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Hot Grilles: 10 Best Front Ends in Auto Design

No matter how fast, luxurious or brilliantly engineered, a car has to look good if it's going to sell. And in this game of seduction, the front fascia plays a vital part. An inspired grille design makes a car attractive and shapes its identity by tying it to the carmaker's history and reputation. For more than a century, designers have wrestled with the daunting challenge of making cars sexy while satisfying the conflicting demands of engineers and regulators. A smooth front end will likely be more aerodynamic and fuel efficient but less charismatic, for instance. Over the years, there have been some amazing successes and spectacular failures in front fascia design. Here are 10 of the most notable.

Bing Images: Front Fascias

Audi A8

Click to enlarge pictureAudi A8 (© Audi of America)

Audi A8

The Audi Nuvolari quattro concept, with its bold, gaping mouth of a grille, created quite a stir when it was unveiled at the 2003 Geneva International Motor Show. Yet it now looks almost tame when compared with some of the current Audi production models it has inspired, starting with the A5 and S5 coupes. The company's designers have used that trapezoidal grille on virtually all Audis since the Nuvolari, while making it more assertive still. The flagship A8 sedan is the best example. You can hardly call it pretty, but it sure gets your attention.

Compare: Audi A8 vs. Lexus LS 460 vs. Porsche Panamera

BMW 7-Series

Click to enlarge pictureBMW 7-Series (© BMW North America)

BMW 7-Series

The double-kidney grille that sets a BMW apart became an instant classic on the tall, narrow hood of the gorgeous 328 sports car, launched in 1936. The kidneys were subsequently stretched, compressed, widened or abbreviated, depending on the size and type of the vehicle, but they always clearly stated the unique identity of the Bavarian machines, with the help of the equally famous blue and white roundel badge. Unveiled at the 2007 Shanghai Auto Show, the Concept CS has a notably wider version of the twin kidneys, flanked by chiseled headlights that give it a hawk like gaze. It has inspired the current 7-Series flagship sedan and Gran Turismo models.

1953 Buick Skylark

Click to enlarge picture1953 Buick Skylark (© General Motors)

1953 Buick Skylark

In spite of notable exceptions such as the slick Studebaker Golden Hawk and Continental Mark II, the Fabulous Fifties were the age of the glorious tail fin and the chromed, toothy grille. No car personifies this period with more style and grace than the 1953 Buick Skylark. This limited-edition and largely custom-tailored version of Buick's top-line Road master convertible was created to celebrate the automaker's first half-century and reinforce GM's styling and design leadership. The Skylark's smooth flanks and upswept rear fenders evoke the legendary 1938 Buick Y-Job, the first concept car in history. It was Buick and GM at their classic best.

Bing: Buick Skylark

Cadillac CTS

Click to enlarge pictureCadillac CTS Sport Wagon (© General Motors)

Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon

No other division at GM has made greater strides in reinventing itself than Cadillac. Style and engineering are inseparable in what Cadillac calls its Art and Science design language, as defined by the Evoq concept first shown at the 1999 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. A dozen years later, the CTS Coupe and Sport Wagon are its best expressions. With their chiseled lines, rakish profile and that big square-pattern grille, they truly and brazenly stand out among their rivals. That grille, with its wider sections and large, wreathed Cadillac crest, was first seen on the second-generation CTS sedan. The original CTS was the first crystallization of the Art and Science philosophy, and Cadillac has not looked back since.

Fisker Karma

Click to enlarge pictureFisker Karma (© Fisker Automotive)

Fisker Karma

With its bleeding-edge, extended-range hybrid powertrain, the upcoming Karma luxury-sport sedan could have gone full technoid. Instead, prominent designer-turned-entrepreneur Henrik Fisker decided to make the car as sexy as possible. The Karma's long, low profile is tantalizing enough, but it is nonetheless upstaged by a defiantly wide grille with upturned edges that make it look like the Cheshire Cat on 22-inch alloy wheels. With its 403-horsepower powertrain, a zero-to-60-mph time of 5.9 seconds, a top speed of 125 mph — 7.9 seconds and 95 mph in electric-only "stealth" mode — and a projected 100 mpg combined fuel-economy rating, going "green" has never looked hotter.


