Modern SUV Design and Shrinking Sightlines

Modern SUVs look pretty sharp and sleek, don’t you think? They’re a far cry from the boxy and boring SUVs of old - your parents’ or your grandparents’ station wagon. Automakers have discovered that people like driving cool cars (who’d have thought!?) and with SUVs and pickups collectively earning about two thirds of 2017 volume of car sales, it’s no wonder why automakers have been paying attention to SUVs for as long as they have. However, they’re a far bigger form factor so taking two doors off and calling it a coupe doesn’t quite work. Modern SUV design is a desperate tug-of-war between form and function, with automakers skirting with how many stylistic elements they can put in before it becomes too difficult to drive.

2016 Toyota RAV4

I don’t have any reason for picking the Toyota RAV4 as my example, there are many cars that also fit the bill - the Honda CR-V, the Hyundai lineup… but we need to start somewhere.

2016 Toyota RAV4

Credit: [kickaffe on Wikimedia Commons](

1) Descending Roofline

The biggest reason why your shoulder check looks more like a cave and less like a car is because of the descending roofline. A descending roofline changes the shape of the vehicle, making it look more coupe-like leaving the general outline closer to a raindrop than a box. Fortunately, you almost never have to worry about obstacles and hazards being invisible because you lost the upper portion of your rear windows.

2) ‘Upkicked’ Rear Pillar

Many modern cars have an ‘upkicked’ rear pillar (that’s the D pillar if you wanted to sound cool). Typically, you’d imagine a boxy wagon to have a straight pillar. If the car was slightly sportier, the pillar would lean a bit, following the curve of the car. In an upkicked pillar, instead of having the inside of the pillar ‘lean inwards’, the designer would instead turn the pillar into a pylon, stylishly connecting the descending roofline with the rising beltline bellow. This line makes SUVs sleek and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a big reason for Hyundai’s success with SUVs - 36% of Hyundai’s sales mix is now made up of SUVs, according to 2017 sales data which is impressive considering Hyundai doesn’t sell any pickup trucks that normally drive up light truck sales.

3) Rising Windowline

You can think of the beltline as that area where the car shrinks in width near the windows. The bottom line formed by the bottom edge of the windows sits just above it, continuing the line made by the hood. Of course, the hood is generally angled upwards, so the windowline also follows upwards. Unfortunately, this line is also important because it affects how much you can see out your side and rear windows! Could there be a child or small animal beside or behind your car? Even the presence of a rearview camera isn’t going to stop you from making a lane change into a low-riding sports car.

Tags// , , ,