It’s shaping up to be a big year for ugly cars. Many manufacturers have introduced stunningly bad new models for 2010 and, meanwhile, most of the cars that graced my 2009 list are still in production. Only the Pontiac G6 Coupe has been discontinued, and I’m not sure if that even counts since the G6 was only discontinued because the entire Pontiac brand was.
Because of the surprising number of new additions for 2010, some really revolting cars like the Chrysler Sebring Sedan have been squeezed off the bottom of the list. If this glut of ugly vehicles continues, I may need to expand the list to 15 or 20 next year to make sure I capture everything. This year’s list also has a fair amount of ‘churn’ from previous years; some cars have started looking better to me with time, others . . . haven’t.
The criteria for this list is simple. I don’t include models that aren’t sold in the United States. I don’t include models that sell in low volume (and volume is defined subjectively based on how many I see on the roads in the Washington, D.C. metro area). I don’t include exotic, military, or special-purpose vehicles (so no super-cars, tanks, or postal trucks). It’s based entirely on my personal opinion of what looks good and what doesn’t.
The Top-Ten Ugliest Cars for 2010
10. Scion xB—Toyota’s Scion-branded xB improved quite a bit with its redesign a year or two ago, and the new look has actually grown on me . . . slightly. Once pinned permanently near the top of this list, the xB just barely made it this year. While rating it as the 3rd ugliest car was probably a bit harsh, the main thesis of my 2009 review is still spot-on: “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.”
9. Toyota Yaris—The Yaris sedan isn’t too bad, I guess, but its 3- and 5-door ‘liftback’ variants look so goofy that it can be a real challenge not to laugh at them. If your car induces laughter, you purchased the wrong car. The Yaris was a real trailblazer for Toyota, introducing many of the worst design cues that have since spread across the product line—the droopy grille, lumpy corners, fake-eyelash headlights, etc. If Toyota wants to be taken seriously again by tasteful car buyers, they can start by reversing all the styling cues that began here with the Yaris.
8. Scion xD—Like its bigger xB cousin, Toyota’s Scion-branded xD has begun looking slightly better with time and drops precipitously on the 2010 list. It is light-years ahead of the horrible Scion xA it replaced, but it’s still pretty bad. Toyota seems intent on adding some ‘personality’ to its cars, which is good, but ‘personality’ does not have to be ugly. There are plenty of good looking cars with personality, but the xD isn’t one of them.
7. Nissan Versa Hatchback—Nissan’s designers over the last several years seem to have been smoking (or injecting) some powerful hallucinogens, because you would have to be high on something to think the Versa Hatchback looks good. I’m sure it’s a very practical, inexpensive car, but nobody should have to pay this kind of price for practicality or to save a few dollars. As I said last year, the Versa Hatchbock looks like somebody “tried to downsize a minivan and cross it with a sack of potatoes.” When Nissan designs their future vehicles, they should start with the Versa and just do the opposite.
6. —I must say, I enjoy Kia’s advertising for the Soul . . . it’s a shame that the car isn’t as nice to look at as the giant hamsters from the commercials. I give Kia points for clever advertising and for its newer models having some personality, but the folks at this ascendant South Korean auto maker might not want to copy Toyota so closely. Toyota-inspired improvements in mechanical reliability are welcome; Toyota-inspired ugliness, not so much.
5. Toyota Prius—Redesigned (but not much improved) for 2010, the gas/electric hybrid cheese-wedge from Toyota maintains its well-deserved presence on this list. There are two reasons that the Prius looks like this: First, so that people can vainly call attention to their haughty environmentalism. Second, because the unpleasing shape of the car is very aerodynamic and helps improve fuel economy. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: hybrids are a good stop-gap until we get hydrogen fuel cell technology off the ground, but most people won’t buy hybrids if they look bad and/or come at a 10 percent price premium.
4. Honda Insight—In past years, I listed the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight together as a tie. The completely new 2010 Insight, however, merits its own listing. It seems to be an exact duplicate of the Prius in many respects: same size, same cheese-wedge shape, same design cues, same flimsiness, same ugliness, same technology, same purpose. The Insight ranks higher than the Prius on this list only because Honda couldn’t even be troubled to come up with their own design. I have little patience for plagiarists, especially when they are plagiarizing something that wasn’t good to begin with.
3. Toyota FJ Cruiser—I still don’t understand the FJ Cruiser. I don’t think I ever will. I described it once as “something a frat-boy surfer would buy with daddy’s money thinking it makes him look cool.” It’s too girly to be taken seriously as an off-road vehicle, and too manly to be taken seriously as a family hauler. It’s too big to compete with the Jeep Wrangler, and too small to compete with any of the other SUVs and crossovers on the market. Worst of all, it just looks stupid . . . really, really stupid.
2. Smart Fortwo—Daimler’s Smart brand came to the United States for the 2009 model year in an apparent effort to compete with BMW’s Mini brand for the really-little-car market. Minis generally look good; Smarts do not. Now that I’ve seen enough of these in the Washington, D.C. metro area to qualify them as a car that sells in volume, the Fortwo—Smart’s only model—debuts at a strong #2 on this list. Personally, I think that Smart’s brand name qualifies as false advertising.
1. Nissan Cube—Why, Nissan? Why would you create something like this? The Cube is in the running with the Fiat Multipla for the ‘ugliest mass-produced car ever’ crown, trouncing other front-runners like the Pontiac Aztek, Chevy SSR, and original Subaru B9 Tribeca. If you limit the field to cars sold in the United States (thus disqualifying the Multipla), the Cube wins. Period. Its asymmetric windows, especially when viewed from the rear, are repulsive in a way un-matched by any feature of any other vehicle on the road. This unforgivable design choice lands the Cube at the top of this list all by itself; the rest of the car is just icing on the cake.
General Motors, Chrysler, and the U.S. Federal Government—Normally I reserve dishonorable mention for a car or product line that has inexplicably grown much uglier (e.g., the Acura sedan line) or for a completely misguided product (e.g., the Jeep Compass). This year, however, has been a very different year for the automotive industry.
After blithely ignoring their customers for decades, General Motors and Chrysler—two-thirds of what we used to call the ‘big three’ of U.S. auto making—finally went bankrupt in early 2009. Somehow, they convinced Presidents George W. Bush (R) and Barack Obama (D) to give them billions upon billions of our tax dollars so they could continue to make cars nobody wants. Aside from being blatantly unconstitutional, I’m still trying to understand what rationale (if any) justified this massive public expenditure.
For dishonorably taking public money to bail them out from their own mistakes and mismanagement, General Motors and Chrysler deserve our derision. For wasting billions of our tax dollars on this debacle instead of just letting our bankruptcy system do its job, the U.S. Federal Government deserves our derision too. You and I have become unwilling shareholders in two failed car companies, and the ugliness of that far exceeds the ugliness of the ten cars listed above.
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