“A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.” —John Keats
Beauty, indeed, is a powerful thing. Specific though it may be to the observer, to each one of us, beauty has an intoxicating power that affects our judgment, blinds us to shortcomings, and, in many cases, provokes lust.
Troll the lawn of any major concours d’élégance, and you’ll see that old Johnny was right on the money. A beautiful car is a thing to be savored, treasured, and preserved. Why else would people display their cars on the concours if not for the flowing beauty of their sheetmetal? Why else would we sink so much time, effort, and money into an inanimate object if it didn’t look back at us with such a wanton, animate gaze?
For a great many of us, a beautiful car planted the seeds for a lifelong addiction to all things automotive, and these 10 cars are bound to incite a few automotive addictions of their own. They are the leggy supermodels of the auto industry, cars that make their first impression with exceeding beauty (save the first pair, which are a different sort of lovely), and for the purposes of this story, that’s all that matters. Of course, there are many other cars that can be considered stunning, hot, cool, eye-catching, alluring, or any manner of highly suggestive descriptor, but few can be considered timelessly beautiful as Keats might define it. These 10 are.
10. 2009 Lotus Elise/2009 Ariel Atom
Beauty is not always purely a matter of the aesthetic. To those more technically minded (as are several of our editors—Csere, VanderWerp, you know who you are), beauty can be a more cerebral, associative, objective factor. Although the eensy, insectile Lotus Elise and the skeletal Ariel Atom are not necessarily beautiful in the traditional sense, the fact that they weigh next to nothing yet offer more power than many sport-utilities can make a math-minded car enthusiast drool at the sight of their unconventional bodies like Pavlov’s dogs in a bell factory. We’re talking 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds for the 2000-pound Elise and three seconds flat in the 1400-pound, 245-hp Atom (a 300-hp model is also available). You don’t have to be a spreadsheet to get turned on by that.
9. 2009 Audi R8
Before the R8, the thought of Audi building a credible supercar was audacious enough. That it could make one that would be so arousingly beautiful was simply unfathomable. But with the R8, Audi has brought the world a car that performs like a true supercar and is sculpted in double-take sheetmetal. Certainly helpful is the fact that Audi owns Lamborghini and thus has proven supercar innards—in this instance, those of the Gallardo—at its disposal, as well as a number of excellent powertrains capable of launching the aluminum-bodied sexpot forward as if it were shot from a cannon. All that was left, then, was to wrap it in something beautiful. And that Audi did.
8. 2009 Porsche Cayman
The Boxster is bitchin’, but the Cayman is beautiful. Yes, they’re more or less the same car, but the Cayman proves there’s something about a well-rendered roof that takes a good-looking car and drops it off at the doorstep of gorgeous. In our book, it is just as purposeful but even more sexy than—dare we say it?—its big brother, the legend itself, the Porsche 911 Carrera.
Blessed as it is with balanced mid-engine proportions, roof contours that drip down into the swollen fenders, and a smart, determined gaze, the Cayman makes its driver look as good as he or she feels. And as we’ve said many times before, when you drive one, you feel pretty good.
7. 2009 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class
Beauty is seldom encountered among four-doors since, in the car world, accumulating doors usually means subtracting style. But the Mercedes-Benz CLS-class proves that sedans can be beautiful, too. Sure, the CLS cheats a bit, achieving its captivating looks by incorporating some coupe-derived design elements such as a low, chopped roof and slim windows, and this translates into a cramped rear seat that holds only two people—short people. This car is best enjoyed from the outside, where light streaks over spectacular arching body contours like shooting stars. It is at once delightfully simple and wonderfully extravagant, and we celebrate it as an experiment in style that went very, very well. Fast forward to Pebble Beach 2058, and you can bet there will be a CLS or two on the lawn.
6. 2009 Audi S5
Current Audi/Lamborghini/SEAT design chief Walter de'Silva has designed many beautiful cars during his illustrious career. But even after designing the mouthwatering Audi R8, de'Silva himself called the Audi S5, along with its less powerful, somewhat more subdued A5 twin, the most beautiful car he has ever penned.
One of the most passionate designs ever to come out of Germany, the S5 wears a perfect balance of masculine and feminine elements, mixing a strong, assertive gaze with elegantly flowing fenders and a thick fuselage offset with delicate brightwork. Sporty accents to the S5 include a squared-off chin, subtle sill extensions, a slightly longer decklid, and four wonderfully vocal tailpipes—all without detracting from the coupe’s innate beauty. Best of all, it sets the tone for the styling of Audi’s lineup henceforth. Lucky us.