I look at a personal irritation and wonder if I share it with anyone else.
At school, my Technical Drawing teacher once counselled us against mixing straight lines and curved lines in a design. Even at an impressionable age, I could tell that was a crude and general rule, made to be broken. But his words have come back to me now and then over the past decade or more, when I view the shape of the trailing edge of the rear doors of an increasing number of cars.
The old way was that the door would tend to follow the shape of the rear wheelarch. Sometimes it would describe a circle, just 2 or 3 cm greater in radius than that of the wheelarch. Sometimes it would be the wheelarch itself. In other cases it would be a gentle curve, but relating in some way to the arch’s shape.
Slowly this unwritten rule has eased and the rear door shutline has got straighter and straighter. There are reasons to support this. With the old way, when the door is open, the gap can looks quite untidy, with a bit of sometimes painted wheelarch housing visible. Also, not complying to the curve of the arch is probably easier for body engineers to sort out and likely makes the body structure stiffer at a potential weak point at the bottom rear corner of the door. But practicalities like that are made to be surmounted.
Not that it always looks bad. It’s seen on the Audi A6 of 1997 and the Chris Bangle BMW 7 Series of 2001, both designs I admire so I can’t say it doesn’t work, but it needs to be handled well. Volkswagen and their associates are particularly taken with this treatment, so I’ll use some Passat models to illustrate. Overall, I think most Passats look fine, but I find the arch treatment doesn’t entirely work of late.
On the B5 model, we see the old convention with the curve of the door bottom relating to the wheelarch. There is a slightly jarring detail where the wheelarch blister starts just within the rear door section, cutting through the shutline and resulting in an unsightly small bulge within the door.
On the B6/7 model, the shape of the arch is ignored entirely. Viewed on its own, I quite like the way the rear window line follows down at a constant angle, avoiding the cliche of a Hofmeister kink. The shutline maintains a reasonable gap from the wheelarch and, although I don’t think the two shapes really complement each other, it’s OK.
However, on the B8 the negative effect has been increased by the shutline’s proximity to the flattened wheelarch bulge. I don’t find this at all good looking and, combined with that chromey / finny vent beneath the headlamps I wonder if, stung by the unjustified taunts of ‘Boring’, VW’s designers are now trying too hard.
This isn’t the worst VW rear door shutline crime, I think that is the 5 door Polo but, in mitigation, there’s less metal to play with there. Returning to mid-sizers, BMW do the same, but usually it looks better. Oddly, Mercedes who are usually quite happy to be the Funky Dad of car styling with inappropriate shapes and creases have avoided this particular bandwagon and still refer to the traditional wheelarch line.
Vauxhall’s Insignia handles it pretty well by emphasing the line as it blends into the horizontal sill but the new Mondeo does a similar thing to the Passat. Even Peugeot, who still have a way to go before I’d start looking for styling tips from them again, do it better on the 508 by putting more of a forward curve on the shutline and keeping it clear of the flattened out bit.
Bearing in mind the care with which VWs are styled, I find it hard to believe that its talented stylists are not aware of this incongruity. Therefore I can only conclude that it is a hubristic decision based on a collective conceit at VW that their shutlines are now so narrow as to be virtually invisible. Really, they aren’t.