There’s a little game I like to play. It’s sort of personal and I feel silly sharing it with you, but no matter. All it requires is a finger and a magazine and if you’re like me, a bit of privacy for what happens next.
The game is simple. I browse the aforementioned magazine and when I come across a photograph of a car, I place my finger atop its badge and ask myself “does that indeed look like it should”, while trying to cut through the crap that flows so readily from the marketing and design departments of these automotive powerhouses.
In the case of a new Jetta I hide that familiar roundel and no, I truly believe it should be an Audi badge on its prow. When performing the trick with a Citroën, it’s strange how a lot of design cues from the East creep in. And when doing this exercise with your average Toyota you’ll find that badge largely interchangeable with anything under the sun – as a recent rear-driven Subaru coupé has proven. Mazdas are also particularly devoid of any sort of familial bond, though Honda does a bit better.
Just last week I encountered what you and I call a Suzuki SX4, but you know what? Someone had littered it with Fiat badges. And it was Fiat themselves that had done the sticking. You might not expect Italian styling to integrate so seamlessly on a Japanese faux-by-four, yet if anything it looked more right than before. On the same trip we even happened upon a Daihatsu Sirion with the evocative Subaru badge on its face. Really, Subaru? Boxer engines and all-wheel drive you say? Over in America, Chryslers are sporting Italian badges, mockingly tacked onto them! Maybe I’m a romantic, maybe it’s my past career as a designer that’s kicking against the roof, but I still believe the logo on a car’s nose should tell a story about the manufacturer’s past, give a clue to its origin and hint at its values.
Badge engineering is of course a long-lived plague in the industry dating back to year dot; an example being the Nissan Tiida – or do I mean the Dodge Trazo? Nissan’s Pathfinder can be also found renamed the Equator and carrying a Suzuki badge. Our first VW Polo was actually a rebadged Seat Ibiza – a lesser crime, I admit. But surely with an emblem comes heritage, pedigree? Remember the uproar when General Motors decided to remove the Opel badge from its Corsa and bestow it with the Chevrolet bowtie? I’ve criticised the Porsche people for being lazy in the past, but in this instance I must applaud them for their consistency: no other badge could hope to fit that inimitable shape. Lamborghini has also done well to evolve their hyper cars, arguably better than their rivals at the Ferrari factory. But none has suffered worse than Lancia. None.
It makes me wonder about these hot new Korean affairs. I saw an advert in an international mag for a Hyundai i40. I know this because that’s what the caption called it, but my eyes insisted it had a Bavarian upbringing. I think this is what is popularly referred to as ‘new money’, with style and design implemented by guns for hire that really know the art of penning a car. The thing is, you can style a new car to look like a million bucks, but just as there’s no buying class, there’s no buying a legacy either. That was not another Subaru reference; I mean that when Alfa Romeo build a sports car like the 4C, it will be perceived as being great before it has so much as turned a wheel. That’s simply because that emblem, albeit a graphic depicting a snake swallowing a baby, promises so much thanks to the marque’s Motorsport heritage. There’s a lineage, so there’s a back story behind the badge that has lasted half a century and more. With that comes a sense of identity that needs to be respected, evolved carefully and nurtured lovingly.
I think BMW has done the best job of this. Yes, even during the Bangle years, it remained indisputably, unequivocally and unmistakably a BMW. Even Audi feels a bit ‘new money’ compared to a Beemer, and it should because it’s a much younger brand than we like to admit. As for Mercedes-Benz, you might argue they look better than ever, but there’s no denying the influence from Bavaria with its sportier aesthetic and steam-roller wheels. These are not the ramblings of a BMW fan either, just an observation that you’re welcome to challenge. In fact I dare you.
Yet, curiously, there exists an anomaly, an instance where for reasons we cannot say, a manufacturer blasts onto the scene and with just one vehicle manages to seduce us into thinking that it always existed. I refer to the splendid Pagani marque. But perhaps this is the exception that proves the rule, because for the life of me I have no idea what its logo looks like and – Google notwithstanding – I bet you don’t either.