Home » Important Car Design Conundrum: Has The Z-Shaped D-Pillar Ever Worked?

Important Car Design Conundrum: Has The Z-Shaped D-Pillar Ever Worked?

Zpillar Top
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I feel like in automotive designs, there’s a number of design elements that seem like they get tried numerous times before they actually work. Like the full-width light bar look for headlights and taillights; Cars like the Mercury Sable tried it, but it’s only fairly recently that such elements are becoming successful and even commonplace. There’s one example of a design element that I actually like, but I’m not sure if it’s ever actually, really worked on anything: the Z-shaped D-pillar.

The design itself I think is conceptually compelling: On a wagon-like vehicle, the D-pillar, right behind the second-row side window, is angled rearwards to such a degree that a traditional, visible and upright D-pillar is rendered unnecessary. Instead, the back window wraps around to the side, creating something that looks rakish and sleek. Or, at least it should, but the problem is that I’m not sure I’ve ever really seen it executed just right.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

In fact, I think the car that uses this in the most obvious way might just also happen to be the most unanimously-agreed ugly-ass car ever: the SsangYong Rodius:

Rodius

I’ve highlighted the Z-pillar section in red, but really I should probably have made the whole background of this page vivid, angry red as a warning that I’d be posting pictures of a Rodius on it. Maybe it’s better from the back?

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Rodius2

(Spit take entire mason jar of You-Hoo and gin) Oh god, no, it isn’t. Damn. I should have warned you. And me.

Luckily, there’s another very textbook example of this that’s better, and it’s actually the car that got me thinking about all of this, which I saw on a Copenhagen street:

Mbaclassw168

That’s a Mercedes-Benz A-Class (W168) and while I know this design was extremely polarizing, I like how the Z-Pillar rear is handled here.

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Aclas2

Even here, though, the design is quite unusual, which is why I’m still not sure this counts as being really successful, because I think I’d need to see it working well on a more mainstream-style and proportioned car. The Chrysler Pacifica minivan flirts with the Z-Pillar, as does the Chevy Equinox, with a forward rake to the diagonal bar, like the Rodius:

Pacifica Equinox

I’m just not sure if either of these really lean into the design enough to qualify, or, even if we say they count, are they doing enough with it? Or is it diluted here to the point where it no longer matters?

There’s other cars with diagonal C- or even D-pillars, like the Range Rover Freelander (but does the fact that the rear is a removable roof make it not count? And it has a D-pillar, even if it’s blacked out) or the Nissan Pathfinder or Pulsar NX Sportbak, but neither of them had the wraparound rear glass that’s needed to be a true Z-Pillar.

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So my questions remain: has any car ever truly done a Z-Pillar the right way, and if not, is such a thing even possible?

For whatever reason, I think it has to be. There’s something fun and dramatic about the look, and I feel like, with enough concerted effort from the automotive design community, it could be done justice. I mean, it can hardly get any worse, right?

 

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Rafael
Rafael
1 year ago

So, after reading this, I’m convinced that any flirtation with the Z should count – if it is about design, and not structure, I think if it evokes the Z on you, it is enough. Less is more! Anything as egregious as what we see on the SsangYong is just too over the top – like two inch thick eyebrows, or puffy, silicon filled duck lips!
With that in mind, I decided to look at my car’s butt – an Opel Zafira, the same model I use as a banner on my profile. And lo and behold, it kind of has a Z in there! Actually looks more like a 5, and the most interesting element is that the tail light is part of the composition. I can’t post pictures, but I’ll put a link in a reply to this comment.
Of course, being this MY car – that I chose myself, among four other options, because I like the design – I’m partial to it. But I think it pulls it off, very well. It still has a big fat C pillar, but the rear glass is bulbous enough to (in my opinion) sell the illusion of a Z (or 5) – all this without screaming on my face about it (and bonus points for being stealthy and using the tail lights to achieve the effect). The very fact that I had to look for it, in my opinion, qualifies as a good design.

Rafael
Rafael
1 year ago
Reply to  Rafael
Martin Ibert
Martin Ibert
1 year ago

It seems to work better when it is sweeping up, like on the Merc, not down, like on the Ssangyong. One reason for this might be that a D pillar that sweeps down looks like someone took a hatchback car and tried to make it into a station wagon on the cheep by simply keeping the old, down-sweeping D pillar and just tack on a bit of luggage space.

