Working With Vintage Design
Another four-door winner, but with a more staid bearing, is Bentley's new flagship, the $285,000 Mulsanne. Seen from a distance, the car's long, flat hood and imposing grille communicate a healthy dose of motoring authority, and its 6 3/4-liter, V8 engine (it has 505 bhp and goes from 0-60 in 5.1 seconds) bolsters that authority with actual performance on the road. Inside, exotic woods, specially tanned leather hides and solid stainless-steel brightware are hand-crafted for maximum luxury, while the signature bulls-eye air vents and glass-like switchgear give a vintage feel.
The Mulsanne was inspired by the company founder W.O. Bentley's "crowning achievement," according to Bentley: an 8-liter coach first shown at the 1930 London Motor Show. But that car has been translated in a way that merits new attention.
Go Tryke's Tamara Warren says that for old-is-new cars like the Mulsanne and Mercedes' SLS AMG (based on the 1950s-era 300SL), modernizing a design is largely a matter of material. "With the advent of lightweight materials like carbon fiber and recycled aluminum, designers can incorporate renaissance design cues with sleek, well-proportioned contemporary shapes that are aesthetically pleasing to the eye--and still capable of responsive performance," she says.
Another throwback on our list is the $43,680 Dodge Challenger SRT8. It costs much less than, say, the $301,000 Alfa Romeo 8C Spider, and its V8 HEMI engine and brawny attitude (angled center console, pistol-grip shifter, dual round headlamps, flared hood) don't scream refinement. But that's not what muscle-car lovers want anyway, Caudill says.
"What's so cool about that car is that if you want a retro muscle car, you don't need to buy a 1964-and-a-half Mustang when you can buy a 2011 Dodge Challenger and get that same home-grown American feel," he says. "It's real American muscle with a retro throwback, big old motor in there."
Of course, much like the XJ, the Challenger isn't as flashy as a Ferrari or an Alfa Romeo. But it does hold a legitimate place in the chronicles of design. After all, beauty depends on the eye of the beholder.
A Perfect Four Door
The $197,850 Aston Martin Rapide received multiple nominations from our judges. Its "swan-wing" doors (they open up and out at a 12-degree angle, for ease of egress), low roofline and 20" rims expertly give a sporty edge to an otherwise elegant four-door sedan. Other notable design features include a broad rear end and the B-pillar-less sides, which actually make it seem more like a coupe. Inside, a swooping center console moves from front to rear, wrapped in hand-stitched leather and flanked by brand-new sport seats in the front of the vehicle.
Gotham Dream Cars' Noah Lehmann-Haupt, no stranger to stunningly beautiful rides, says Astons, in general, are the most beautiful cars ever made--and the Rapide doesn't disappoint. "One thing Aston has nailed time and time and time again is the look of their cars," he says. "The Rapide is just a perfect four door."
But when it comes to attracting attention on a showroom floor, appearance does matter--a lot. Take, for instance, the case of Jaguar's new XJ sedan.
The $113,000 XJL Supersport is just one of 10 cars on our list of this year's most beautiful. Others, like the $240,000 Ferrari 458 Italia and $183,000 Mercedes SLS AMG, are much more sporty than Jag's large sedan--but they all have an allure that's hard to resist.
To compile our list of this year's most beautiful cars, we asked some of our best luxury-car experts for their nominees: Manhattan Automobile Company's Gary Flom; Tamara Warren, a longtime automotive journalist and creator of the car and design blog Go Tryke; Mike Caudill, the automotive analyst for Driven Media; and Noah Lehmann-Haupt, CEO of Gotham Dream Cars. Cars nominated for the list must be in production for 2010--no pre-production models are allowed, like the admittedly beautiful Fisker Karma, or the sleek new Range Rover Evoque.