Looks aren't everything. Given a rainy day on a pock-marked street, even a luxury roadster will look and feel less than stellar.
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.
"From what we hear from our customers, the styling is really what gets people into the door for that vehicle," says Gary Flom, president and CEO of Manhattan Automobile Company. "And the XJ is a revolutionary car in terms of beauty, aesthetics and styling. It's a remarkable car that absolutely makes a huge difference for Jaguar--and I think sets a new benchmark in terms of the styling for a long, large 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.
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."
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.