate sales in the US. The X3 and X5, for instance, both sold about 60,000 units last year.
Perhaps priorities have shifted in Munich.
Dave Rand (pictured right) is the former executive director of Global Advanced Design for General Motors.