Anniversary Waltz 2017: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

In a series of articles, Driven to Write gives 2017 the meta treatment.

2007 Audi A5. Image:

It’s normally customary at this time to reflect upon the just-departed year, its themes, its happenings and how these events might offer some guide to the coming one, but my DTW colleague-in-arms has already covered that. No, what I am offering today (and over the coming days) is to all intents and purposes a series of retrospectives on a series of retrospectives. Well after all it’s Driven to Write you’ve blundered upon, what exactly were you expecting?

Over the past 24 months, I’ve chronicled various (arguably?) significant cars, marking their various anniversaries and have found it to be a rich seam. After all, it’s pleasing to do a car justice, and perhaps, given a following wind, debunk a few myths along the way.

These profiles were never intended to be definitive, (even if they have been subject to considerable research), but throughout I have striven above all, to be fair. However, some cars simply leave the writer cold, and I’ve always believed that if one cannot find something interesting to say, one should pretty much keep a sock in it. Hence, this series of waifs, strays and stragglers. So before I set about documenting the coming year’s set of candidates, here are the cars I couldn’t write about in 2017.

2007 Audi A5 with feature lines marked in red. Image: Autoevolution.

We begin in 2007. Not entirely a vintage year for new car introductions, which may explain how few we documented over the past twelve months. Ten years ago, Audi introduced two new models on a shared platform. Firstly at Geneva, the A5, the first Audi Coupe for over a decade. Designed under the auspices of former Alfa-Romeo and Seat design overlord, Walter de Silva, the design (which de Silva took full credit for) was said to have been inspired by the 2003 Nuvolari concept, but in effect took little of substance from it.

Credit where it’s rightfully due, the production A5, which was largely the work of designer, Satoshi Wada, introduced an undulating version of Audi’s ‘Tornado Line’ along the flanks. A handsome, well proportioned if largely undistinguished design, the A5 has weathered the intervening decade rather well, its 2016 replacement being essentially a very mild variation on the same theme.

2014 Audi A4 in that most typical of Audi colours: Audi

Later the same year, Audi also announced the more commercially sensitive (B8-series) A4 range, sharing the corporate MLP platform with its coupe sibling. A larger car than its predecessor, it took the styling themes de Silva had introduced – (Tornado Line / Auto-Union style grille), placed them on a larger canvas and refined them considerably, adding up to a more visually harmonious affair. Another nearly-Audi which remained everybody’s third choice, one could reasonably argue.

Ford introduced the third-generation Mondeo in the spring of 2007, having previewed it in the previous year’s James Bond vehicle. A notably larger car than its well-regarded predecessor, it sat on the much-employed corporate EUCD platform – (one which continues in much modified form beneath innumerable JLR products to this day).

2007 Ford Mondeo. Image:

Styled during the transitional phase where Chris Bird gave way to Martin Smith within the top echelons of Ford’s Merkenich styling centre, it was notable for heralding the model’s decline in Europe as the market reacted to both its bloated dimensions (Opel’s more compact feeling and better-looking Insignia consistently outsold it) and the steady encroachment of upmarket nameplates. It was also the final model line produced at Ford’s Genk plant in Belgium, which went the same way as this iteration of Mondeo in 2014.

By 2007, Sergio Marchionne was remaking Fiat Auto in a faster and more far-reaching manner than anyone could then have imagined. The spring announcement of the (Tipo 198) Fiat Bravo saw the Italian generalist’s last foray into the commercially vital C-segment. Designed at centro stile, a good deal of the model’s body engineering was allegedly farmed out to external suppliers – a classic Marchionne ruse to slash costs.

Image: carbuyer

Using a modified version of the underwhelming Stilo platform, the Bravo, (incidentally, marketed as Ritmo in Australia) while viewed as a more compelling entrant than its justifiably derided predecessor, was deemed something of a damp squib nonetheless, failing to make significant inroads before the plug was pulled in 2014. (Although it lived on a further two years in South America). At the time of writing, there are (incredibly) no plans to (directly) replace it.

Having introduced the second generation R55-series MINI the previous year, BMW surprised the motoring world with the 2007 Clubman. Conceptually based on the Countryman series of the original Mini, (a name BMW didn’t hold the rights to), the Clubman offered a more practical, a (slightly) more spacious and a good deal more quixotic package to the more familiar 2+2 hatch.

2007 MINI Clubman. Image: autotrader

With a longer (80 mm) wheelbase, a pair of van-style rear doors and a rather eccentric single rear-hinged doorlet, the practicality side of the Clubman was debatable, although marks ought to be added for novelty, to say nothing of the structural engineering challenges it must have entailed. Coincidentally, BMW reprised a similar door arrangement for its i3-series, so perhaps the lessons weren’t entirely wasted.

