Words that will make you sound smart about ‘beautiful’ cars

Sometimes it happens – a friend describes a car as beautiful.

Around the water cooler, she asks: Did you hear the one about the guy who crashed his beautiful $2 million Bugatti Veyron only 15 minutes after driving it out of the dealership?

Well, it better be beautiful if it cost $2 million, you think, getting sidetracked a moment from the story. But if you are like most people, you may find yourself wondering what makes a car qualify as beautiful – other than “because it’s red” or something equally uninspiring.

Bugatti Veyron
Photo credit: Bugatti via Newspress USA
Can you describe the beauty of the Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse?

That’s why we’re going to share the 17 words that will make you sound smart when talking about beautiful cars whether you drive a 2010 Honda Civic or a $2 million Bug-whatti?

“Even car experts struggle sometimes to say what exactly it is that makes one car attractive and another … not so much,” said Volkswagen in promoting its new Arteon midsize car with a manufacturer’s retail price starting around $36,000. Helpfully, Volkswagen provided a short glossary of auto design terms that can “help you pinpoint what turns your head on the road.”

After all, “Cars are the sculptures of our everyday lives,” as designer Chris Bangle said.

Volkswagen Arteon
Photo credit: Volkswagen via Newspress USA
Does the Volkswagen Arteon meet your definition of a “beautiful” car?

Here are the words (really 20) defined by VW:


“If you traced a vehicle’s silhouette from front to rear, you’d have the A-line, or main profile. This line often defines the entire character of a car, and a few millimeters here and there can mean the difference between sleek or dull.”


“The horizontal line that divides the sheet metal from the glass in a vehicle. Just as a higher or lower beltline on a human body drastically alters a person’s look, the height of a vehicle’s beltline can make it look sporty or menacing or welcoming and airy.”

Character line

“The creases running horizontally along the side of a vehicle that give it a visual definition.”

A-, B- and C-pillars

“Car designers have a lettering system for the pillars that contain the passenger compartment when viewed from the side: The A-pillar frames the front, the B-pillar is where the door edges meet, and the C-pillar frames the rear side windows.”

Down the road graphics

“If you’ve ever tried to identify a car at night simply from the shape of its headlights, you’ve memorized what designers call ‘down the road graphics.’ With the arrival of LED daytime running lights, there are more ways than ever to distinguish vehicles through light.”


“The car body term dates back to before World War II, when automakers first began optimizing aerodynamics. Long roofs that slope down to a car’s trunk provide several aerodynamic benefits, and eventually such profiles were called fastbacks.”


“The German term for the side badge … where the front door line meets the fender.”

Greenhouse/Day Light Opening (DLO)

“The shape and total area of the glass around a passenger compartment in a vehicle. Owners generally favor open, airy greenhouses, but too much glass can make for awkward exterior design. Sports cars often have the smallest DLOs that emphasize performance at the expense of visibility. The best designs offer a balance between extremes, while panoramic sunroofs … add a further dimension.”

Joint Line

“Any place on a vehicle where two body panels meet. Joint lines are rarely the centerpiece of a vehicle’s design, but they can add or detract greatly from the overall impression.”


“As seen from the side, the part of the car that extends ahead and behind the wheel arches. Classic American cars commonly had a foot or two of sheet metal and frame sticking out in front and back. In the modern era, smaller overhangs have become the more preferred style (and provide more assured handling, as more of the vehicle’s weight lies within the wheelbase).”

Power dome

“A term for a hood bulge that gives the impression of power underneath. Once quite common, the industry has been moving toward flatter hoods.”


“The angle of the windshield as seen from the side of the car. The Volkswagen Beetle was a good example of a vehicle with almost no windshield rake. Modern vehicles have more rake for lower wind noise and better aerodynamics, although glare can be an issue at too great an angle.”


“The side curve of a vehicle body, typically above the wheels. Many vehicles lack shoulders entirely, as the roof and sides meet in one continuous line.”


“The width between the wheels. Narrower cars have better aerodynamics, but wider vehicles look more premium.”


“A nautical term that describes the inward angle of the greenhouse. Pickups, vans and many SUVs have zero to little tumblehome to optimize interior space … Just the right amount of tumblehome can be the difference between an attractive design and a competent, but boring, one.”


“The horizontal angle at which a car sits when viewed from the side. Minivans have zero wedge, drag racers have extreme wedge.”

Wheelarch gap

“The space between the wheel and the body. It’s a particular obsession for many auto fans … Trucks and off-road SUVs require more gap, but even in those types of vehicles designers work to ensure the body still provides an aesthetically pleasing space.”

So the next time you’re chatting around the water cooler, you can chime in about how you admired a certain vehicle’s A-line, beltline and character line along with its rake, wedge and small greenhouse.

And, by the way, the story about crashing the Bugatti is true.

It was sideswiped by a midsize SUV.

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