Attention Automakers: You Don't Need a Corporate GrilleS

The Lexus GX460 is the ugliest car on sale today. There, I said it. I said it so you didn't have to. You were thinking it, of course. But you were afraid to say it, largely because you were worried that an angry Lexus GX460 would come after you and use its enormous front grille to gnaw on your family.

Now, before I go any further, I'd just like to say that I generally try to avoid discussing automotive styling. This is because automotive styling is highly subjective, which means that talking about it can really piss people off. For example: a lot of people really like the original Oldsmobile Aurora, whereas I always felt it looked like the kind of thing you might draw if you were holding a pen with your toes. But you can't say this kind of thing to Oldsmobile Aurora owners, because it will cause them to fly into a rage, and then they'll take even longer to write out checks when you're standing in line at the grocery store.

I also try to avoid discussing automotive styling because my opinions tend to go against the mainstream. For instance: I really like the Ferrari FF. Seriously. I think it's handsome, and bold, and muscular, and well-proportioned. This is in direct contrast to, say, you, who probably feels that the Ferrari FF looks like the kind of thing that even the Japanese would be embarrassed to display at the Tokyo Motor Show.

So styling is a bit of a sore subject, and I try to steer clear of it whenever possible. But I've decided to break my silence today, this one time only, to address something that really needs to be discussed: the corporate grille.

Before I get into the GX460 situation, I'd like to start with a little history lesson on the corporate grille. Founded just a few short years ago, it offers American food and a large selection of wine, beer, and liquor, along with several high-definition TVs that ensure you'll never miss a big game.

Oh no! Wait! That's the Corporate Bar and Grill, a local neighborhood tavern in Silver Spring, Maryland, that – according to at least one Yelp user – "smells like paint thinner."

The history of the automotive corporate grille is much different, and I think we can all agree that no matter how I explain it, several commenters will point out that I got it wrong. So I will instead settle for a quick definition: the corporate grille is what happens when a car company decides that each of its vehicles must have the same front end, regardless of a car's size, shape, market position, or the fact that slapping on such a grille might make the car look like an indignant microwave.

Now, I think we can all agree there have been many successful corporate grilles, and I'm sure that's what draws automakers to keep creating them. For instance: consider how you see BMW's twin kidneys, and you immediately think "jerk." That is brand recognition. Or how you see Dodge's crossbars, and your first thought is "multiple gun owner." Or how you see Kia's "Tiger Nose" and the first words out of your mouth are: "Damn it! Why does Enterprise always give me a Kia?!"

But there have been many occasions where the corporate grille has done more harm than good. I am thinking here of that time Subaru tried to install a giant circle with two wings on the front of each of its cars, in spite of clear opposition from those of us with eyes. Or the time that Mazda gave all of its cars an enormous grin, which – in states with two license plates – included one large, center-mounted aluminum tooth.

And now we have the Lexus "spindle."

Before I tear into the spindle and suggest that we will someday look back on it as the beginning of the downfall of civilization as we know it, I would like to point out that I actually like the spindle. It looks excellent, for example, on the GS and IS. Disagree if you want, but I think these cars are gorgeous. And I'm certain of this viewpoint because I saw these vehicles in person several months ago on an all-expense-paid Lexus press trip.

But here's the thing: the GS and IS are sedans. The grille works perfectly on those cars because it gives them this sporty, edgy look, as if to say: "I'm the first Lexus you can drive without prescription bifocals!" They look cool. They look exciting. They look fun.

But the GX460 isn't a sedan. Instead, it's a large, ungainly SUV now fitted with what I wouldn't describe as a spindle, but rather an Angry Hourglass. In fact, I think that's what I'll call it. The Angry Hourglass.

The major problem here is that the GX460 wasn't designed with this grille. The current model came out in 2010, and back then it featured a normal grille, like every other Lexus. But then Lexus decided that it must update every one of its vehicles to include the Angry Hourglass, so they facelifted it. The result is an SUV that's 90 percent normal, staid, suburban child transport vehicle, and 10 percent angry 1990s video game boss.

And that brings me to my point. Automakers: you don't need a corporate grille. The GX460 was doing just fine before they tacked on the Angry Hourglass. And Subaru seems to be doing great, despite giving up on that bizarre circle thing. I think we can all agree that this proves a corporate grille is less effective than, say, a bunch of TV ads that show young people kayaking.

The simple truth is this: just because it looks good on one model, or two models, or even five models, doesn't mean it looks good on the entire lineup. The Lexus GX460 is proof. And now, here I sit, awaiting death at the jaws of the Angry Hourglass.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He operates PlaysWithCars.com. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.