Things are much calmer this year on my annual list of the ugliest cars. Last year, there was a bloodbath in which four of the cars from the previous list had been discontinued. This year, only one (dis)honoree—the Honda CR-Z—has gone on to the great parts-bin in the sky. The brand-new Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe easily filled that void. There have also been a number of adjustments to the ordering; some cars look better to me as they age, and others look worse.
The criteria for inclusion is the same it has always been. I don’t include models that aren’t sold in the United States. I don’t include models that sell in very low volume (and volume is defined subjectively based on how many I see on the highways in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area). I don’t include exotic, military, or special-purpose vehicles—so no super-cars, tanks, or postal trucks. I also don’t include vehicles reserved exclusively for the commercial market, such as the persistently horrific Ram Promaster.
This list is my personal opinion. If you own one of the cars on this list, well, don’t take it personally.
10. Honda Civic
For decades, the Honda Civic has been a sedate, reliable car that you can depend on to get your family from point-A to point-B. It never looked particularly great (except perhaps the 2006-2011 eighth generation model) . . . but it had never been ugly either. That is, until last year’s tenth generation was introduced. Now it’s a misshapen, angular mess with crab-claw tail lights and a deadly overdose of nose chrome.
The current version of the Civic represents everything that is wrong with Honda today . . . particularly in that the company seems to have lost its soul and is making too many decisions-by-committee. This should be Honda’s bread-and-butter mass-market appliance, and instead it’s just a weird looking goofball.
9. BMW X4
Speaking of Honda, we can also blame that Japanese automaker (indirectly) for the BMW X4 and the three other vehicles like it that appear on this list. The Honda Crosstour—which was available in the 2010-2015 model years—was the first of this bizarre crop of hatch-back four-door lift-kitted something-mobiles.
The X4 is marketed by BMW as a “Sports Activity Coupe,” which would be fine except for the fact that (as I have said before) it’s not sporty, it’s not very good for activities, and, most of all, it’s not a coupe. Hear this, BMW (and Mercedes-Benz): if it has more than two passenger doors, it is not a coupe, and you look stupid calling it one. More importantly, it looks like the illegitimate love-child of a BMW 3-series and a boulder.
8. Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe
Brand-new for the 2017 model year, Mercedes-Benz has introduced the GLC Coupe . . . because why let BMW be the only one to use the word coupe incorrectly? Perhaps our German friends have never heard the rhetorical question about whether you would jump off a cliff just because your friend did.
Like BMW’s X4, the GLC Coupe seems to have a boulder in its lineage . . . but, unlike the BMW, there was probably a Mercedes-Benz C-Class involved somewhere. According to Mercedes-Benz, “Traction meets attraction in a new fusion of SUV capability, coupe agility, and Mercedes-Benz style.” It’s clear that the company no longer knows the definitions of the words ‘attraction,’ ‘capability,’ ‘coupe,’ or ‘style.’
7. Jeep Cherokee
A Jeep is supposed to be rugged, utilitarian, and unapologetically-American. It is not supposed to be a bland crossover based on a sedan chassis from Italy with the iconic Jeep grille warped into an inverted-guppy look. And yet, that is what Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has given us with the Cherokee.
Like the iconic second generation Cherokee—the 1984-2001 ‘XJ’—the current version is based on a unibody design. Unlike the ‘XJ,’ it is not a bespoke 4×4, but Jeep’s engineers have somehow managed to coax a passable off-roader out of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta platform. That’s all well-and-good. But, like I said last year, “at a distance, it looks like any other bland crossover in its class . . . except from the front, where it looks so bad that you wish it was any other crossover in its class.”
6. Kia Soul
Kia has made amazing strides in the North American market with a line of affordable, reliable, well-equipped—if not particularly ground-breaking—automobiles. And by any objective measure, the Soul is a fine, practical car . . . but its designers spent so much time trying to make it look edgy that they forgot to make it look good.
It has weird angles, too much cheap-looking plastic, and one of the strangest looking rear-ends since the (thankfully discontinued) Nissan Cube. Inexplicably, you can add some ‘designer collection’ features like two-tone paint and “sexy 18-inch wheels.” Yeah, okay. All the designer features in the world won’t help this thing look it it was designed by somebody with taste.
5. Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe
Remember that bizarre crop of hatch-back four-door lift-kitted something-mobiles I mentioned earlier? You know, like the BMW X4 and Mercedes-Benz GLC? Yeah, here’s another one. Mercedes-Benz says that the GLE Coupe is “an SUV with the heart and soul of a sports car.” Nope. It’s not an SUV, it’s not a sports car, and for the [next-to] last time it’s not a coupe. Stop calling things coupes when they aren’t coupes!