Philip Ogston
Philip Ogston
1 year ago

I would think that the biggest practical problem here is: how are you going to frame the rear hatch glass? It seems to me that having a blacked out pillar and hatch is what makes most of the cited Z pillars not work because you can see though their ruse. You’re looking for a true wrap around rear glass, but you get an additional extra fat blacked out pillar instead.

I think to do it honestly, you either need to split the hatch opening right along the raked pillar, so a big clear clamshell of glass lifts up. Or you need a frameless hatch. This might be doable with a drop down tailgate?

~=Daaan
~=Daaan
1 year ago

The Genesis GV70 does a kinda-Z pillar, although the top of the Z flaccidly droops down to the belt line. I can’t say I love the look, but it does work.

KelleyGood
KelleyGood
1 year ago
Reply to  ~=Daaan

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FlavouredMilk
FlavouredMilk
1 year ago
Reply to  ~=Daaan

The G70 shooting brake (it’s not, it’s a wagon) does a similar Z pillar look, but I think it’s actually quite attractive.

George C5
George C5
1 year ago

Peugeot 407 sw does it well. Kia Sw too.

Mitch Williams
Mitch Williams
1 year ago

I think both the SsangYong and the Merc are abominations and want to burn them with fire. Fire! But honestly, I find the Equinox strangely inoffensive. I think they pulled it off.

Cam.man67
Cam.man67
1 year ago

I can’t comment on Z pillars, but I did want to address the side remark about the full-length front and rear lights, and the provided example of the Mercury Sable. I would say that the Sable (and to an extent the Tracer), more so than just attempting full-width lights, actually was very successful with the look.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
1 year ago

Nah, just some Korean designers in an altered mental state and a car company desperate for some kind of MPV.

Alexander Moore
Alexander Moore
1 year ago

most Ssangyongs (including the Rodius) were done by Brit Ken Greenley of RCA in London. I always wonder what was going through his head.

kyrinka_k9
kyrinka_k9
1 year ago

how can 2nd gen Renault Megane 5 door be missing from this?

Israel Moore
Israel Moore
1 year ago

You couldn’t resist, Jason, could you?

Richard Adrian
Richard Adrian
1 year ago

Don’t forget the forgettable Nissan Pulsar Sportbak.

Dave Horchak
Dave Horchak
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Adrian

Was mentioned above

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
1 year ago

Just no! I hate it. It’s also on a Peugeot 400-something station wagon, we have over here, and it’s just as hideous as on the A-Class and the Sssssang-Young!

Lightning
Lightning
1 year ago

Subaru Impreza/WRX wagons are desirable. I always thought they looked a bit weird like you say for the design, but looking at some photos now, I could get behind it.

Adam Rice
Adam Rice
1 year ago
Reply to  Lightning

I always felt like that detail was derivative of the Lexus RX of that era, so that could count too.

Jonkis
Jonkis
1 year ago
Reply to  Lightning

The Impreza and WRX wagons don’t look like a Z though: rather the pillar is thinnest in the middle, then both the top and the bottom are wider towards both the front and the rear, with the center of the pillar in the middle (not going to one end or the other). The pinched design is a bit weird, but even the newest Imprezas have great visibility due to the rear window extending so far back.

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BarbaraBaldwin
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonkis

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Adam Rice
Adam Rice
1 year ago
Reply to  Lightning

Oh, and surely the late-70s Ford Thunderbirds (and Futuras) deserve to be mentioned if we’re talking about forward-raked pillars (maybe we should call those S pillars).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Thunderbird_%28seventh_generation%29#/media/File:1977_Ford_Thunderbird_at_Belmont,_front_left.jpg

Citrus
Citrus
1 year ago

Now here’s one that will speak directly to the author – do you need wrap-around glass if the glass is interrupted by a full-height taillight? I think the only example of this is the first-gen Kia C’eed SW, but it is a totally unique look.

Gabor Molnar
Gabor Molnar
1 year ago

I think the Peugeot 207 SW is a beautifully working example of the Z-shaped D-pillar

https://vezess2.p3k.hu/app/uploads/2009/11/36259_275459_1000x700.jpg.jpg

Ben Duke
Ben Duke
1 year ago
Reply to  Gabor Molnar

I was thinking of the 407 sw but yeah the 207 sw is better.