Click to enlarge pictureEdsel Corsair Convertible (© Car Culture/Corbis)

Edsel Corsair Convertible

Created by Ford as a new division, the Edsel brand had a disappointing launch in the fall of 1957 in spite of a substantial advertising and marketing push. Sales subsequently spiraled down until the carmaker closed shop after the 1960 model year. Historians and sundry experts have invoked numerous reasons for this failure, but awkward styling topped the list in the public's eye, quite literally. The butt of endless jokes, the early Edsels' vertical, ovoid grille was most famously described as "an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon." The best of the rare surviving specimens are now cherished collector cars that can fetch up to $200,000.

Bing: History of the Edsel

Infiniti FX50

Click to enlarge picture
Infiniti FX (© Nissan North America)

Infiniti FX

Introduced in 2003, the Infiniti FX sport-luxury crossover is Japanese automotive design at its boldest and most daring. The original FX was presented as a "bionic cheetah," and it looked the part. Its arched roofline, muscular flanks, dual bazooka tailpipes and huge 20-inch wheels gave it unmatched poise and presence among crossovers. The second-generation FX, introduced in 2009, pushed the styling envelope further still with a bolder, chrome-framed grille and dual-projector headlights, a combination also seen on the striking Infiniti Essence sports-car concept shown at the Geneva Motor Show the same year. The FX undoubtedly remains the bravest production Infiniti yet.

Compare: Infiniti FX vs. Lincoln MKT vs. Acura MDX

Maybach Exelero

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Maybach Exelero (© Mercedes-Benz USA)

Maybach Exelero

Neither concept nor production car, the unique Exelero was built byMaybach as an extreme test machine for German tire maker Fulda. Almost 20 feet long and weighing close to 3 tons, the Exelero is powered by a twin-turbocharged 700-horsepower V12 engine, good for a top speed of 218 mph and capable of a zero-to-60-mph dash in 4.2 seconds. A beaver-toothed chromed grille and triangular headlights form a raven's scowl, while a plowlike chin spoiler and huge side pipes trace the profile of a Gothic, hot-rod gran turismo coupe. At once elegant and sinister, it could also ace the audition as Batman's choice wheels for weekends and vacations.

Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake

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Mercedes-Benz Shooting Break Concept (© Mercedes-Benz)

Mercedes-Benz Shooting Break Concept

The dean of automakers, celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2011, is also a great master at design continuity and brand identity. Through the decades, Mercedes-Benz vehicles have remained uncannily recognizable through the ever-morphing shape of their signature upright grille and the carmaker's famous three-pointed-star emblem. And yet, the German carmaker has never shied from change, design risk and innovation. The original CLS, for instance, virtually created a new body style in 2006 by combining the sweeping roofline of a coupe and a sedan's practical 4-door layout. After the second-generation CLS coupe-sedan, Mercedes will start building production versions of the swoopy CLS Shooting Brake sport-wagon concept.

Rolls-Royce 102EX Concept

Rolls-Royce 102EX Phantom Experimental Electric (© BMW Group)

Rolls-Royce 102EX Phantom Experimental Electric

The most famous grille ever is the upright and regal façade on every Rolls-Royce built since 1904. Its contours and finish have evolved, but the pentagonal shape staunchly remains, even on the most radical Rolls ever, the Phantom Experimental Electric (aka 102EX Concept), unveiled at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show. From outside, the Phantom Electric grille is virtually identical to the "regular" Phantom's, save for a crystal version of the Spirit of Ecstasy emblem that glows in the dark. Under the hood, a giant lithium-ion battery pack replaces the V12 engine and powers a pair of water-cooled electric motors coupled to the rear wheels. It should have enough juice for a 124-mile range and a zero-to-60-mph jog in less than eight seconds.

Bing Video: Rolls-Royce 102EX

A professional auto journalist for more than 25 years and the founding editor of Simpatico / MSN Autos, MarcLachapelle is a two-time winner of the Canadian Journalist of the Year award from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, an accomplished photographer and licensed racer.