Things remain suspiciously calm in the world of ugly cars. Only one of last year’s (dis)honorees—the Nissan Juke—has gone on to the great parts-bin in the sky. Toyota, however, stepped up to the ugly subcompact SUV plate with their new C-HR. There have also been some of the usual adjustments to the ordering, most notably those caused by the proliferation of weird sub-models of the Honda Civic.
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. BMW X4
The BMW X4 “Sports Activity Coupe” continues to exist, for some reason. If you’re going to buy one of these bizarre crossover hatchback things, this might be the one to get. Believe it or not, this is the best looking vehicle in its class. The problem is that it’s in a class that nobody asked for: large crossovers that can’t be used for hauling, don’t have a lot of space, and look like potatoes.
Whatever drug-induced confusion led to the X4’s development seems to have infected the vehicle’s marketing too. This “Sports Activity Coupe” isn’t sporty, isn’t well-suited for activities, and isn’t even a coupe. Why must the German luxury brands inflict these monstrosities upon the world? And why can’t they at least describe them accurately?
Just buy one of BMW’s normal looking, tasteful, useful crossovers.
9. Mercedes GLC Coupe
Somebody in the Mercedes development labs saw the BMW X4 and said, “We need to make one of those.” Nobody thought to tell that person the old adage: You shouldn’t jump off a cliff just because all of your friends are doing it!
I have to give Mercedes credit for taking the X4’s signature potato look, leaving it out in the sun for a while to rot, and then lacquering it in place. The ‘rotten potato shape’ is woefully underutilized by the automotive industry. Mercedes is doing its part to change that, both with the GLC Coupe and its larger cousin, the GLE Coupe (which appears later on this list).
Like BMW, Mercedes has a full range of attractive crossovers. This is not one of them. And please stop calling things coupes if they aren’t coupes! Words have meaning!
8. Jeep Cherokee
This could very well be the Cherokee’s last time on this list; Jeep has already announced a facelift for the 2019 model year that will improve its offensive front-end. But for 2018, we still get a Jeep that looks like its nose got rearranged in a fight.
It’s a shame because the Cherokee is almost a real Jeep. It’s a crossover, yes, but one with some real off-road capabilities. In this way it is reminiscent of the beloved ‘XJ’ Cherokee of the eighties and nineties. But styling-wise, it’s just . . . bland. From sides and rear, it looks like any other crossover; from a distance you could mistake it for any Hyundai, Chevy, or Toyota. But that front . . . from the front it looks like a perennially-ugly Nissan Juke put on a Jeep costume for Halloween.
Jeeps are supposed to be rugged and utilitarian, not beautiful. But they shouldn’t be ugly either.
7. Kia Soul
The Soul continues to offend with its failed attempts at being edgy and youthful. Kia has done some amazing things in the last two decades, moving from automotive punchline to serious competitor, but the Soul carries on none-the-less. On paper it’s fine, competing well spec-for-spec against other subcompact crossovers in its class, especially considering its low price point. But it just looks like it’s trying too hard.
It has all those unnecessary angles, the garish plastic, the in-your-face colors, and that down-right obnoxious rear-end, which are all more offensive than trendy. The subcompact crossover class is growing by leaps and bounds, and all of the major manufacturers are getting in on the game . . . but most of them are doing it with cars that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen in.
Kia now makes a full line of well-equipped, reliable, affordable, and tasteful (or at least inoffensive) vehicles. Time to put the Soul out of its misery and produce something that fits in with everything else Kia is making these days.
6. Honda Civic
The tenth generation Civic is a great mystery. Honda seems to be getting most of its models back in line with the confines of good taste, but it seems to have taken all of the designers from Honda and Acura’s worst disasters over the last decade and assigned them all to the Civic.
Last year, I ranked the Civic tenth on this list. I called it “a misshapen, angular mess with crab-claw tail lights and a deadly overdose of nose chrome.” This was true of the sedan version, but it was far too kind for the hatchback . . . especially the performance Type R version, which takes the most bizarre parts of the car and accentuates them.
Sometimes it makes sense to throw things at the wall and see what sticks. The Civic, especially in its hatchback form, looks like everything stuck . . . the good, the bad, and the ugly.
5. Mercedes GLE Coupe
Somebody in the Mercedes development labs saw the BMW X6 and said, “We need to make one of those.” Nobody thought to tell that person the old adage: You shouldn’t jump off a cliff just because all of your friends are doing it! Wait . . . am I repeating myself?
As the Mercedes GLC Coupe apes the BMW X4, the GLE Coupe is a simulacrum of the BMW X6. Neither the X4 or X6 makes any sense on its own, and they sure don’t deserve photocopies from any other manufacturer, but here we are . . . an entire class of German pseudo-crossovers that look like potatoes.
