Car Door Handles: An Overlooked Part of Modern Car Design?

Car door handles. Not the most enthralling topic of conversation I must admit, but hear me out. Cars have got to have them, there’s no getting away from it. Even with the development of electronic automatic doors that open as you approach the car, there still needs to be a manual way to get in should the battery die or the system fail. My gripe with the current trend of handle design (like on my own Audi A2) is that they are big, ugly and plasticy.

The offender in question.

So many cars are fitted with the same (or similar-looking) handles that would look more at home on a children’s pedal car than on a £50k motor vehicle. There may well be reasons for this, cost and safety regulations could be a few but so could laziness on behalf of the design teams. Another possible reason is the power that the bean counters have in the design and development of cars these days, often clashing with engineers or designers and corrupting the vision for their creation.

You get the impression that the finance guys hang over their shoulders like vultures, picking away at designs to cut costs, with the sole focus on maximising profits. For this reason, I can give a reluctant pass to cheap family cars, most buyers in that segment couldn’t really care less about something as picky as door handle style but the Bugatti Chiron?

Surely a car costing this much could be more imaginative?

For a car that costs north of £2.5 million, having the same door handle as a £15k VW Polo is unforgivable. Bentley is another culprit (VAG theme here), claiming a bespoke, hand-built car but clearly using bits from the VW parts bin.

Why am I so annoyed at this? Two reasons. Firstly the door handle is your first interaction with the car and so, its feel and the action should be befitting of what that car represents, whether it’s a luxury barge, lightweight sports car or robust people carrier. Secondly, a big clunky handle ruins the lines of a car, a flush handle or one integrated into the bodywork only accentuates beautiful lines and creases. Walk down a car park and look at how some stick out like Dumbo’s ears on an otherwise clean design.

My own Jaguar XJ40 with flush chrome handles – leaving the side profile unmolested.

There are some manufacturers, on the other hand who’ve got it spot on. Ferrari, on the 488 have a handle sculpted into a little aero blade sat in front of the side intakes and have carried this design on to the F8 tributo.

McLaren had a touch-sensitive swipe-motion on the 12C, later replaced by a button but still hidden under the body lines. Tesla has the handles that retract into the car when it’s locked and TVR had the typically crazy for them button-on-the-door-mirror. The new Ford GT has small sections flush with the body that you press down to reveal the mechanism.

For cheapness and simplicity, even the little latches seen on the likes of the Peugeot 106 and others, are a step ahead of the fridge door style ones I have a problem with; and I haven’t even mentioned some of the fantastic designs on classic cars such as the Ferrari Daytona and the Lamborghini Miura.

Proof that some manufacturers can get it right.

The point is, there are countless examples of little attention to detail that, in my eyes, go a long way and more manufacturers should take note. If they’re happy to spend money on useless gimmicks like branded puddle lighting, then something as often used as a door handle can surely be given more thought.

There’s so much to pick fault with modern car design but also so much that is regulated and out of the designer’s control. Door handles not being one of them. It seems a lot of manufacturers are happy to pull them out of the parts bin, proving that it’s unfortunately quite far down their list of priorities. Doesn’t stop me wanting to complain every time I see one though.

What are your thoughts? Maybe you think I’m overreacting and as long as it opens the door it’s done its job. Or maybe I’ve missed some unusual handles that you believe add a little to the experience of a particular car? Let me know!

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