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The Ugliest Cars of the 2009 Model Year

Posted February 13, 2009, 8:52 p.m.

This year’s list of the ugliest cars is actually relatively un-changed from last year, since most of the cars on the list remain in production and have not been seriously re-styled. Only one of last year’s ugly cars has been discontinued—the Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible—but Toyota stepped up to the plate to fill the void will an extremely poor redesign of the Matrix.

All-in-all, most new designs being introduced in the industry are either good looking or, at least, not offensive enough to rank in the top ten ugliest. I’m very glad to see new and redesigned models from Subaru (the Impreza), Chevy (the Traverse), Volkswagen (the CC), and others not looking stupid.

As always, it is important to note that this list is my opinion. I am picky about how cars look, and I tend to be a bit of a minimalist (I’ll take simple shapes and lines over complex and odd angles). You may disagree, and I’m always interested to hear your thoughts!

The Top Ten Ugliest Cars

10. Honda ElementPerennially hovering just between ‘ugly’ and ‘top-ten ugly’, the Element is really starting to get old and tired. Another minor facelift for 2009 makes slight improvement, but wasn’t quite enough to get it off this list. The Element remains an enigmatic and pointless competitor to Honda’s own CR-V, offering almost the exact same thing for the same price but utterly lacking in any taste or style. Come on, Honda, put this thing to bed.

9. Toyota MatrixThe Matrix, like Honda’s Element, has long hovered at the edges of this list. Its previous design had originally bothered me, but the more I saw it the more it grew on me. Just as the Matrix finally started looking ‘normal’ to me, Toyota introduced this new 2009 version that has clearly been hit with the same ugly-stick Toyota has been overdosing on lately. It has all the blandness of its Corolla cousin, with a bunch of extra misshapen lumps and unpleasing angles added for good measure.

8. Chrysler Sebring SedanAs a former driver of a Chrysler Cirrus, the Sebring’s predecessor, I still take this one very personally. The company that produced the excellent 300 and the unique and popular PT Cruiser has managed to absolutely botch their efforts at a mid-size sedan, and continues to produce it despite the begging and pleading of Chrysler fans worldwide. Its ribbed hood and ‘eyelash extension’ headlights are cringe-inducing, and the rest of the car isn’t much better. Most perplexing is that the Dodge Avenger—essentially the same underlying car—is so much better looking! Putting a Chrysler 300-style grille on the Avenger would be a good stop-gap to fix the Sebring until it can be completely done over.

7. Nissan Versa HatchbackIt’s hard to make a sub-compact car look good and more companies fail than succeed at this endeavor. Nissan is no exception to the rule, with the Versa hatchback looking like somebody tried to downsize a minivan and cross it with a sack of potatoes. It takes all of the bad design cues of the Toyota Matrix, which established this segment in the U.S. market, and adds all the worst cues from across Nissan’s relatively unattractive product line.

6. Toyota PriusIf the easiest way to describe your car is to make reference to a cheese wedge, then its designers have utterly failed. At this point, there are two barriers to the widespread adoption of hybrid technology as a stop-gap before hydrogen fuel cell: First, hybrids cost at least 10% more than a feature-equivalent non-hybrid and give you minimal real-world benefits. They do not pass a rational cost/benefit analysis (otherwise our Honda Civic would have been a Civic Hybrid). Second, the few hybrids that aren’t overpriced versions of other cars—like the hybrid-only Prius and the 2010 Honda Insight [look for it on next year’s list]—look stupid and appeal only to hard-core environmentalists.

5. Pontiac G6 CoupeIf you want to know why General Motors is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, you might start here. Certainly there’s a lot more to the story than the G6 Coupe, but it’s a good illustration. It looks horrible; it isn’t feature competitive with similar coupes offered by Honda, Nissan, and others; nobody buys it; and it still remains in production year after unprofitable year. It’s a throwback to the ‘flying amoeba’ school of curvy, bubble-inspired, edgeless design that reigned supreme among U.S. automakers in the 1990s and gave the Japanese manufacturers their big ‘in’ with the average U.S. Consumer who still had taste. If GM really can’t bring itself to shutter the pointless Pontiac brand, maybe it can at least discontinue this pointless car. Please?

