Whether you believe in style over substance, form following function or an entirely different design aesthetic, there’s little doubt you can appreciate a beautiful vehicle. Although safety regulations have rendered some design elements universal (high beltlines are here to stay, folks), a great variance remains in vehicle aesthetics, allowing something for just about everyone to admire. Recognizing that opinions can differ and some things are left to the eye of the beholder, here are 20 captivating cars on (and off) the road right now.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
The Miata has had charming and quirky elements in its previous three generations of design, but modern motorists have seen it bloom into a genuinely good-looking sports car. The current MX-5 Miata is just a bit more serious than before, with a more angular front and aggressive sweeping lines carrying back over its rear wheels. The redesign works with the Miata’s soft-top and arguably better in its new, Targa-esque RF (retractable fastback) trim.
Porsche 718 Cayman
Entering the 718 era, Porsche’s Cayman continues to impress both inside and out. Many might prefer its roadster sibling the Boxster, but there’s something about the silhouette cast by the Cayman’s hardtop that completes it. The Cayman has an elegant, aerodynamic outline with subtle curves at its beltline working back to its integrated rear spoiler — one of the more clever design elements of the past few years.
The very example of a modern high-performance coupe, the F-TYPE had the shadow of Jaguar’s legendarily beautiful E-Type to escape and the hype of concepts (from the 2000 F-Type Concept to the C-X16) to live up to. Remarkably, the F-TYPE has exceeded expectations. Well-proportioned, the F-TYPE uses smartly-applied angular lines and elements to break up its curves and evoke a proper sense of menace and aggression.
SUVs generally aren’t what we call “good looking,” but as they go the Volvo XC90 definitely stands out. The classic boxy look from Volvo wagons past makes a lot of sense as the foundation of an SUV design, helping the XC90 fit right into Volvo continuity. With Volvo’s modern luxury-focused aesthetics, the XC90 sees those boxier lines refined, and the overall impression is surprisingly elegant.
Alfa Romeo Giulia
You don’t have to spring for the Quadrifoglio to sate your sexy Italian sedan itch, but you’re going to want to. The Giulia’s wide stance, sharp headlights and sweeping lines flowing from its triangular grille set the tone up front; it’s meant to turn heads and stand out from the pack. The carbon fiber and active aerodynamic pieces on the Quadrifoglio are the cherry on the Giulia sundae — beyond the 505-horsepower V6 engine, of course.
Almost without exception, any time “Ford” and “GT” are put together good things happen. Where the previous road-going Ford GT took most of its cues from the LeMans-conquering GT40 of the 1960s, this new model is a ground-up reinterpretation, incorporating brilliant negative space by the rear air intakes and a beautiful teardrop shape. No longer an upstart to the best of Europe, the Ford GT is a proper modern American Supercar.
Ferrari 812 Superfast
Let’s be clear: We all know the coolest part of the 812 Superfast is its name, followed closely by its 789-horsepower naturally-aspirated V12 engine — but its design is not to be overlooked. The 812 Superfast retains much of the silhouette of the F12 that came before it, with some bodylines punched up (the deeper “scoop” from the front quarter-panel through the rear fender flare) and others downplayed (the deleted intake and smoother lines on its hood), culminating in a look that at first blush can come off as simple, but closer inspection reveals as more refined.
There’s no mistaking the G-Wagen for anything else on (or occasionally off) the road, and no denying its visual impact. The G-Class retains the boxy utilitarian essence of the classic Mercedes SUV, but also manages to exude its modern status as a high-end luxury vehicle — no small feat. Even if SUVs aren’t your thing, it’s difficult to see a G-Class on the road and not instinctively think, “that’s cool.”
Aston Martin DB11
The latest from Aston Martin builds on the long-running (and attractive in its own right) DB9. The enlarged grille and hood details jump out immediately as different from the DB9, but on closer inspection the DB11 shows greater evolution. Strakes abound and rear fenders flare dramatically, giving the DB11 the wide stance of a powerful creature comfortable at speed, which is exactly what it aims to be.
