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Best good-looking car buys by segment

2014 Mini Cooper S.

We spend weeks comparing new car performance and prices... then fall for a shiny one.

The road to new car ownership is paved with good intentions.

We've come to a decision, or at least a shortlist, based on hours of research, in-depth discussions with colleagues and a focus on the fundamentals such as fuel economy and safety ratings.

Then we walk into the showroom and see it in the flesh and that shiny, seductively styled car appeals directly to our ego. Bugger the budget, pragmatism can take a back seat.

"We're not rational creatures," says Australia SCAN social analyst David Chalke. "If we were, we'd all shop at Aldi."

A vehicle's looks are still the key issue in car ownership — we have to live with it on a daily basis, so it needs to appeal.

And we're certainly not shopping in the bargain basement bins. Sales of sub-$80,000 sports cars — by definition a discretionary purchase — are up by 34 per cent this year.

Chalke says a vehicle's looks are still the key issue in car ownership — we have to live with it on a daily basis, so it needs to appeal.

The fact we each have a unique perception of what constitutes beauty explains the variety of car styles sold.

"We have an inherent appreciation of aesthetics and the car embodies that," he says.

"The car is a statement to you about yourself and a statement to the world about yourself. It is beautiful yet a carapace (shell) that helps to protect us from the wicked, evil world."

There's a caveat to that: sometimes the best-looking (and it's always subjective) car isn't the smartest buy. Some are downright impractical, some are too pricey and some aren't that fun to drive.

Here's our pick of the good lookers.

First car

Suzuki Swift, from $15,990

2016 Suzuki Swift Navigator.

The Swift is a cult car, partly due to its smart use of a small space and partly for its clean design. They're popular simply because the sharp, uncluttered lines are backed by a sharp, uncluttered driving experience. Toss in the premium for reliability and this is one little car with a deserved big reputation.

Baby cars

Fiat 500, from $18,000

2015 Fiat 500.

The retro-styled bubble from Fiat is a hit with the fashionistas. It's a bubbly car in every sense and appeals to inner-city dwellers who appreciate its flair and ease of parking. The fact it can be colour-co-ordinated inside and out doesn't hurt either.

Small cars

Mazda3, from $20,490

2016 Mazda3 Astina hatch.

The Mazda3 proves that being good looking improves your popularity. The 3 combines an easy to identify exterior design with simple, logical and stylish interiors that feel more upscale than most competitors. The overall impression is of a car worth more than the price — and that always massages the ego.

Small SUVs

Renault Captur, from $23,990 drive-away

2015 Renault Captur.

The Captur was the consensus vote in this category. Well-proportioned and svelte with a contrasting roof that makes it stand out in the traffic, it's loaded with French flair. The colour-matched interior inlays add individuality.

Mid-sized SUV

Volkswagen Tiguan, from $31,990

2016 Volkswagen Tiguan.

If minimalist interpretation is your thing, the Tiguan is a good example of a modern SUV. It combines the functionality of an SUV with well-executed design. The basic box has been given enough flair to flatter and is an inviting proposition when combined with the premium interiors on the top-spec models.

Large car

Chrysler 300, from $55,000

2016 Chrysler 300C Luxury.

The king of bling is a bit more subdued this generation but the "Mafia staff car" proportions haven't changed, with massive wheels to offset the big body and a low, swept-back glasshouse. It's a niche product — Chrysler sells fewer than 40 a month — but no one can deny it has presence on the road.

Prestige small car

Mini, from $29,000 drive-away

2014 Mini Cooper S.

The default choice for individualisation, all Minis have a mesmerising array of exterior and interior choices. The only real limitation is your imagination... and your bank balance.

Prestige car

Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe, from $65,900

2016 Mercedes Benz C-Class coupe.

Widen the hips, erase a couple of love handles and lower the silhouette of the C-Class and you have the C Coupe. The curved roof is a minor compromise for rear passengers but sometimes you go with form over function and in every other regard this premium coupe is a stylish piece of design at a reasonable price.

Prestige SUV

Jaguar F-Pace, from $74,340

2016 Jaguar F-Pace.

The Evoque broke the trend when it came to SUVs, then Jaguar launched the F-Pace, a soft-roader inspired by the F-Type sports car. A stunning silhouette and an interior that is well thought out and presented.

Limousine

Mercedes-Benz S-Class, from $220,955

2016 Mercedes-Benz S500e.

The S-Class refuses to be a big box. Couple this with its heritage as an exceptional flagship and it's an attractive proposition. Few cars at the price can match the interior, with cushiony headrests, swathes of perforated leather and attention to detail.

Cheap sports car

Mazda MX-5, from $31,990

2015 Mazda MX-5.

An enduring and winning formula of purist driving characteristics and simple interior in a cheap but contoured convertible. Mazda's less-is-more MX-5 is a retro-styled but far from retrograde basic sports car.

Dream car

Ferrari 488, from $469,988

2016 Ferrari 488 GTB.

Purists may decry the 488 as not being as svelte as its 458 predecessor but the vastly improved aerodynamics also enhance performance. The coupe is stunning and the hardtop spider convertible only improves on the look. The interior is more entertainment than ergonomics.

And some alternative choices

Beauty is clearly in the eye of the beholder. Our esteemed European correspondent has some dissenting views.

Baby cars

2017 Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo hatch.

What about the Mazda 2 and Skoda Fabia hatches? I believe Skoda is doing outstanding exterior design lately and is on the way creating an entire range that's visually crisp and cohesive. Not an easy thing to do.

Small cars

2016 Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Highline. Picture credit: Tim Robson.

I'm tempted by the VW Golf, a plain but practically flawless piece of small hatch design. The original Mazda3's visual appeal seems to have eluded subsequent models.

Small SUVs

2016 Citroen Cactus.

Not sure about the baguette sills of the Renault Captur, though I think it's very well proportioned overall. The Citroen Cactus, for a pleasant change, has unaggressive form and stance yet has real visual personality.

Luxury small car

2016 Mini John Cooper Works Convertible.

Don't like the face of the new Mini, which to me looks like an estuary-dwelling bottom-feeder.

Mid to large cars

2016 Skoda Superb 162TSI. Picture credit: Matthew Hatton.

Chrysler 300C? The novelty has worn off. Those metal-to-glass proportions now look rather dated. The Skoda Superb, arguably the best-looking mainstream big car in Australia, should take the place of Commodore in local driveways.

Mid-size SUVs

2016 Kia Sportage.

VW's Tiguan rates, as does the Kia Sportage and I also think the Ford Territory is very sweetly styled.

Prestige car

2016 Jaguar XF S V6.

Jaguar outperforms European enemies when it comes to exterior style, with the XF and XE alike. The Mercedes C-Class Coupe looks fabulous from many angles, has a lovely lush interior but has a somewhat droopy behind.

Premium SUV

Jaguar F-Pace. No argument.

Cheap sports car

Very easy — the Mazda MX-5. Had Ferrari made the California pretty, it would have turned out like the MX-5.

Dream car

2015 BMW i8 plug-in hybrid

Porsche Boxster or Cayman. BMW i8 is a quirky, brilliant blend of drama and beauty. Ferrari 488 isn't as lovely as the 458 it replaces.

Limousine

The Mercedes S-Class range is pretty convincing all-round. Sedan, coupe and cabriolet are quite elegant.

Which car would make you choose form over function? Tell us what you think in the comments below.