The Air Bag: It turns out I'd rather walk in Abu Dhabi's heat than be seen in a Porsche Panamera.
Too many beastly cars and not enough beauties on UAE roads
Last night it took me exactly 43 minutes to drive to my current abode from the office. This was a journey of less than 4km. Ridiculous. If the outside temperatures weren't so incendiary I would walk to and from work, instead of spending the best part of an hour sitting in a mostly stationary car, trying to battle my way through Abu Dhabi's evening traffic. But being stationary meant I could see plenty of oncoming vehicles, and it struck me that there is an inordinate amount of ugly cars on the road these days.
Now you might be thinking that the looks of anything are subjective and cannot be commented on with any degree of scientific integrity, but that, I assure you, is nonsense. Consider the following: George Clooney is a handsome man; Philip Seymour-Hoffman is not. Ferrari's 246 Dino is possibly the most gorgeous car ever produced; the 1980s Testarossa is not. See, it's fairly easy to establish what is and what's not attractive.
So, back to my point: there are some hideous-looking cars being produced these days and I'm struggling to come up with a reason for anyone buying a car that makes onlookers retch whenever you drive past (and let's not forget that, after a house, a car is the most important purchasing decision there is).
The list of visual assaults seems endless, but here's a few to consider: Infiniti's grotesque QX56 and the Nissan Patrol it's based on; GMC's Terrain, Porsche's Cayenne and Panamera, and the uniquely hideous Nissan Juke - or should that be Joke? Worthy of a mention, too, is the frankly barmy-looking Mini 4x4 Countryman. Seriously, what is going on inside these companies' design studios?
At least BMW saw the error of its ways, got rid of design chief Chris Bangle and has returned to building cars that might make you want to check your own reflection in a shop window as you drive past. Hyundai, too, is making some pretty cars for the first time and the new Genesis, especially, looks wonderful. Ferrari has replaced the ungainly 612 Scaglietti with the FF, which, while not exactly beautiful, is still way more attractive than its predecessor. Fiat's original Multipla was so gut-wrenchingly ugly that it has become a bit of a cult classic for those that want to show the world they're "different" but the redesigned model ceased the nausea felt by pedestrians.
There's no excusing Porsche, though. Back in February 2008, I sat down with its head of design, Michael Maurer. I expressed my concerns that Porsche, with the Panamera, needed to build a truly beautiful car, especially considering the direct competition from Aston Martin and Maserati. "The Panamera will be a stunningly beautiful car to behold," he reassured me. "You will not be disappointed." It turns out I'd rather walk in Abu Dhabi's heat than be seen in a Panamera.
Surely I'm not unique in my shallow appreciation for good looks. Most of us fell for our loved ones (initially, at least) because of how they looked. Cars are exactly the same for me. I can forgive all sorts of imperfections if, when I park a car up at the end of the night, the thing is so utterly gorgeous that I can't help but have a final glance at it before turning off the lights.
Jaguar's design chief, Ian Callum, once said he was thinking a lot about the actress Kate Winslet when the XK was being designed, and it shows in that car's curvaceous, feminine lines. I have no idea who Maurer was thinking about when the Panamera was designed, but I can tell you this - there's no way I would fancy her.