For as long as we’ve crowned Automobile of the Year, we have also relied on design editor Robert Cumberford to select a Design of the Year. Some winners have been prettier than others, but all have been significant in terms of excellence in automotive design.
Here we’ve listed all 23 Design of the Year winners in chronological order, along with a little insight on why each one was picked.
The Lexus LS400 almost won our first Design of the Year award, but its anonymous, me-too styling held it back. Instead, Nissan proved that Japanese styling could be anything but derivative with the 300ZX while providing good performance, reliability, and design equaling or surpassing the European competition.
The year of the NSX. Not only did Acura’s revolutionary supercar win the honor of our second Automobile of the Year, it was also our design of the Year. Light years ahead of its peers in engineering, design, and performance that created the first true everyday supercar.
The Civic VX is a no-compromise car – style, performance, economy, and practicality in one vehicle. With a clean, contemporary style, the two-door VX shooting brake has aged well and set a new standard for the compact class.
Smaller, lighter, and faster than its predecessors, the RX-7 looks the part of a serious sports car – and is – that can still tackle the day-to-day commuting. It was this all-around excellence that made the RX-7 stand out in 1993 and continues to today.
According to Cumberford, the 900 taught the entire auto industry an important lesson – just because parts were shared, a brand did not need to lose its character. Sadly, this lesson wasn’t followed for very long, which later led to Saab’s demise at the hands of General Motors.
Our headline for the 1995 Design of the Year article reads “Sometimes passion must win.” A gorgeous, front-engined, V-12-powered, two-plus-two with contemporary mechanicals – how could the 456GT not be Design of the Year?
The 1996 Taurus and Sable were the most-advanced cars to come out of Ford Motor Company to date. Thanks to the risks Ford took in developing and styling these two mid-size sedans, these radically-styled sedans nabbed Design of the Year.
Technologically and aerodynamically advanced, the EV1 isn’t the prettiest thing, but it represented the potential a corporate behemoth could accomplish. Its electric powertrain may not have been our best bet for long-term viability, but the concepts needed to accomplish an estimated 80 mpg and 125-mph top speed made the EV1 revolutionary.
Radical styling and an advanced version of Chrysler’s LH platform made the Concord a shoe-in for Design of the Year. The midsizer’s design was more daring and exciting than many of the concept cars of the day with dramatic proportions and thorough engineering.
The BMW M Coupe is not beautiful; it’s brutal. A joy to drive and all business in its aesthetics and engineering, the clown-shoe-shaped car relays its mission clearly and directly.
Easy to drive and easy on the eyes, the Audi TT marked a successful recalling of German designs past. The “inverted bathtub” shape of the TT helped to bring customers to Audi showrooms, and brought joyfulness to the automotive marketplace.
We broke our own rules with this one – the 156 was not on sale by January 1 for us to buy, as it never was sold in the U.S. However, the 156 Sportwagon is the crowning jewel in the venerable brand’s recent design history, and warrants our award, on sale or not.
The SL500 is a technical tour de force that not only contains a raft of impressive engineering and new technology, but wrapped it all in an attractive package that can give Aston Martin’s designs a run for the money. Better yet, the Mercedes’ top goes down.
BMW has had a history of breaking rules with its sports cars, and the Z4 is no exception to this rule. The complex and beautiful form crafted by Chris Bangle helped to define the new “flame surfacing” design language of BMW for the next decade complete with an interplay between convex and concave body surfaces.
2004: Toyota Prius
If there ever were a car designed to be completely comfortable in its own shell, it’s the 2004 Toyota Prius. The unassuming, pragmatic hybrid is not only functional, but surprisingly cute.
Forget about tradition, we love the 2006 BMW 6 Series. The coupe wears a sleek, aggressive appearance, and “stands out like a swan in a gaggle of geese” thanks to its undulating curves and changes between convex and concave surfacing.
Cool, exciting, and good to drive, the Pontiac Solstice stays close to the alluring design of the preceding concept car. Cumberford said that in 2006 and in the years to come, the Solstice would be a pleasure to look at, to be behind the wheel, and to own.
A car that is both sensuous and sensual? Yes, those are the words Cumberford chose to describe the Aston Martin V8 Vantage – a car that is both beautiful and technically advanced.
The R8 was only the second-ever car to win both Automobile of the Year and Design of the Year in the same year, after the Acura NSX in 1991. It is dynamic, sexy, and checks all of our boxes.
Few German cars are known for having particularly emotive design; however, the Audi A5 is one of them. Proclaimed to be the best car ever done by the car’s designer Walter de Silva (now head of all Volkswagen Group design), the exterior is handsome while the interior signaled a new standard of excellence for Audi.
The 2010 Nissan Cube is no Grace Kelly – it’s not sleek, sexy, or beautiful. But while it lacks in elegance, the Cube draws appeal in its quirky charm, and its surprisingly smooth ride.
The XJ marked a full return to form for the Jaguar brand – wrapping the all-aluminum body introduced in 2004 in evocative bodywork that stayed true to Sir William Lyon’s technique to the original Jaguars. Most importantly, while being all-new, the XJ was still a Jaguar in look, essence, and feel.
This is the stuff of which legends are made. Powerful, sleek, and untouchable, the Karma is a dream car come to production with its sinewy body design and futuristic range-extended electric powertrain.