4. Toyota YarisThe Yaris, especially in its ‘liftback’ variant, was a real groundbreaker for Toyota. It kicked off a comprehensive effort by the Japanese automaker to make all of its models ugly. The Yaris introduced the new ugly Toyota grille, new ugly Toyota design lumps, and new ugly Toyota disproportionality that have since permeated their product line. It’s not the worst Toyota has to offer anymore, but it was a true trailblazer.

3. Scion xBToyota’s Scion brand web site honestly states that the xB ‘gets attention wherever it goes.’ That’s true, much like train wrecks . . . and bad toupees . . . and urine stains. The current xB design is nominally better than its cardboard-box predecessor, but that’s not saying much. It appeals to people who want to be hip, young, and cutting edge but are too old to actually know if the xB is any of those things. Sorry; it’s not.

2. Toyota FJ CruiserWhile the 2009 FJ Cruiser hasn’t been officially announced yet, the official Toyota blog reported in October of 2008 that there will indeed be a 2009 FJ Cruiser and it will look essentially identical to the 2008 version. Of course, four months later it’s still MIA. Maybe Toyota has come to its senses and decided to discontinue this monstrous affront to automotive taste and decency. Then again, maybe not. I get the distinct impression that FJ Cruisers will continue to blight the showrooms, in the face of all logic, at least as long as Pontiac’s Aztek did.

1. Scion xDFor the third year in a row, Toyota (including its Scion brand) rules this list with four of the top five positions. Their Scion xD is closely related to the Toyota Yaris, but surpasses the Yaris in every way—longer, larger, more expensive, and uglier. It’s hard to imagine why anybody would purchase this car. There are better looking, better equipped competitors in the same general price range within Toyota’s own product line, and even better looking, better equipped competitors outside like the Honda Fit.

Dishonorable Mention:

The Entire Acura Sedan Line—Honda’s luxury marquee, Acura, had possibly the best-looking lineup of luxury sedans on the market a mere two years ago. Since then, they have managed to ruin all three of them. The entry-level TSX, mid-range TL, and high-end RL have each been redesigned with gaudy chrome grilles, an unnecessary central hood crease, and more. In fact, many of the frontal design elements from all three models seem to have been lifted directly from the Chrysler Sebring Sedan. The TL is the most offensive of the bunch; its new rear-end makes it look like the car is wearing a horse diaper and like it’s smiling at you all at once.

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Comments

  1. Mike says:

    Yes, what the hell is going on in Honda/Acura’s design department? Their new lineup is awful…has completely turned me off to the brand.

  2. Chris S says:

    Prius: Hey I resemble that remark! I bought a Prius while I could still take your hard earned tax credits to do it (2 years ago in April). It cost about 5k more than comparable cars I was looking at. However I estimate that it saved me about $1500 in gas the first year and about $2000 this past year(Gas was $4.50 for a long time in Hawaii). With the big assumption that it provides me with no more expensive repair bills that the other cars I was looking at, I figure it will break even this upcoming year, and then make me free money. All that being said I don’t think I’d buy another Toyota. Some of the layout doesn’t work for a 6’4″ American.

    I think a lot of the “ugly” design of the pure hybrids comes from their design being all out dictated by fuel economy. According to wikipedia the Prius has the lowest drag coefficient of any car for sale in the US. I think this must have a lot to do with things overall as well. I average 49-51 miles per gallon depending on the driving I do that week, similar hybrids from Toyota are advertised only in the mid to upper 30s. Does my car looking like a mouse get me 10 miles to the gallon more? Hard to say.

Scott Bradford has been building web sites and using them to say what he thinks since 1995, which tended to get him in trouble with power-tripping assistant principals at the time. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University, but has spent most of his career (so far) working on public- and private-sector web sites. He is not a member of any political party, and brands himself an ‘independent constitutional conservative.’ In addition to holding down a day job and blogging about challenging subjects like politics, religion, and technology, Scott is also a devout Catholic, gun-owner, bike rider, and music lover with a wife, two cats, and a dog.