The face of road rage

Every car has a face, says Jack Baruth in Road & Track, and lately, those faces look pissed off:

Why, exactly, does every new automobile with the slightest bit of aspirational positioning look furious for some reason? Why do they all have big open-mouthed faces full of sharp-looking toothy chrome? Why do they all have wrathful eyes with LED markers like murderous eyebrows?

It wasn’t always this way:

The faces can be froggy friendly, as was the case with the old Porsche 911 or its VW Bug ancestor. They can be reserved and serious, in the vein of the 1980s-era Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit. But when you look behind you on the freeway today, all you’ll see is anger.

It’s in the pickup trucks with their Peterbilt grilles and macho pretensions that would be hilarious if they weren’t attached to a 3-ton unguided missile sniffing your rear license plate. It’s in the big-nosed SUVs that seem to be continually frowning and squinting. Even the Toyota Avalon seems upset, possibly because the Hyundai Azera’s doing such a good job of imitating it.

Then again, even Porsche seems to have lost some sort of faith: the current 911s don’t look menacing, particularly, but every new Porsche has the name spelled out in the official logo on the decklid, lest you somehow fail to recognize it immediately as the work of Swabian elves. (Okay, the Cayenne comes from Bratislava, but my point stands.)

Still: why are these cars this way? Baruth thinks it’s demand:

The cars have to be vicious-looking and color-free because they’re being sold to people who wish to project that image. Your local cruising spot is chock-full of black Infiniti coupes with blacked-out windows and black-chrome replacement grilles. Somewhere in these TIE Interceptors are the drivers, who are often meek-looking, physically slight young men. They drive home at the end of each evening and park behind their exasperated mothers, whose Lexus RX and BMW X3 travel capsules show on their venomous visages all the fury that Zoloft represses for their owners. In traffic, they’re pressing on you, honking, waving, flipping you off, just absolutely engulfed in righteous annoyance concerning your refusal to let them cut in ahead when the lane ends.

One of the reasons I’ve held on to my extremely unblack Infiniti sedan is that it presents a relatively benign face to the world: it’s not trying to be anything other than a moderate luxoboat, despite Nissan’s “four-door sports car” yammering about sister Maxima. (That, and the lack of brightwork in the work areas: there’s a chrome bezel around the obligatory analog clock, something shiny around the shift lever that I never actually look at, and that’s it.) This is almost an argument for the last-generation Mazda3, with its slightly deranged grin.







4 comments

  1. McGehee »

    11 May 2014 · 9:33 pm

    It’s nothing new. One of the early-’90s Pontiacs reminded me of Darth Vader.

  2. CGHill »

    11 May 2014 · 9:42 pm

    The fourth-generation Firebird (1993?) looked vaguely Empire-ish.

  3. McGehee »

    12 May 2014 · 9:01 am

    I think the one I was thinking of was the Grand Am of 1992 and the next few years. Mainly becauise of the headlights and the hockey-mask grille.

  4. miniapplejack »

    12 May 2014 · 9:43 am

    After owning a Bugeye Sprite and a first-gen Miata, I can’t go back and start owning frowny-face cars. I guess I’ll be in the used car lots looking for happiness.

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