Design Evolution and Copying

As SUVs go these days, there’s a lot of similarity going around. Back in 2002 to 2003—in the relatively early days of the animal—there was a lot more difference among manufacturers and models as far as styling goes. But now the differences are much narrower.

For me, the pinnacle of SUV styling was the 2003 Nissan Murano, a model I wrote about back in 2015. That model had the best cohesive styling, about which I remember saying that it looked like one person had designed it.

Well, I’ve since changed my mind. It appears the one to emulate now is the Range Rover Evoque. That styling (pictured in the two far left photos above) has set the standard. And it seemed as soon as it arrived in 2012, it brought a lot of emulation from its competitors. At least it did at first.

A little history: the Rover group was purchased in 1994 by BMW as an investment. Then they sold the Land Rover brand to Ford in 2000. Then Ford bought the remained brand—Range Rover—in 2006. As of now, Ford has sold the Rovers and Jaguar to Tata Motors of India (crazy how this global economy works anymore). Tata kept Ford’s engines in the SUVs until 2015. This association with Ford has not gone unnoticed in the styling of Ford’s SUVs, most notably in its Explorer models.

The Range Rover’s Evoque is actually what’s referred to in the industry as a small SUV, sometimes noted as a “sport” model. Its unique profile—that of the back-slanted roofline and high-nosed front end—make for a stylish trend-setting design, especially when accompanied with those 22″ wheel rims. This design has not changed very much in the seven-year span of this vehicle.

Ford’s copying of the front end styling was most notable in the 2012 Explorer, and the Edge took on similar styling, especially with regard to the headlamp assembly shape and location. Of course, what made headlamp assembly evolution possible in recent years are the two incarnations of HID lamps (high-intensity discharge) and the LED headlights. BMW brought about the HID lamps in 1992 and Lexus was first with the LEDs in 2006. Both of those designs made it possible to contour the entire headlamp assembly into a much smaller area, and then made it possible for automotive designers to blend that contouring into slimmer, more svelte front-end styling.

Notice the front-end styling of the vehicles above. The top row photos are from the 2012 model year, while the bottom row’s shots are from 2018. The shots are of course Range Rover Evoques (left), Ford Edges (middle), and Toyota Highlanders (right).

Notice also, like I just stated, how little the Evoque has changed. Then look at the other marques and how much they have changed.

Range Rover knows where its success lies in sound automotive styling. No need to change a beautiful design.

Ford and Toyota feel they need to keep changing. Maybe they both feel they haven’t yet achieved design success. But another thing is clear about their designs: Ford’s styling appears to have taken on a taller front-end profile, with its headlamp assembly becoming larger, not slimmer; and Toyota’s styling overall has become taller and and more cluttered. The styling for both the Ford Edge and Toyota Highlander has actually regressed: the vehicles have become uglier, not better looking.

Maybe Ford had the right idea back in 2012. Maybe copying the Evoque was the better strategy. And Toyota’s fleet styling is perplexing anyway. While the Camry has taken on elements from the Lexus line, its SUV is just the ugly dog in the yard.

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