Car Design Trends

Car Design Trends

Filed under Information Centre

Car design changes at a rapid pace.

Below is a photo of a Boeing 747 from 1971:

Boeing 747 from 1971


And here is a Boeing 747, nearly 50 years later, in November 2020:

Boeing 747 from 2020


Short of being an aviation enthusiast, the shape looks pretty much the same.

The same definitely can’t be said for cars.

A Toyota Landcruiser from 1971:

1971 Toyota Landcruiser

A 2021 Toyota Landcruiser:

2021 Toyota Landcruiser

We take a look at some interesting car design changes over the last few decades.

Light Bars

Also known as taillight bars, these are a taillight car design feature. Lightbars run across the width of a vehicle, from passenger side taillight to driver’s side taillight.

Porsche Macan Tail Light

(A taillight bar on a new Porsche Macan)

Lightbars aren’t new, in fact, they’re making a comeback. They featured on the late ’80s / early ‘90’s cars like the Honda Civic and NSX, Porsche 911 and Holden Commodore of that era. However, these early light bars weren’t actually lights, they were coloured plastic, sometimes including reflectors.

They almost disappeared until recently.

Now, light bars are back and actually all lights. LED light bars stretching the width of a car are proving an ‘old’ futuristic look. For example, the new Porsche Taycan is very unique if you’re behind one at night. Some other new car catching up with the light bar trend:

  • Honda NSX
  • Audi A8 and Q8
  • Mercedes EQC
  • Porsche Panamera and Mecan

There is definitely more coming. They may feature in premium cars (for now), but like most car design features, expect light bars to filter down to regular base models.

The ‘Aggressive’ Look

One of the most obvious car design trends of the last decade or so has been aggressive styling. Most noticeable on European luxury cars like the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6 as well as Land Rover and Jeep models, the aggressive headlights and grilles are super popular.

Aggressive Headlight

Also referred to as the ‘keen’ look, manufacturers aren’t moving away from the look just yet.

Aggressive Headlight

Headlights play a big role in car design. Did you know that headlight tech has come a long way?

The 1980s: Halogen. Gas surrounds the filament instead of a vacuum, they became standard in the ’80s.

The 1990s: Xenon. A mixture of gases within a glass cylinder and it appears as a light-blue tint.

The 2000s: LED. (Light Emitting Diode) up to 80% more power-efficient than halogens.

Today: Laser. A laser is focused on a phosphorus gas that emits light. They can produce light 1000 times more powerful than LEDs.

Big Wheels

It was only a few decades ago that 18-inch wheels were huge. Now, cars with these sized wheels barely get noticed.

A 1990 Toyota Camry, for example, bragged 14-inch wheels. 2021’s model comes with 18s from the factory. The original Mini from 1959 came with 10-inch wheels which looked like they’d been pinched off an office chair. Lamborghini offers astronomical 23-inch wheels on its SUV, the Urus.

In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, consumers began demanding larger wheels - manufacturers listened. Additionally, the larger and wider tyres grip the road much better - turning sharper and stopping faster. However, the cost of the larger tyre is much more and with smaller sidewalls (lower profile), ride comfort is also sacrificed.

With big wheels looking cool and sporty and thanks to the huge popularity of SUVs and utes, expect the big wheel trend to last for some time yet.

Running Lights

Since the introduction of LED lights on cars, daytime running lights (DRL) have become commonplace. DRLs are automatically switched on when the car’s ignition is on. They have become a significant car design and add to the ‘aggressive’ look popular today.

Many people assume they add a safety benefit but according to research, this proves only to be the case in countries with short hours of daylight, like Scandinavian countries.

Although the LED DRL designs today seem modern, the idea has been around since the 1970s when halogen versions featured on Volvo and Saab models.

Audi DRL

(DRLs on an Audi. Source:

But they’re getting more advanced. There are some pretty cool car designs that include ‘welcoming’ and farewelling’ LED lights incorporated in DRLs. These work with a proximity key and flash, become brighter or more pronounced as the owner approaches. The opposite happens when locking the car and walking away.

Pop-up Headlights

Once a ‘cool’ attribute of sports and performance cars, pop-up headlights are no more. They graced no less than 14 Ferrari models, 8 Lamborghinis and many more.

Pop-up Headlights

Original designs required drivers to actually hand-crank open the first pop-up headlights back in the late 1930s. Very quickly, motorised units came onto the scene.

The last car to feature pop-up headlights was the 2004 Lotus Esprit and C5 Corvette.

Why did they disappear?

Most international car design laws stipulate that pedestrian-protection methods restrict anything sticking out from car bodies too much. Sharp angled lights aren’t safe. Furthermore, the weight of the complex motors to raise and lower the lights, plus the extra costs and reliability issues pushed manufacturers to shift away.

Update your car

New car designs, like the ones above, are constantly evolving so it might be time for an upgrade.

If your car is looking and feeling a little outdated, start with a quick quote. Positive offers simple finance designed to help you keep up with the latest car designs in safety, technology and style.

Quick Quote

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