I was test driving a €16,000 Ford Fiesta recently and everywhere I went it got attention. There were the suspicious sideways looks in supermarket car parks. Driving by bus stops a line of bored faces would glance and then look back again with more interest.

This was a relatively straightforward supermini. Smart-looking but not flash with no garish paint finish or two-tone colour scheme or fancy body kit or alloy wheels.

Ford Fiesta
Fiesta sporting a very distinct trapezoidal grille

The Fiesta’s ace card, however, was its trapezoidal Aston Martin-esque grille that commanded attention at the front of the car. I remember seeing pictures of the revamped Fiesta for the first time and not being sure about this bold design feature.

But as I spent more time with the car the penny began to drop. It makes a statement whether we like it or not and elicits a reaction. That’s a powerful way of establishing brand identity and no surprises the same grille will be rolled out onto other members of the Ford family in the near future.

Lexus received the same sort of mixed reaction to its signature spindle grille design when it was showcased on the LF-Gh concept car back in 2011, before making its way onto production models like the CT 200h and new NX compact SUV. The striking design is a brave move in the somewhat reserved luxury car market where design tends to err on the side of caution than the avant-garde.

Kiyotaka Ise, Head of Lexus, explains: “We were more into ‘elegant’ in the past. Now we’re adding greater visual presence to that elegance. You should be able to identify a car as a Lexus immediately, but, until recently, this aspect has been a little lacking. Now that’s changing. Instant visual recognition, for example, is the reason behind our spindle grille.”

Kia pro_cee'd
Kia pro_cee’d

It’s a good strategy and one that has also worked very well for Kia. Award-winning car designer Peter Schreyer took over design at the Korean brand in 2006 and quickly set about creating a strong brand identity pioneered by the signature ‘tiger-nose’ grille that now adorns all models in the range. Kia’s cars are instantly recognisable and it contributes to a product that has a much more refined and finished feel to it. No more just blending in with the rest.

The people in the supermarket and at the bus stop reacted to my Ford Fiesta. Some friends and family liked it and some didn’t. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s better to have the public reacting to your new design statement than feeling nothing whatsoever. Who wants to blend into a sea of mehness on the road?

Caroline Kidd