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MINI Motoring

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Car 'faces' looking meaner for a reason

Car 'faces' looking meaner for a reason:

Jonathan Welsh
Wall Street Journal
Mar. 10, 2006 10:26 AM

Kirk Perry wanted a vehicle that would haul his family and tow a bass boat. He discovered an SUV with all that plus another feature he likes - a really mean expression.

'I like the wide, snarling look,' the 50-year-old small-business owner in Lake Owassa, N.J., says of the Audi Q7, which he plans to buy when it comes out this spring. 'It reminds me of the movie 'The Mummy' - when the monster comes out of the ground and starts swallowing everything.'

Car makers have long talked about the 'face' of a car - headlights for eyes, grille for a mouth and the bumper as jaws - and auto designers say the difference between a hit and a flop may come down to a vehicle's visage. Car makers used to strive for an inviting face, but lately they're pushing an edgier look: Car faces that look meaner, angrier and, at times, even downright evil.

For its new 3-Series sedan, BMW gave the headlights a slanted effect, like downturned eyebrows. Some concept cars are more extreme, with Hyundai's HCD9 Talus featuring a gaping grille and headlights divided by a horizontal, goat's-eye-style slit. The Dodge Charger, which came out last summer, has headlight pods shaped like a tiger's eyes. 'The Charger's eyes are definitely its greatest assets. The headlights seem to make eye contact the same way people do on the street,' says Dodge and Chrysler designer Ralph Gilles. 'A mean face is what we're going for.'

Why all the anger? Menacing front ends may appeal to drivers threatened by oversized SUVs and intimidated by the dangers of the highway, some designers say. 'I'm not saying we promote rudeness on the road,' says Eric Stoddard, senior creative designer for Hyundai. But he adds that a mean-looking car may make drivers feel they can keep others at bay. 'It projects a message that a driver may be too shy or afraid to express," he says. "An aggressively styled car says, 'Get out of my way.' "
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