Citroen's C4, which debuted at the Paris auto show, is a stylish entry into the lower-medium segment.
In the tradition of Renault's Megane I and II, it shows how design can spice up the volume sector. The Suzuki Swift, with its radical new look, does much the same at the lower end of the spectrum.
At the same time, Ford's Focus, which also debuted in Paris, has an unexciting design. The car follows in the footsteps of the Golf, which, after a year on Europe's roads, still looks like little more than a face-lifted version of its predecessor.
The various models, most of them on display at the Paris auto show, highlight automakers' different approaches to the volume market and different views of consumers' buying behavior. Are good looks a condition for success or will the popularity of a model hinge on quality and driving characteristics?
The evidence supporting either point of view is inconclusive. Best-selling models tend to be nice to look at. They also offer solid engineering, hold their value and sell at a competitive price.
The Golf and Focus may not be visually exciting, but they are reaping widespread praise for handling and overall driving characteristics.
Not shown in Paris was the anti-hero in the style arena: the Renault Logan. Aesthetics seem to have played no role in the design of this car, but its price and positioning give it strong sales potential, both in western and eastern Europe.
One of the lessons from the Paris show is that carmakers have vastly different strategies for growth in Europe's weak market. Novelties range from new doors to revolutionary new looks, to new convertibles or minivans.
That leaves the impression that the industry as a whole, and especially the volume makers, don't quite know where to go from here. Seeminly, many manufacturers are simply waiting for a boost in the economy to give them the helping hand they so badly need.