NEW YORK -- Let's call this the Neo-Fastback Era.
At the auto show here last week, the look was everywhere. Traditional four-door sedans have embraced the modernized look of fastbacks of decades past: Low rooflines. Long, slanting rear windows. Shortened trunk lids. Truncated backsides.
To one degree or another, it's on the stylish new-generation Kia Optima. It's in the design of the Lexus ES350, and it's at the heart of Audi's A7 and RS7.
It's plain to see on the newly unveiled 2016 Nissan Maxima. On the eagerly awaited new Chevrolet Malibu. On the luxurious Lincoln Continental Concept. On exotic luxury cars and on humbler mass-market offerings.
Why? Because it transforms the traditional old design concept of the rectangular sedan into a sexier new shape -- but without really changing what a four-door sedan is traditionally supposed to offer. Same seating. Same trunk space. Same ride and handling.
To find the roots of this industrywide styling change, flash back 12 years to the 2003 auto show in Frankfurt.
The car that stole that show for many in Germany at that moment was a four-door sedan called the Mercedes-Benz Vision CLS Concept -- that looked like a coupe.
The CLS' rear roofline and long, tapering back window seemed to slant so low that some viewers wondered how anyone could ever climb into the back seat -- let alone, sit there comfortably.
Robert Lesnik, director of exterior design for Mercedes passenger cars, was working for a different car company in 2003 when he first saw the Mercedes CLS. He remembers designers talking about it for the next couple of years, pinning up photos of the CLS on bulletin boards and debating the design.
"It was a very bold and very challenging look," Lesnik recalls. "But it really spoke of elegance and sophistication. It opened your eyes to what a four-door sedan might look like. It made a lot of us realize that you don't have to make a sedan with the traditional three-box design. You can create more integration between the different areas of the car.
"And I think, today, a lot of people agree with that."
Twelve years later in New York, that jarring look has become the new sedan normal.