A frequent comment under stories about new car design is “All these new cars look alike.” While that may be true, it is not a new sentiment.
There are a number of reasons that cars from a certain era all look alike. The main drivers of design are technology, safety mandates, and well, style. All of these factors are period specific. Meaning that the way automakers know how to build a car is the same in each time period. The technology is similar at each automaker. Finally, the safety mandates of the time are the same.
If you look at the Nissan Murano (left) and Lexus RX 350 (Right), it is easy to spot four similarities. Starting with the hood. The hood is long on each car because of pedestrian impact standards. The hood is meant to act as the point of impact of the pedestrian’s upper body and head, rather than the A-pillar (the upright support from the corner of the hood to the roof). If you’ve ever wondered why “cab-forward” went away, that is the reason. The A-Pillar strikes an arc because the IIHS and NHTSA roof crush standards test rig is placed just above the driver’s head. The strongest shape is an arc, hence the swoop. Look at the four older cars above. You can see that the A-Pillar is a right angle to the roof. That is a less expensive way to build a car, but the roof is not as strong. The A-pillar also absorbs front impact energy in new cars, something it never was designed to do in older models.
Notice how the wheels both look the same in motion. The strongest and most cost effective wheel is one with five to eight main spokes. These manufacturers chose a similar design. Both employ swept back headlights as is the trend today. That trend was enabled by LED and compact HID lighting technology designed to last the life of the vehicle. Note that in the older cars above the lights ae either round in a square outline or square. That was driven by government mandates to keep headlights simple and interchangeable for cost-effective (and frequent) replacement since they were incandescent.
To this enthusiast’s eye, the Murano and RX 350 have many important differences, but also some similarities based on new trends. The front quarters are very different. the Lexus uses an angular design theme and the Nissan a smooth one. The Murano is adorned with chrome door handles and a chrome accent line under the doors. Lexus chose to use body-colored handles and a flat-black and body-colored element under the doors. The rear roof line is the obvious common style element here. Both are intended to give the impression that the roof is “floating.” There is no technology reason for it.