These days, Lamborghini is not a builder known for classically beautiful designs, and you can’t file the Huracan under that category, either. However, with the Huracan Lamborghini tames its wilder instincts when it comes to extraneous strakes, angles and pieces of bodywork. The wide-mouth grille remains, and the angle of the hood is as dramatic as it is on the Aventador, but the result is a distillation of modern Lamborghini design, and in its simplicity is a unique kind of beautiful.
The A7, S7, and RS7 have been around for a few years but remain distinctive among other luxury sedans, mostly thanks to their sportback design. With a long roofline comes an eye-catching, dramatic silhouette that is unmistakable. The large front intakes, LED headlights and taillights, and low rear decklid all add muscular touches, which are accentuated by additional aero trim on the S7 and RS7.
Since its release, McLaren has put out models meant to bridge the gap between P1 owners and mere high-class mortals, and the new 720S may be the most successful of the lot. With a design inspired by the great white shark, the 720S borrows some of the P1’s more dramatic bodywork elements, has a passenger area framed like a fighter-jet cockpit, and the unique McLaren doors now pull part of the roof up when raised.
Beautiful design doesn’t have to be limited to the most exclusive, elite vehicles on the road. The Mazda6 is so simple and elemental in design: the chrome piece underlining its grille, the front fenders that arch just a bit higher than expected, tracing a line along the side that tapers off — style by suggestion. The 6 is more well-thought out than it needs to be; striking even among cars twice its price.
The R8 has always offered a lot to love, including Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive and a screaming V10. But what put the R8 on the map, and what keeps it there, is that it simply looks cool. Details have changed in the R8’s design for its current iteration, but something about the swoop from the forward-set cabin and long rear section and those accent color blades just works.
Alfa Romeo 4C
The tiny powerhouse that is the Alfa Romeo 4C is unlike anything else out there, and a great deal of that comes from its design. Inspired by the legendarily beautiful 33 Stradale, the 4C packs more drama per square foot of bodywork than just about any car being built today. The Alfa front grille with the “plunging neckline” detail leading down the hood is just the start; the sweeping rear fenders with upper and lower intakes are the crescendo, leading to a deceptively simple rear end.
Ferrari 488 Spider
There’s nothing wrong with the 488 GTB — the current flagship of the Ferrari lineup — but something about losing the roof sets this design off. Somehow there’s an extra emphasis on the deep scoops leading to the rear air intakes, and there are few design elements cooler than bodywork tapering back from the head restraints. The 488 Spider gives the design more motion sitting still, better translating its capabilities to anyone who sees it.
Porsche 911 Targa 4 GTS
The opinions of Porsche 911 pundits differ, but most agree the current 911 Targa is a very cool nod to the past. Throughout 50 years of evolution, the 911 has kept its rear-mounted engine and many of its major design cues, but the Targa 4 GTS is the coolest version of the modern Targa, and its wider rear end and larger front intakes give it a little extra something over the standard model. Try to ignore it once you see that retractable roof panel in action.
The Mercedes-AMG GT is an exciting new benchmark for Grand Touring cars in the modern era. In convertible form it’s attractive, but the lines of the hardtop are the best expression of the AMG GT. The long hood and cabin that seems to bubble from the center of the car — flowing into a wide, squat rear end — all represent classic GT design cues; the extra-muscular lines of the AMG GT C and GT R take it a step further.
Pagani Huayra Roadster
Horatio Pagani’s creations are machines of carbon fiber, Mercedes AMG engines, and ideas. No matter what part of the Huayra Roadster you look at, it’s expressive and evocative. From the bug-eye headlights and antennae-like side mirrors, the Huayra throws curves seemingly in every direction, with intakes and aero details scattered about. Extreme attention to detail is the name of the game here and, somehow, it all works beautifully.
The latest offering from Koenigsegg, the Regera brings more luxury and comfort to the table along with massive speed and capability. It incorporates and improves on elements from Koenigsegg’s previous megacar, the One:1, including its top-mounted active rear wing, which in the Regera retracts fully into the bodywork at lower speeds, preserving the car’s elegant, swooping profile. In fact, from head-on and side views, the Regera comes off shockingly simple in design; the details atop the Regera’s roof and rear deck reveal its true complexity.