In 2007, veteran Peugeot design director, Gérard Welter retired. Over his lengthy career, Welter presided over some of the Lion of Belfort’s more accomplished outpourings, but towards its latter-days, some of its most cack-handed. The T7-series Peugeot 308 was arguably one of the most egregious of this ‘Drive-Sexy’ era of Mariana Trench bottom feeders, a car which addressed a good deal of its much-criticised predecessor’s quality issues, but left the viewer with a severe case of visual indigestion.

Yikes! Image: RAC

With Socheaux’s one time pre-eminence in chassis dynamics already cast to the four winds, PSA’s long march to irrelevance was in full swing, because while the PF2 platform would inform a vast number of contemporary PSA model programmes, none would amount to anything of a remotely distinguished mien.

Offered in a range of body styles, each more visually upsetting then the last, this iteration of Peugeot’s C-segment mainstay implored the question of what alternative proposals were rejected in its wake? What is clear however, is that Peugeot (and the much-revered Welter himself) never missed their old Italian carrozzeria more.

©Driven to Write. All rights reserved.

Meanwhile, some cars we did write about: Alfa Romeo 8C / Fiat nu-500 / Jaguar XF / Mercedes-Benz W204 C-Class

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

7 thoughts on “Anniversary Waltz 2017: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”

  1. I guess de’ Silva was so very proud of ‘his’ A5 because it marked the end of Audi’s sober phase. The A6 unveiled before it already betrayed a bit more of a ‘Latin flavour’ (as decreed by Winterkorn) than the Schreyer cars, but the A5 was a truly ‘expressive’ design, and a truly successful one at that, too. With this car, de’ Silva had fully accomplished his mission for the first time.

    However, it’s a common misunderstanding that it was de’ Silva who came up with the Auto Union/Singleframe grille. This corporate face had already been designed when Schreyer was still in charge, as most vividly illustrated by the second-generation A3, which still featured a grille and a lower air intake, but connected them through a shutline. This was indeed intended to prepare the ground for the Singleframe grille.

    The most remarkable thing about the Bravo is its rear lights, whose shape and interplay with the shutlines I always appreciated (is this the only design Frank Stephenson completed at Fiat?). Apart from that, it’s a classic Marchionne: grossly underestimating the intended buyer, while placing cost efficiency miles ahead of any other considerations. It’s little surprise that as half-arsed a product hardly cause a stir at all. I too remember it being completely developed at Magna, if memory serves.

    I remember TWBCM hailing the Mondeo as the best thing since sliced bread, back in the day. It hasn’t aged terribly well though, has it?

    The 308 is among the most unattractive cars I can imagine, particularly in SW or CC guise. These are about the only recent designs I can come up with that appeared decidedly more overdone than The Gorden’s Sensual Purity® 1.0 efforts. Which is kind of an achievement (in the same sense as Uwe Boll makes Michael Bay appear like a sensible filmmaker).

    1. I don’t completely agree with your statement about the Mondeo. When I saw the picture in the article, my first thought was that it looks sober and clear, rather nice overall. Especially compared to the (even more) bloated Mondeo we have today, but also to the comtemporary Insignia which I always found too large for its small underpinnings and windows.

      Yes, the 308 is a car that also left me completely baffled, a bit like Honda does today.

  2. I guess the Tipo has filled the gap opened by the demise of the Bravo, hasn’t it? A lacklustre replacement but at least they have something. The Bravo only reached South American shores in late 2010, a whole four years after its introduction in Europe, when all Brazilian car journalists had already lost their hopes of a replacement for the Stilo. It never sold well here though, nor did the Stilo or the Brava.

    I heard FCA would likely make an Alfa Romeo hot hatch for the C-segment, catering for those who will mourn the BMW 1-series when the next generation goes FWD. I wouldn’t expect this new Alfa to be successful but at least it would be fun.

  3. I have always quite liked this Bravo, and have always assumed it was a rejected Alfa design (from the rear of looks like a larger MiTo). The 308 must be Peugeot’s nadir? The RS5 is one of my favourite coupés of the last 10 years.

  4. I’m with Simon on the Mondeo shown – although I agree that the Insignia was a more zeitgeisty design. I forgot to comment on the Clubman: although it added very little in real practicality, it was at least quirky, smallish and had a more stylish rear than the three door of the same generation. The current Clubman is a very different beast, being much larger, but is still the pick of a poor bunch of MINIs – am I the only person who prefers the old Countryman (which was bad enough) to the current one?

    1. The Mondeo here was a neat car and capable. It lost the tailored look of the predecessor though and lacked warmth to compensate. It looked best as a four door which few opted for.

    2. I had to google the four door Mondeo of this generation – nearly invisible on Swiss streets. As almost always, I like the flowing lines of the hatchback more. It looks more compact, although I doubt that there is a length difference.

      Now, regarding the Countrymen… as with most Mini designs, it’s not getting better with a new generation being introduced. As most current Minis, it looks too flat and wide. The old Countryman, hideous as it was, at least had an interesting stance, upright and agile. The new one is just a blob with no dynamic connotation at all. The strange offset of the rear side window doesn’t help, either. I know it was there before, but it was better executed and looked more right. Maybe Richard could explain why.

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