Remember those Mickey Rooney movies where the kids would decide to go out to the garage and put on a show?
Well, I think we should go out to the garage and stage a beauty pageant for automobiles. As emcee and pageant executive, I will select the loveliest 2018 contestants in each of several major categories. (I'm hardly a high priest of automotive aesthetics, but after all these years I do have some notion of the good, the bad, and the ugly. And if you disagree with my selections you can — as the editor in the film The Front Page suggests — tell me my poetry stinks and kick me down the stairs.)
The selections will draw from six popular model segments and will have base prices ranging from $22,120 to $50,300. Half of them will be under $30,000. So obviously, this isn't about Ferrari and Lamborghini pocketbooks.
Large Sedan: Infiniti Q70 ($50,300)
The Q70 is hardly in-your-face styling, but then luxury sedans tend not to flaunt too much. Civility and restraint are the order of the day, and the Q70 adheres to that code. Still, it manages nice proportions and the undulating sculpting on its sides draws the eye. Think of it as a shapely woman in a dignified dress.
Midsize Sedan: Ford Fusion ($22,120)
The current Fusion design has been around for a while, but the Fusion is still pretty easy to look at. The handsome styling is augmented by the use of a grille you've seen so often in James Bond movies. (Ford purloined that signature grille from Aston Martin when it owned the British automaker.)
Compact Sedan: Jaguar XE ($34,991)
I never met a Jaguar styling exercise that I didn't like, and this recent entry in the compact segment, which accounts for half of luxury car sales, is no exception.
Ian Callum, Jaguar's crack design director, has presided over some lovely business. The car manages to retain the Jaguar spirit while striking out in fresh design directions that engender the car's beauty in a lean, clean fashion.
As Callum puts it: "It's about paring down to the bare essentials. Good designers have always said less is more."
Crossover SUV: Alfa Romeo Stelvio ($41,995)
As a rule of thumb, SUVs get better-looking the smaller they get. The big guys tend toward Bauhaus boxiness. But as they get smaller, they tend to get sleeker, more carlike — and prettier.
A case in point is the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, the Italian car builder's brand-new entry in the fast-growing luxury compact crossover market, and its first sortie onto the SUV battlefield.
This is one striking automobile. Its recently coined Jaguar counterpart, the F-Pace, gives it an aesthetic run for its money, but in the end this beautifully carved and proportioned machine is alone on the dais.
Minivan: Chrysler Pacifica ($26,995)
Like most big SUVs, minivan body design puts the emphasis on utility rather than style. The Pacifica manages to do both. Wider and lower than its typical competitor, the Pacifica gets its hauling chores done while wearing its ball gown. It is easily the most beautiful minivan to ever come down the driveway.
Sports car: Fiat 124 Spider ($24,995)
This lovely roadster evokes some very pretty (and collectible) Spiders of yore, and utilizes some hands-across-the sea car-building. Mazda assembles the car for Fiat, employing the Mazda Miata's platform and Fiat's engines, transmissions, and body and interior components. The result is a car that's as fun to look at as it is to drive.