Matte-finished cars go from crash test heap to auto show chic

Luca Ciferri is senior reporter at Automotive News Europe.
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.