Autoblog editors' favorite designs of the last 10 yearsIt's a seminal period for design. Luxury and sports cars are as eye-catching as ever, and midsize and compact cars are dressing with the style and panache traditionally reserved for pricier segments. Heck, even crossovers are looking sharp. We've finally broken free of the awkward, plasticy, and often forgettable design malaise that lingered from the 1980s into the early part of this century.
With that in mind, our editors have come up with their favorite designs of the last 10 years. The criteria was simple: pick a car, back it up, and get ready to argue. We've come up with a pretty diverse list. Click on through.
Seyth Miersma – 2009 Audi R8By my count Audi has three revolutionary designs to its credit: The Sport Quattro, the first-generation TT coupe, and the unmissable R8. Upon its debut the R8 firmly entrenched Audi in the automotive-design elite, and did as much for the overall image of the brand as any car it had produced to that point.
The basic wedge shape had graced supercars for decades by the time Audi adopted it for its halo machine, but the R8 gave the idiom new life. Forward slashing angles are incongruously accented by the vertical sideblade and the slightly hunched rear glass. The result is far from the typical supercar silhouette, and damn near perfect.
2014 BMW i8 – Mike AustinTake any car from the last 40 years and think about how crazy it looked in the context of its times. The late '60s and early '70s were a high point, sure, with cars like the Lamborghini Espada and anything penned by Giugiaro wedging their way into our collective gearhead consciousness. But nothing else is so far-out and still beautiful as the BMW i8. It has more bends and folds than a Frank Gehry building, and they all contribute to the overall styling theme. We've been looking at one version or another of the i8 since 2009, and if it came out today everyone would still freak out at how fresh this car looks. It's not just the future, but the future we were promised.
2014 Cadillac ELR – Chris BruceIn terms of the best designs in the last five years in the auto industry, I have to nominate the Cadillac ELR. Remember this is a question based exclusively on looks. There's no doubt that the initial examples of the ELR are massively overpriced and arguably underpowered. However, looking at the plug-in hybrid coupe only as a static piece of art, I think it's an absolute beauty.
The wedge-shaped design and hard crease running along the profile make the ELR look aggressive and certainly give it presence on the road. When combined with the cascading highlights and taillights, the coupe looks like a vision of the future that you can actually buy today.
There are often complaints among fans of auto design that companies debut a concept, but the daring shapes get drastically scaled back for production. That didn't happen with the ELR, and it brought the great look of the Converj concept to the road largely unaltered. I think it's a truly gorgeous car that's held back by a high price.
2013 Ferrari F12 Berlinetta – Noah JosephI'll be the first to admit that Ferrari designs of late have not been as great as they once were, the muscular elegance of the 250 GTO and 365 Daytona having long-since given way to overwrought aggression and odd proportions. (Just look at the California or the FF and you'll see what I mean.) But if there's one Prancing Horse that I believe will stand the test of time and visually dominate any road, lot, showroom, or show stand which it graces with its menacing presence – surely it's the F12 Berlinetta.
Maranello's premier 12-cylinder GT, to my eye, blends the best of classic proportions with modern details. It's wide and muscular yet timelessly proportioned. It's more exciting than the 550 Maranello (and subsequent 575M) that took Ferrari back to the form, and better resolved than the 599 GTB Fiorano that followed.
Is it perfect? Of course not, but I've yet to see the automotive design that is. In this writer's humble opinion, however, it's the best-looking thing to come out of Italy in a generation or two. And for a country renowned for its design, that's not mere lip service. Of course with 731 atmospheric ponies under the hood, you're not likely to see one standing still for long.
2010 Jaguar XJ – Jeremy KorzeniewskiIt could be argued that any Jaguar XJ built between 1968 and 2003 sports a timeless design. In this writer's eyes, the Series 3 that was offered between 1979 and 1992 is the best-looking of its breed, but any pre-2004 XJ is a slinky feline that still exudes double-takes from even casual observers. And then 2004 came, and the British automaker decided to recreate the classic XJ shape, except with more modern aluminum construction and with the latest safety requirements fully met. It didn't work, and resulted in a bloated caricature of the cars that came before.
Jaguar tried valiantly to keep its XJ looking modern-retro, and a subsequent refresh in 2007 did help, but by that time, it was clear that a wholesale rethink was sorely needed. That came the 2010 model, and it was glorious.
Even if the current Jaguar XJ doesn't quite have the same feminine curves of early Series Jags, it has presence, and the fact that it so thoroughly updated a classic shape while carrying almost nothing over stands as a testament to the talents of lead designer Ian Callum. Fortunately, Jaguar's well-regarded aluminum construction still remains, making the current XJ the best of its breed. When coupled with its available supercharged 5.0-liter V8 engine, it's got all the power it needs to back up its aggressive-yet-classy looks.
2014 Jeep Cherokee – Greg MiglioreOkay, I don't think this is the best-looking design of the last 10 years, but I think it's the gutsiest, and that's why I'm picking it as my favorite. Jeep took one of its icons, the Cherokee, and completely changed its design definition. The Cherokee went from a boxy off-roader to an angled and curvy well, off-roader. It's a dramatic departure. I mean this is Jeep we're talking about. It has one of the most loyal fan bases of any auto brand, and its enthusiasts don't like change. Taking an icon and re-skinning it so differently was a risky play, and it's paid off. Cherokee sales have been a strong point for Jeep, and it's attracting new customers. I was skeptical at first because I loved the XJ generation, but this fresh look has been the invigorating style Jeep needs moving forward.
2014 Mazda6 – Steven EwingMazda hit it out of the park when it debuted the Shinari concept in 2010. This sleek four-door showed the new face of the brand, and its Kodo design language has since made its way to nearly every vehicle in the company's lineup. The proportions and lines of the Shinari were stunning, and I knew that this would soon translate to a very attractive production model. Enter the 2014 Mazda6.
The Mazda6 is, arguably, the best-looking car in the midsize sedan class. It has a long hood, short rear deck, flowing lines along the sides, and an aggressive front fascia. Even base models with smaller wheels look fantastic, though the top-level models with the dark-finish 19-inch rollers look super sharp.
Since its debut, we've seen more and more automakers injecting a lot of style into their midsize offerings, but I still think the Mazda looks the best. The Mazda6 appears far more premium than its low MSRP would suggest. This car is proof that you don't have to spend a ton of money to get a great-looking package.