Whether it has been painstakingly designed for visual appeal or has more to do with aerodynamics and functionality, a car’s silhouette needs to stand out for the right reasons if it’s going to succeed. Some of the most successful and iconic cars have reached into the past for design inspiration, incorporating shapes and visual elements from historic models to help mold their brand identity. From supercars to SUVs, these are the most iconic luxury automotive silhouettes of today.
Aston Martin DB9
Aston Martin characterizes the DB9 as one of the most iconic models in automotive history, and considering the grand tourer’s long history of DB predecessors, we are inclined to agree. The DB range has even been a longtime James Bond favorite, appearing in Bond films from Goldfinger to Spectre. The automaker says the DB9’s sleek silhouette was meticulously designed to give it proportions based on the golden ratio, and new aerodynamic additions to the most recent model—including a rear boot “flip” and bonnet—only add to the silhouette. Although Aston Martin has indicated that we’ll see future innovations in the DB lineup’s design via its DBX Concept, which premiered at the Geneva International Motor Show in 2015, we’re confident that it will retain much of the iconic, sleek styling that has helped it gain notoriety in the first place.
The Audi R8 has been a regular on our Best of the Best lists since its introduction in 2008, and the sports car’s flat, wide silhouette has continued to make it stand out from the rest of the pack since then. For 2017, Audi debuted its newest version, which the automaker says is its most powerful production model to date. The V-10 engine packs 540 hp (and an extra 70 hp in the V-10 plus version), edging it closer to supercar territory. While the silhouette remains true to the R8’s racecar roots, it’s now flatter and wider and features new additions like a redesigned sideblade, hidden door handles, and—on the V-10 plus—a rear wing spoiler and racing shell seats.
The Bentley Continental has been around since the 1950s, but the GT range and all its variants from the 2000s on have a silhouette to match the car’s distinguished reputation. The grand tourer was refreshed in 2015 with some revisions to the profile, like more pronounced fenders with a new vent and metallic “B” adornment, a widened rear bumper, and a more aerodynamically sculpted boot lid. A redesign of the Continental is expected for 2018 based off the EXP 10 Speed concept from the 2015 auto-show circuit, and while it will likely retain the car’s V-8 or W-12 engine options, it is rumored to also feature a plug-in hybrid option.
The Bugatti Veyron is already distinctive enough due to its designation as the quickest production supercar in the world during its decade-long tenure from 2005 to 2015: The 1,001 hp (and later 1,200 hp) W-16 engine can launch the car from zero to 60 mph in just 2.5 seconds. The distinctive two-tone design, which is based heavily on Bugatti’s traditional “Art Forme Technique” spirit, is just one more thing to set it apart. The signature Bugatti centerline, horseshoe radiator grille, and retractable rear spoiler make for a head-turning silhouette. And although the car’s design is influenced heavily by historic models, the Veyron was far from conservative when it came to stylistic choices. Bugatti allowed customers a plethora of options to customize their Veyrons (only 450 of which were ever sold), including luxury materials like crystal and gold, as well as more than 100 different colors for the painted finishes on carbon-fiber bodies.
Ferrari’s head-turning 488 has a silhouette that’s all about aerodynamics. Available in both GTB and Spider variants, the 661 hp replacement for the 458 Italia took inspiration from that model and improved upon it. A host of elements were incorporated to improve aerodynamics and downforce—which is 50 percent higher than in the car’s predecessor. These include an Aero Pillar to manage and diffuse airflow, a rear diffuser with variable flap geometry that opens and closes based on driving conditions, and a blown rear spoiler that eliminates the need for a raised wing. The result is a silhouette that’s both beautiful and incredibly functional.
Lamborghini’s flagship model has both powerful proportions and performance. With a low front and roofline, a nearly 16-foot-long profile, and deeply recessed doors that open upward, the Lamborghini Aventador’s design language is aggressive and muscular—befitting of what’s underneath the hood. The V-12 engine, which can be showcased via an optional transparent engine bonnet, puts out an impressive 700 hp and can accelerate the supercar from zero to 60 mph in under 2.9 seconds. Along with a lightweight carbon-fiber monocoque and a mid-engine layout to improve vehicle dynamics, the Aventador also adds drama to its silhouette with a deployable rear spoiler, which can be angled at a tilt of four or 11 degrees to improve downforce during operation.
Land Rover Range Rover
While Land Rover recently started experimenting with more stylized silhouettes like in the Evoque crossover, the flagship Range Rover model is still the most recognizable and iconic silhouette in the automaker’s lineup. Ironically, the initial design of the car was more of an afterthought than anything else: Range Rover founder Charles Spencer King claimed that form followed function and “only about 0.001 percent of [our] time was spent on appearance,” so the SUV’s basic shape was initially determined by engineers. While the Range Rover’s design has been upgraded over the years, the essential silhouette with flat sides, thin side pillars, and short overhangs—all shaped to improve visibility—has remained true to its roots.
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
Between its gullwing doors and nearly 6-foot-long hood, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is instantly recognizable. The 583 hp sports car was the first to be designed and developed from scratch by the automaker’s high-performance Mercedes-AMG division. The design is inspired by the 1950s and early ’60s Mercedes-Benz 300 SLs, which also sported gullwing doors and wide radiators grille with the characteristic Mercedes star. The SLS AMG’s silhouette takes additional inspiration from aviation, with the long hood and grille resembling a jet engine and its air intake. Around back, the car’s short rear and its extendable spoiler—as well as the car’s long and wide profile—are also meant to invoke the idea of speed.
Whether it’s a Carrera, a Targa, or a Turbo, the Porsche 911 has been an automotive icon for over 50 years. In its more than five decades of continuous production, Porsche has built just over 820,000 911s in its various iterations. Considering its long-term success, it’s no surprise that the silhouette of today’s 911 still has plenty in common with its predecessors. While it has been flattened, stretched, and contoured to be more modern and aerodynamic over the years, it’s still definitely true to its roots. In its most recent refresh for 2017, the 911 has a redesigned front fascia, rear air intakes, and taillights to give the car a stronger and more three-dimensional look.
Rolls-Royce prides itself on its heritage, and although the Phantom has evolved well past its first renditions in the mid 1920s it still retains much of the model’s original stately glamour. The Phantom’s long wheelbase—a must for a car known for its passenger luxury—pairs with a deep C-pillar, coach doors that open from the center of the car, and a short front overhang to create a unique and iconic profile. Of course, the most recognizable element of any Rolls-Royce is the famous Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament, which can be lowered out of sight when the Phantom is parked. While the current generation of the Phantom is coming to an end this year, a new Phantom with high-tech aluminum architecture is set to debut in 2018, so we’re excited to see where Rolls-Royce takes this car’s iconic silhouette next.
Report by Lindsay Bjerregaard for Robb Report