Design of the year - Renault Fluence

For 2010, the Koreans have raised the bar once again: the Hyundai i45 is certainly pushing the envelope with its dramatic and futuristic lines. But is it a case of going too far with the i45, especially if the target is conservative execs and managers who desire not to rock the boat in their Camrys and Nissan Teanas.

The funky new Tucson, on the other hand, looks better than its "twin" the Kia Sportage. Ex-Audi design chief Peter Schreyer, who is credited with handsome new Kia range, has said it is the Sportage's proportions that are new and refreshing, but this doesn't explain why the more conventional Sorento looks better proportioned.

Kia's bold new Soul is meant to make a design statement and offer a multitude of trendy customization packages, but trends come and go unfortunately, and while it is easy to discard out dated clothes, it is not so easy with an expensive hatchback.

Citroen has dusted off the legendary DS name for a new range of which the DS3 is the first and smallest model. In terms of design however, the DS3 borrows little of the innovative spirit or design of the ‘Goddess' (DS, pronounced déesse in French). Like the Kia Soul, customization is a hallmark of the DS3, and in design terms, it also suffers from being a ‘trend' statement rather than a timeless classic.

The DS3's 5-door sibling, the C3 is an evolution from the last model, not a radical new hatchback model. It is a more aggressive and masculine design, but that's all.

Volkswagen has improved it market-share tremendously with models such as the new Polo, Golf, Touran, Touareg and Phaeton being introduced, but apart from integrating the new corporate face from the Scirocco, their success probably has more to do with attractive pricing and mechanical prowess rather than design.

Jaguar has broken the mold for its new XJ limousine, replacing the retro-styled old model with thoroughly new one. It is beautifully proportioned, and a refreshingly non-German alternative in the luxury sector. There is, however, that unexplained blacked-out panel on the D-pillar. . . .

Another stunningly beautiful car is the Mercedes-Benz E-class coupe, but then the whole point of a coupe is to look better than the bulky saloon model. Not very innovative, just elegance personified.

Ferrari on the other hand, has tried to innovate with its new California model by giving it a solid folding roof, making it a 2-in-1 Coupe/Spider to appease the Americans - even in name. I just wish its rump was less bulky and that odd kink in its flank didn't exist. The California would probably have weighed less and looked better if it had a conventional canvas roof.

The other Italian beauty is the pint-sized Alfa Romeo Mito. It has the soft curves and sensuality of a classic Ferrari or 60s era Zagato-designed Lancia Fulvia, but packaged in a thoroughly modern and practical hatchback. But, like the equally seductive (and flawed) Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione, the Mito probably looks better than it performs, especially against its similarly priced rivals.

Finally, for that ideal balance of looks and ability, without taking one's eye off price, the Renault Fluence is Oneshift's best-styled Car of the Year in 2010. Renault only has one four-door sedan in its entire range, and the Fluence is it. In a manner that only the French can pull off, the car is stylish yet practical, and looks and feels so much more upmarket than the average 1.6-litre family sedan, both in terms of equipment levels and the spaciousness of its well-appointed cabin. Renault has also harnessed its worldwide resources to make the Fluence relevant and affordable in Asia - it is manufactured in Korea and its CVT transmission is unique to the Asian models. Good design never has to cost more, and the Renault Fluence is evidence of this, in more ways than one. - Justin Lee

Ed - The writer is a qualified automotive designer so we'd have to take his word on this one!


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