This week our new car was finally delivered! A Citroen C3 1.4 16v, which is actually my wife’s car, not mine at all. Now, frankly this is not a car I would have chosen myself- I guess there is just something really girly about it. I also criticised the design somewhat- it is slightly flawed let us say. After thinking it over, the design can best be described as different rather than wrong. It actually begins along a similar theme to Twingo, and was designed by some of the same designers. It is not a traditional “automotive” style car, in that it is targeted towards women rather than men- and it is not designed to look fast, aggressive or sporty in any way at all. There is a distinct lack of fast, or accelerating lines on the C3. I can explain what I mean by comparing the design with a car showing much more typical automotive styling- the Mercedes A-Class. Car designers will often talk about fast or slow lines, accelerating or decelerating lines, and most of the time they aim to draw or create dynamic accelerating lines on every vehicle. This is partly tradition, and partly just because cars move. They are dynamic moving objects, so it makes sense to express this in their form. Form follows function after all, and when a car is fast it often needs to have lines that assist in that movement (aerodynamically). Look at the side view of the A-Class.
I’ve extended the main feature lines to show where they might continue- imagine hand drawing the lines, and you hopefully will see what I mean about them accelerating away from the car. Accelerating curves are ones that reduce in radius along their direction of travel. Put simply, drawing a tight curve is slower than drawing a very shallow one. The lines also travel through the red vertical lines that represent the wheelbase, and full length of the car. Even the window line that shoots upwards will eventually cross the red line. It’s important to note that the lines do this, when we look at the C3.
The first thing to note is the main roof and window lines that slow down- decelerating (gaining a tighter radius) as they finally drop towards the ground. They end within the length of the car, which is unusual but not completely unique. The fact that the form is self-contained, finishing within the cars length- gives quite a static looking design. C3 is designed more as a non-moving, non-dynamic product- like a toaster! Now, if you think about your car the same way as your toaster, or ipod, or laptop (my wife’s laptop and her C3 are the same colour) this type of styling is not a bad thing- but if you really are stuck with that very male idea that cars have to be fast and sporty, then C3 just doesn’t work. The truth is that both of these cars are not fast, they are not racing cars. The A-class is using fast car design language though- whereas the C3 uses a more honest philosophy of just trying to be functional, friendly, and pleasant looking. There are however a couple of areas that the Citroen has room for improvement, mainly the top of the windscreen and the rear lights. The windscreen has too much curvature in side view (towards the top)- which is very unusual to see on any car due to legal requirements. We are simply so unaccustomed to seeing this, it looks very wrong. It also makes it look like something has sat on the roof! The rear lights are a bit cheap looking, they seem to just fill gaps in the panels- rather than being designed to be that shape.
OK, so enough about our new car, my wife loves it so clearly it works for the intended consumer. This is always the definition of a good design. Finally I’ll include a proper fast car, designed with all those rules of accelerating lines and curves. This is what the A-class above is trying to emulate- even using some of the same lines in fact. Is that good design? Or is it just a boyish cliche of automotive design? I’ll let you think about it yourselves.