The GLE does manage to look slightly better than the ugliest vehicle in the potato class, the BMW X6 that it competes with, so that’s something I guess. But I can’t say it enough: these things are not coupes. Stop calling them coupes!
4. BMW X6
The BMW X6 is yet another “Sports Activity Coupe” that isn’t sporty, isn’t well-suited for activities, and isn’t even a coupe. Again, I am forced to repeat myself. It wasn’t enough for BMW to give us the X4; they had to give us an even bigger potato.
BMW makes so many great cars . . . there is no need to muddle the product line with these freaks of automotive nature. They’re too big, heavy, and bulbous to be sporty, but too sloped and car-like to be useful as a crossover. This unholy cross-breed of a 5-series with an X5 improves upon neither. Nothing that BMW offers here isn’t available in much better packages in the same showrooms.
The X6 looks like it was glued together from various unrelated leftover parts that they found sitting around at the factory after they finished building much better cars.
3. Toyota C-HR
Following the stand-down of Toyota’s Scion sub-brand, the Japanese juggernaut was left without an entry in the growing subcompact crossover market. For 2018, they have introduced the new CH-R, which slots-in below the RAV-4 as Toyota’s smallest and most affordable crossover. That’s all well and good. Nobody disputes that Toyota needed a subcompact crossover. But . . . why make it look like this?
From the front it’s not too bad, fitting in well with the rest of Toyota’s staid-but-unremarkable vehicles. Even from the side it’s not too bad if you start from the front . . . but by the time you get to the rear quarter, everything has gone badly awry. Why are the rear door handles way up by the roof-line? Why does it have shoulders? Why do the personality lines form into a fish tail?
And from the back, it’s even worse . . . a mish-mash of lines going every-which-way and stymieing all of your brain’s efforts to make sense of it. Why, Toyota? Why?
2. Smart Fortwo
Two years ago, I wrote the following about the Smart Fortwo: “[It 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.” Hard as I’ve tried, I can’t sum it up much better than that. The main redeeming quality of the Fortwo is that it is so out-of-place on the road that it’s hard not to laugh every time you see one.
Mercedes, the parent company of Smart, appears twice earlier on this list for its potato-like crossovers mis-branded as coupes. The Fortwo is an actual coupe . . . which proves that Mercedes does know what the word means. But it still seems to be part potato. Mashed potato.
That a car this small can be made to comply with our vehicle safety standards is technically impressive, and I suppose there might be a market for something like this in cities for people who want a scooter-sized vehicle that is enclosed . . . but it really doesn’t have to look this dumb.
1. Toyota Prius
The Prius has been a stalwart feature of this annual list for as long as I have been making it. It has never been an attractive vehicle. Through each of its iterations, it has emphasized cheese-wedge goofiness over style . . . which is what its target audience of self-righteous environmentalists seems to want. There are plenty of good looking hybrids out there now, but none of them allows the driver to show the world how much they are willing to sacrifice to save it.
The fourth generation Prius, introduced in 2016, is the ugliest Prius ever. It is almost beyond words. It is repulsive in a visceral way that few cars have ever been. It is like the bygone Nissan Juke, Subaru B9 Tribeca, or Pontiac Aztek; it is willfully, unapologetically, unforgivably ugly.
I am still convinced that whoever designed that rear end was under the influence of some very unpleasant drug. There’s the dual-pane glass carried over from earlier Priuses, the pointlessly angular tail lights, the overall mish-mash the worst things Toyota has made in the last decade. The environment deserves better.
Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross
Mitsubishi Motors has had some problems . . . indeed, back in 2015 I gave the entire company my dishonorable mention. I said then that, “Mitsubishi sold 62,310 Eclipses in the U.S. market during the 1997 model year . . . just Eclipses. In the 2014 model year, Mitsubishi only managed to sell 62,227 cars in the U.S. market total.”
The company has improved its standings a bit since then, but is still struggling to regain its former glory. It is banking on crossovers, with the Outlander and Outlander Sport making up the bulk of its sales. Indeed, for 2018, the only car available from Mitsubishi in the United States that isn’t a crossover is the subcompact Mirage.
Mitsubishi was at its height in the U.S. in the 1990s, and one of its most successful models at the time was the affordable Eclipse two-door sports car. It is one of their most memorable and beloved vehicles. And so it is no surprise that Mitsubishi is planning to bring back the Eclipse name.
But it’s putting it on a subcompact crossover. . . .
You might as well slap the Ford Mustang name on a pickup, or the Dodge Caravan name on a mid-size sedan. It makes no sense. It will just breed resentment among the fans of the original and confuse potential customers. The Eclipse Cross might be a fine vehicle. It looks alright, though the rear-end almost got it onto this list. And it’s unclear why Mitsubishi thinks it needs two subcompact crossovers—the Outlander Sport is almost exactly the same size. But, good or bad, this thing just isn’t an Eclipse.