Hidden door handles – see what you did there…
The Alfa Romeo 156: when I clapped eyes on that car, well, it really was love at first sight. Those looks, that stance, look at the wheels! The aura surrounding the badge, the singular, front door handle… hang on. Where is the rear door handle? This a four door saloon..
Rewind to the car’s Frankfurt Motor Show introduction, to the world and everyone who was anyone waxing lyrical concerning that hidden rear door handle. This, momentarily, having already eulogised over those svelte, Italian lines. Those lines and looks have faded, and while no longer wowed when one is (increasingly rarely) seen out and about, I can still appreciate the lines. Too quickly do my eyes flit from grille to that rear door handle, secreted away – the pastiche that was initially deemed so exciting has become meretricious.
The 156 was the pioneer, with a proving, correct manner. Tribute acts and sequels rarely, if ever emulate the original. But that doesn’t seem to bother stylists trying over and again these past twenty some years. Imitation being part of the flattering brigade, other manufacturers had to follow suit. The Chevrolet Spark (read Daewoo Matiz), GM’s supermini with its own challenging looks was an early Alfa devotee. Purely down to that handle alone, it was a sales explosion – in some other alternate universe.
But not for everyone. Seat UK’s product manager, James Buckell, ruefully reflecting upon the Second Generation Typ 1p Leon (presumably the price paid to onetime design chief, Walter de Silva), “We just didn’t appear on people’s radars. To the enthusiasts, yes, those wanting a three door coupé look with five door practicality but I hate to think how many sales we missed because people thought it ‘just a three door‘.”
Seat’s next iteration ditched the hidden handles, building a proper three door for those enthusiasts, whilst its five door sibling gained a normal, visible handle.
That hidden trend continues. Renault’s Mk4 Clio brought it’s tackily plastic friend along with possibly the smallest side rear window in history, though the brand new Fiesta runs it close. By saving money in one aspect by deleting the rear door furniture, that tiny pane of glass must have been the veritable nightmare to design, price up, then make. Most things small and fiddly are a pain (pun intended) and how does one get the fingerprints, however jam laden (or not) off? Access to (and visibility out of) this tiny window is terrible.
Our gaze now falls on wares from the Rising Sun; Honda’s Civic. Another five door/three door effort. Two out of ten. The two is for the estate shape. To me, no longer using its given name of Juke, the Bratachian is wrong on so many levels. Zoom in on that rear door. Cheap N’ Nasty Corporation™ must’ve made a killing here for a very similar looking example was also supplied to Suzuki’s Swift, this time with a vertical rendition of one found on an ancient refrigerator.
When seen on brand new vehicles, these items jar. Once sullied by time, weather and the inevitable scratches that arrive by use, their aspect takes on a patina encompassing all the grace of a wheeled photocopier; that and said fridges being the supposed devices on which these framework concerns were devised.
More Japanese examples primed for slating being the current Nissan’s Micra and the C-HR from Akio’s bunch. Both are mountainous in the use of upward ticks to the C pillar, with the Toyota using the rear lights as a form of mantelpiece. This pairing hide the handle quite drastically – one does not need to reach for the spyglass.
Whereas the Micra in looks overall, borderlines cute in its inimical way, the C-HR, which stands for Curmudgeonly Hidden Rear (door handle) crosses borders fit only for those those employed by the military as Sappers. Should the colour scheme be white, the door handle area resembles a Sheridan’s bottle. For the uninitiated, this is an alcoholic coffee based drink.
Kazuhiko Isawa’s take on the sub-compact crossover produces that uncomfortable feeling when one is in a crowded lift. Or standing near to Nissan’s frog. A visible door handle along with radical thinking whose lines of useable internal rear space could have transformed this car into a decent looker as opposed to a corresponding Transformer character.
Yet these aggravated carriages sell in handsome numbers, the de- rigueur choice of almost everyone not reading this site. Perhaps I need to re-evaluate; to differentiate from those whose recoil at the thought of a hidden door handle from the ones searching for that hidden rear door handle, in the dark, when it’s pouring down and the kids are screaming? Bit of advice for the designers out there – place door handles where they should be – most folk know where they are. Leave the trinkets well alone.