It’s always a special treat when a trip to the grocery store or dentist turns into a rare car-spotting experience. A forgotten classic or exotic is seen prowling the streets or, even better, appears in the parking lot next to your car. Cue daydream starring you in that exotic car. Maybe you’re in Monaco, driving into the sunset when…
Then you see it. Your daydream starring your gorgeous, oil-drinking darling is shattered as one of the many eye-sores on wheels pulls into the parking lot. Tragedy.
Why oh why can’t everything be as glamorous as the Alfa Romeo Touring Berlinetta or as muscular as the Shelby Cobra?
Yes, sometimes the most misunderstood of car designs become iconic classics; but sometimes, they don’t. This is a list of the latter.
1. Pontiac Trans Sport
Seeing a Pontiac Trans Sport may or may not make my eyes bleed. I think this minivan might win the award for “ugliest vehicle ever.” The practically 45-degree angle on the front and the black trim under the headlights gave it the look of a mustached duck. I remember seeing these vans when I was growing up. Even my three-year-old self was thinking “who gave the okay for that?”
The first generation Trans Sport was produced from 1990-1993, but due to slow sales, negative customer feedback, and some complaints, the car got a nose job in 1994. (Three inches were shaved off.) Unfortunately, even with a new face, sales didn’t improve much. The Trans Sport was finally gifted with a complete redesign, and a new name, in 1997. (Thank goodness)
2. Toyota Prius
The Prius is lucky that it is the “go to” green vehicle, inspiring droves of environment-conscious people to purchase it. If it weren’t for that rap, I am quite sure the car would be a design flop.
The darling of Toyota is bland, boxy, and the rear looks as if it was chopped off in a last-minute redesign. The jellybean shape does nothing to impress or inspire. Unfortunately, the Prius’s “green vehicle” cred keeps this blah vehicle alive to drive another day.
3. Pontiac Aztek
Sorry, Pontiac, but I am going to hit you again. After the Trans Sport Minivan, consumers were blessed with another monstrosity in 2001. Behold, the Aztek!
I understand that this was GM’s way of saying “we are adventurous” (and I do give them some credit for throwing themselves out there), but not everyone got it. The Aztek’s exterior was a mishmash of angles and had so many headlight “eyes” that the front resembled a giant spider face with a pig-nose for an air intake grille.
Although zany to look at, the Aztek did have a few things going for it: it was an outdoorsman’s dream—specialty racks for outdoor gear, a built-in air compressor, tent, inflatable mattress, and lots of interior room. Unfortunately, not even the Aztek’s interior features could save it from ridicule—or cancellation. The car was discontinued after five years of production.
4. Chrysler PT Cruiser
According to an article by the New York Times, the PT Cruiser was meant to resemble an old-school “gangster getaway car.” However, with a high rear and large trunk, many people thought it resembled a hearse (myself included). Although Chrysler’s cruiser got some design flack, it definitely had a following. The car was named “North American Car of the Year” in 2001 and even made Car and Driver’s “Ten Best” list the same year. Despite these accolades, I continue to dislike the PT Cruiser on “aesthetic grounds.”
5. Subaru Baja
I’m not sure what Subaru was thinking when it tried to marry the rally truck and the El Camino. Both are cool on their own. But together? In suburbia?
The Baja’s plastic cladding was almost cartoonish and made the vehicle look bottom heavy. The optional racks and lights, funky yellow/silver paint, and its fun name, “Baja,” also made it seem like it was trying too hard to be liked by consumers.
The Baja was discontinued after four years.
6. Honda Element
I see you, Element, and all your plastic. (What is with all of the plastic anyway?)
Like the PT Cruiser, the Element definitely had its own niche of enthusiastic buyers, but that won’t stop me from adding it to this list of “automotive uglies.” The paint/plastic combo gave the Element a patchwork, mismatched look, making it look cheap and chunky. (No vehicle should ever be called “chunky.”)
7. Third Generation Ford Taurus
Fortunately for Ford, the most recent Taurus redesign looks great. However, back in the mid-1990s, the consumer-favorite Taurus was anything but good looking.
The first-gen Taurus appeared in the USA in 1986–and was a huge hit. In 1996, Ford decided to redesign its sedan darling–mistake. The resulting Ford Frankenstein Taurus was Dr. Seuss-esque, with a round, flowing shape; small, circular, eye-like headlights; and cartoon-y lines and bulges throughout the car body. The Taurus-ophiles were not happy. The beloved sedan lost its hard-won “best-selling automobile” title to the Toyota Camry the following year.
8. Third Generation Nissan Cube
Is there something in the water that is leading to the creation of cube cars from Dr. Seuss books? The Cube’s windows and doors were definitely stolen from a prop car used for the film How the Grinch Stole Christmas starring Jim Carrey. The front headlights are an unattractive mass of plastic and chrome reminiscent of Geordi’s visor in Star Trek. Also, whoever chose the Cube’s hubcaps needs to be fired—or may be in need of Geordi’s visor in order to see more clearly… and design with more taste.
9. Mercedes-Benz R-Class
This car was a low-selling design misstep for Mercedes-Benz. The R-Class was bland, bulky and had no exterior panache. The full-sized, egg-shaped body made the car look like a low-riding minivan rather than a sleek “sports cruiser.” Buyers didn’t understand the minivan+wagon+SUV combo pack in the R-Class. Looking at the Franken-car they came up with, it seems like the Mercedes-Benz designers didn’t either.
10. First Generation Scion xB
The first generation Scion xB resembled a shrunken, stripped, and lowered Land Rover Range Rover. The hood and front bumper looked puffy–like the car had a fat lip–and the body was the textbook definition of “boxy.”
I apologize to people who love these cars, but, in the words of Lina Lamont, “I just can’t stan’ ’em!”
Other honorable mentions:
First Generation Toyota Previa
First Generation Jeep Compass