The new auto show chic: matte-finished cars... But why?

Luca Ciferri is senior reporter at Automotive News Europe.
TURIN, Italy -- What's the latest trend for expensive premium cars? Making them look dull.

The matte paint that used to be reserved for cars headed for crash testing is showing up on high-end models. The new Mercedes-Benz CLS sedan, Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale coupe and Lamborghini Sesto Elemento supercar concept all wore the unflattering finish at the Paris auto show last month.

The reason that crash-test cars get a matte finish is because there is no need to spend the extra money to add a coat or two of glossy paint to something that's about to be driven into a wall.

Despite being drab, matt-finished surfaces have enticed car designers for decades.

“The Lancia Stratos Zero that Bertone debuted in 1970 is the first matte-finished concept I remember,” Lorenzo Ramaciotti, vice president of Fiat Group Style and respected automotive design historian, told me at the Paris show.

What's ironic about a matte-finished car body is that it actually becomes glossy the more it is washed, but the glossiness is not uniform so the car's exterior starts to look like a leopard's coat. Automakers and paint shop makers have spent years trying to develop matte-finish compositions that will not get spotty.

They have succeeded on body parts on very limited-edition models such as the 2007 Lamborghini Reventon (20 units, 1 million euros, about $1.4 million each). Now, full-body matte-finish paint jobs are being offered as an option on some cars.

Being a fan of glossy-finished models, I would have preferred it if matte-finished cars had not exited the crash test department.