Why All Modern Cars Look Alike

Is this a Honda Accord ... or a Toyota Camry? .

Do all modern cars look alike? I keep encountering that idea. Richard Lentinello writes in Hemmings Classic Car, “I have very little interest in new cars, mainly because they all seem to be made from the same mold — well-made, yes, but boring in terms of design, nonetheless.”

Rex Roy of AOL Autos adds, “Have you ever exited a supermarket and wondered why you couldn't find your car? Chances are you suffered from something all of us have at some point: cars tend to look a lot alike these days.”

This is not a BMW

The irreverent Jalopnik takes this further with the car pictured above, not a “BMW M9” but in fact a Photoshopped creation with a BMW grille and the rest from a Kia.

Good Reasons for Today's Designs

There is indeed a lot of similarity, and there are good reasons for it. Automakers are trying to make cars as streamlined and aerodynamic as possible, and the CNET video below says that dictates what it calls the big “Mrs. Doubtfire butt.” The massive front ends are in part a result of pedestrian safety standards, and the big door pillars protect cars in rollovers. Safety is also moving us toward smaller greenhouses (the glass area) and higher door sills. Yes, it feels like you’re sitting in a bunker sometimes.

The Honda Insight looks like the Toyota Prius because that’s the best look for a very slippery coefficient of drag and excellent fuel economy. In the future, we’re also likely to lose outside rear-view mirrors for that reason.

Historical Car Design

Still, I think the cars of the 1920s looked far more alike than today’s cars. I find it hard to spot the Ford and Chevy in pictures like the one above.

The high-water mark for individual-looking cars was probably the 1950s and 1960s, when any schoolkid could tell a ’59 Chevy from a ’58. There were indeed a lot of great designs back then. But yearly model changes were incredibly inefficient and mostly happened with very little upgrade to the engineering under the skin. Any doubt which year Cadillac that is below?


Yes, a Camry looks like an Accord. MSN Autos has some compelling look-alike cars here. But it’s not all bad. The Honda and Toyota are both good, comfortable, safe, efficient cars. Safety matters.

But the complaints keep coming. The owner of a 1957 Chevy Bel Air says of new cars that “they all look alike.” The classic car guys like Lentinello can ride around in their fuel-hog V-8-powered classics without airbags, seatbelts or crumple zones. If you want any more convincing, watch this crash test involving a '59 Bel Air: