When will cars stop looking so angry?

Matt Prior opinion
Matt Prior opinion

The Picanto is tired of being picked on so it’s taken some design steroids

I wonder if the mock diffuser at the back of the new Kia Picanto will make it look so sporty and fast that it’ll stop it being tailgated on motorways, as is the fate of so many small cars.

And will its newly beefed-up front end shoo slowcoaches from the outside lane in a way that escapes others of its ilk? Look out mate, one of the Cubes from Terrahawks (ask your dad) is chasing you.

I liked the old Picanto very much, and I expect I’ll like the new one, which got its prices last week ahead of deliveries starting in July. From £15,595, it arrives with a nose that’s so technical and intricate as to be almost post-aggressive.


But aggression, as m’colleague Steve Cropley passingly noted recently, is still very much ‘in’ for new cars. He was a bit sad about that, as I am.

I wonder how much it plays its part in road rage and angst. There is a tendency for us to find faces in inanimate objects. Apparently it’s an evolutionary hangover that conditioned us to spot faces hiding in bushes, either predator or human enemy, and it even primes us to interpret them as wanting to kill us. And now, every time you glance in the mirror, here comes something that appears to be exceedingly cross. Would we all get along better if cars looked more cheerful? Something with a big smile on its chops?

Quite often we’re told a new model has a more aggressive, dynamic stance. There are design-trade tricks to enhance those characteristics: making a car appear wider below the hips with wheel arches that bulge, a high window line and with more frontal area given over to cooling; some gloss black detailing; even some red piping, because red bits are always faster.

But I think the trend towards angrier-looking cars has mostly been accelerated by new lighting technology. Round headlight reflectors, once the only way to project meagre lamp light onto the road, gave a car bright, wide-open ‘eyes’; a cheesy grille could do the rest. Was any car more happy to see you, albeit like a hamster pleased to have stuffed its cheeks, than an Austin-Healey Sprite?

The latest lights can be the narrowest, angriest slits but still be so bright that the UN is investigating how much they dazzle.

It’s still possible to have round headlights, of course, because today lights can be any shape we like. The Alpine A110, Jeep Wrangler and Honda E stick with round, but that shows circularity is largely the preserve of cars that are meant to look retro or classically styled. Round for round’s sake is vanishingly unusual these days.

It seems a shame, but maybe aggression sells. One of the friendliest – or at least most surprised – faces on sale is on the GWM Ora 03 (née Funky Cat), and when did you last see one of those mooching cheerfully down the road? (I grant you its face may not be its biggest stumbling block to widespread UK adoption.) No, grumpiness is very much in at the moment.

Trends obviously do change, though, and people often will overuse a new technology when it first appears before knocking it back to a rather more normal level later. When synthesisers first appeared, their use was prevalent even in heavy rock music. And I heard a story of a late-1970s pub sign that once proudly boasted: ‘Yes! All of our food is microwaved!’

But guitars and griddle plates have found their place again. So perhaps ‘Yes! All of our cars look like they’re coming to beat the living daylights out of you!’ will one day pass too.