They went to 11—finally. The Aston Martin DB11 debuted at the Geneva Motor Show this week: This after the spaceship-saucer DB10 concept from the latest Bond flick, which itself was a breath of fresh air after the 12-year run of the DB9 platform, which the perpetually cash-strapped company riffed offa give or take a million times. The DBS, the Vantage, the Vanquish, the Virage, the Lagonda, the DB9GT, the Rapide. Even for a seasoned car nut, it was often hard to remember the difference: So this is the smaller…faster?…V12 two-door convertible? Or is that the Venereal?
Of course, as much as this was ceaseless market fragmentation on Aston’s part, it was also a bit of sour nitpicking on ours. Because we would gladly sell more kidneys than we possess to own any Aston Martin, because what they really have in common is that they’re all incredibly fast and stylish—and above all, beautiful.
And so, the new one is also beautiful. But is it beautiful…enough? Critics are already out in force, calling it boring, saying that the wait was so long and the update so insignificant it felt akin to expecting an engagement ring and instead unwrapping an iPad. And yeah, at first glance, the DB11 seems to indicate that either Aston was too broke to pay for radically new drafts or were too afraid to ruin a good thing. But more to the point: Do all new cars look kind of alike? And is there anything carmakers can do about it?
In the case of Aston and its lookalikes, some of the similarities in design lately might come down to straight-up copyright infringement: Aston Martin recently sued the electric-car company Fisker (founded by a former Aston employee) for copying their designs, and Fisker sued them back. On the kosher side of things, all the latest Fords look like Astons because when Ford used to own Aston, they shared the same designers. So the Ford Fusion looks like a DB9 painted onto a Camry body (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and the DB11 still looks largely like the DB9, which also looks like several Jaguars, because Ford owned them at the same time, too.
So at the very least, there’s a lot of DNA-swapping running through the car industry right now. But it’s not just corporate frugality and hiveminds that are limiting the imagination of car design, it’s science and regulations, as well. Look at any modern car you like, anything from a Corolla to the new Acura NSX. Don’t they all seem a little…you know, similar? There are little flourishes and lines and the “distinctive” brand-coherent front fascia or whatever, but to our jaded eyes, little else about any of these cars seems determined by anything other than what category of car they are. (We’re exaggerating, of course. A supercar like the LaFerrari is obviously distinguishable from whatever econobox we’ve likely parked next to it. But it does feel like the industry is moving toward, if not imitation, then convergence.)
We’re not car designers or engineers here at GQ (as happy as it would make our parents), and the nuances of aerodynamics and crash physics are lost on us, but we do know that new pedestrian-safety laws have already cost us pop-up headlamps, for one. And this diagram does a great job of showing us just how much one simple safety regulation—in this case, the required hollow space between the hood of the car and the solid engine parts underneath—affects the shape of the whole vehicle, from nose to tail. Get a look at some of these new Ford Bronco renderings going around the ’net; they’re quite handsome, but hell if that right-angled front end is going on a mass-production car. Something like the sloped-off Land Rover Discovery is the look of tomorrow, and they’re even adding a pillow on top of it.
Regulations force designers into common solutions—which is why every car in Formula One had dicknoses for a while. Maybe this is why, like, every Aston is essentially a Ford with lower ground clearance and big wheel haunches, every six-figure sports car seems to look more and more like the same car with one of those sticky vehicle wraps slapped on top—every category of car, from supercars to crossovers, converging on its own platonically engineered and streamlined shape. I, personally, would like one Modern Sports Car with an Aston badge and Extra Horsepowers, please.
None of which is to say that progress is a bad thing. The World of Tomorrow demands safer, more practical, more rational design. We lose something in the process, but all that stuff pales in comparison to, you know, lives. Hey, maybe once self-driver cars are totally flawless and never hit anything, they’ll bring back all the cool bits from the past. All I’ll say is this: If a decade from now my Google/Uber (Guber?) car rolls up my block with pop-up Lambo lights, the future will’ve been worth it.