You really have to wonder what the people at Mercedes-Benz are thinking . . . why sully the brand with a monstrosity like this? Why build a crossover that is too big to be sporty and too small to be practical? Why try to marry the curve of a hatchback to the heft of an SUV and the limited interior space of a sedan? This thing just looks wrong from every angle.
4. BMW X6
Are you tired of misshapen attempts to combine SUV’s with sports cars? Does the very existence of the previously-mentioned BMW X4, Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe, and Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe drive you batty? Are you tired of companies misapplying the word ‘coupe’ to vehicles with more than two passenger doors? Too bad. Here’s one more.
Everything I’ve said about those other cars applies to the BMW X6. I’m running out of things to say about this entire class of vehicles, which will never make sense and will never look good. There are only so many ways to make jokes about a car looking like it is crossed with a boulder. Please, BMW (and Mercedes-Benz). Stop.
3. Smart Fortwo
Daimler’s Smart brand isn’t smart. In fact, the Fortwo—which is really its only product—looks pretty darn stupid. Last year, I wrote that the Fortwo is “little more than an aspirational, road-legal golf cart. And it looks about as silly as you would expect a golf cart to look if it was trying really, really hard to be a car.”
I do have to give Smart some credit for managing to put a road-legal vehicle in such a small package; that is technically impressive. But there’s no reason it has to look like this. I’ve talked a lot in this list about German-made non-coupe “coupes” that look like they were cross-bred with a boulder. The Fortwo looks like it was cross-bred with a regular old rock. At least it’s good for laughs.
2. Nissan Juke
The long reign of the Nissan Juke at the top of this list is over. Oh, it’s still incredibly ugly, but something else is uglier. That’s coming next. For now, let’s talk about the Juke . . . if we must.
The automobile has been developed and honed for over a century. We have a pretty good idea of where things are supposed to go—headlights at the front, brake lights in the rear, etc. The Juke’s designers decided to ignore as much of that history as they could while still getting the necessary government approvals. The Juke’s design seems to be based on that of a sick frog that also had its face messed up in a fist fight. Its tail lights look like dislocated crab claws. Its back doors pretend not to be doors. It’s bad. It’s very bad.
1. Toyota Prius
Toyota introduced the fourth generation Prius for the 2016 model year, and it made an appearance on last year’s list, but it really hadn’t sunk in just how repulsive it is. The more I saw the newest version on the road, the more I hated it. That’s why it has moved up (down?) on this year’s list.
It still has all the things that made it bad before—the over-stated angles, the cheese-wedge profile, the dual-pane glass in the rear, and so on. But this newest version is just . . . worse. Much worse. When viewed from behind, it looks like something a college art student put together after he had done a bit too much meth. It’s not much better from any other angle. I get it; you want to save the polar bears . . . but they (and you) deserve better than this.
Each year, the ‘dishonorable mention’ award goes to a car, company, or person who deserves the derision of gear-heads everywhere. Last year, it went to the Volkswagen Group, which had just been caught cheating on diesel emissions regulations and building cars that produce as much as forty times more nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide (collectively, NOX) than allowed. These compounds are toxic to humans and other animals.
This year, the award goes to Donald Trump (R), the newly-inaugurated President of the United States.
From the perspective of the car lover, there are things to like about Trump. He promises to reduce harmful and unnecessary federal regulations, which could lead to good things for the auto industry. But any positives are outweighed by his fervent protectionism. He proposes tariffs and other trade policies that will, over time, seriously hurt the car industry and its consumers.
High tariffs will mean that foreign car companies will have a harder time importing their products to the United States, and will have to raise prices to compensate. Models that sell in smaller volumes simply won’t be imported at all. And even the companies that build their cars here—foreign and domestic marquees alike—will have a harder time importing the best parts for the best price. This will lead to higher costs and fewer choices for consumers, and possibly lessen quality and worsen reliability.
Trump, along with other protectionists like Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), sells these policies as a way to save American jobs. They might succeed by that narrow measure. But we must also count the great costs. Trump wins this year’s dishonorable mention because, if he is able to implement the kinds of trade policies he proposes, American auto showrooms will have fewer models to choose from, they’ll cost more, and they’ll probably break down more often. That future is not assured, but if it happens, it will be ugly.