Chris with bad opinions
Chris with bad opinions
1 year ago

Mixing YooHoo with gin? What kind of monster are you. You only ever mix YooHoo with Tequila.

Duke of Kent
Duke of Kent
1 year ago

I got a terrible hangover just reading that comment.

Zeppelopod
Zeppelopod
1 year ago
Reply to  Duke of Kent

Chocolate Pine-Sol vs. chocolate stomach acid. I can’t decide which is worse.

Adam Rice
Adam Rice
1 year ago

I think it works on the Lexus CT200. Which is admittedly a toned-down version of this—the third side window is vestigial.

SparkySparkington
SparkySparkington
1 year ago

As someone who has an utterly irrational love for the W168 – and the W414 Vaneo derived from it – I love this prompt!

If we’re counting C-pillars and not requiring wraparound rear windows/a rear hatch… I’d say the 105E Ford Anglia saloon looks pretty snazzy. Other than that, all I can think of are Peugeots, namely the 1007 (Sliding doors! On a city car!) and the 207/407 SW (I think the design works well, even though the 206 and 406 are both absolutely timeless and tough acts to follow).

The ED Kia Cee’d, the BK Ford EcoSport and the XM10 Toyota Ipsum all try to pull off a similar look with uh… lesser degrees of success. Note that in most of the cases listed above, the rearmost pillar isn’t *actually* raked – it’s just the cosmetic bits on the outside, and the actual pillar is either blacked out or covered by taillights to give the illusion of a wraparound rear window.

As I was about to hit Post: How could I have forgotten the Ami 6? Absolute masterpiece.

As I was about to hit Post for a second time: I figured I’d do some aggressive Googling to see if I could come up with a master list – that led me to the JA4/JA5 Honda Today and the WiLL Vi… the motif really does look the best on small cars, doesn’t it?

SparkySparkington
SparkySparkington
1 year ago

Oh, and credit where credit is due: Kudos to Mark Hamilton in the comments of a DrivenToWrite article on fake reverse-rake C-pillars, written by Richard Herriott, for those last two examples!

Citrus
Citrus
1 year ago

I actually think it works on the Toyota Ipsum, largely because it really needs visual interest somewhere.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
1 year ago
Reply to  Citrus

There are tons of Toyota Picnics (Euro badge for Ipsum) in Denmark, I am surprised Jason didn’t see any.

HeyCharger
HeyCharger
1 year ago

There’s a Rodius in my town, still chugging along.
I wonder if driving one is better, since you can’t see the outside?

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
1 year ago
Reply to  HeyCharger

You would still know, I think. At least it’s not a Musso, which is somehow even uglier.

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
1 year ago

As soon as I read the headline, I said the original A-Class. It works in smaller applications, but once you start to size it up things get out of hand.

Fencing_elf
Fencing_elf
1 year ago

I think there’s a sub-classification missing here…whether the Z is a forward or rearward rake. The Merc has a rearward rake, and I think that ties it more to the A pillar visually. Looking at the Rodius and Equinox, with the forward rake, it makes it look like the hatch was tacked-on to a 3-box sedan body (which would be why it doesn’t work as well IMO).

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
1 year ago
Reply to  Fencing_elf

For that matter, the Equinox doesn’t really count – it has a sloping C pillar that’s not “extra” in any way, it forms the rearward edge of the rear door opening in the normal way, and then gives way to a Rules of Wagondom-compliant rear quarter window.

It just does so in a very “sedan-with-a-backpack” (to quote a Saturn SW designer who may well have gone on to have a hand in it) way for being an entirely purpose-designed CUV bodyshell.

05LGT
05LGT
1 year ago

Thank you! I hadn’t really put my finger on why I thought the Equinox was unredeemably ugly, but now I know.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 year ago

The real question though, is the W168 a wagon or not?

Inquiring minds want to know!

Mr.Asa
Mr.Asa
1 year ago

Until I read this article and learned what that car was, I thought “My gods… someone customized an Aztec…”

Dave Horchak
Dave Horchak
1 year ago
Reply to  Mr.Asa

What?

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