I usually plan to publish my list of the ugliest cars of a given model year in the first quarter of the year. Last year I was late—I finally got it published in July. This year I’m even later. It’s November. It’s barely even still 2021.
Sorry. I’ve been busy. But the tradition cannot die, and I’ll try to do better next year.
There have not been a lot of big changes from last year. The Fiat 500L and the Honda Civic Type R have been discontinued. There has also been a little bit of adjustment to the order as my tastes change and I get more used to certain objectionable car designs. Sometimes something that looks bad at first becomes slightly less bad with time.
The criteria are simple. Cars that are currently sold new in the United States are eligible unless they sell in very low volume or are not sold to the general public. Volume is defined based on my subjective opinion—if I see ’em on the roads, they qualify; if I don’t, they don’t. Vehicles that are only sold for exotic, military, commercial, or special purposes are excluded.
As always, this list is my personal opinion. If you own one of the cars on this list, don’t take it (too) personally.
10. Kia Soul
The Soul has been on this list for most of its life, usually hanging around somewhere near the bottom. It’s not repulsive, it’s just a sort-of pedestrian style of ugly. It was one of the first in an industry-wide trend of econo-cubes whose designers were trying way too hard . . . and failing. Its main redeeming quality is that many of the competitors that came after it were much, much worse.
9. Nissan Kicks
Speaking of econo-cubes whose designers were trying way too hard, next we have the Kicks. It’s better than Nissan’s previous efforts, the Cube and the Juke, but it’s still bad. Small four-door crossovers don’t have to be ugly. I promise. There have been some good ones. But for some reason, most manufacturers insist on throwing in a bunch of weird angles, pointy bits, and lumps.
8. Hyundai Venue
Not content to sit out on the massive trend of econo-cubes whose designers were trying way too hard, next comes Hyundai’s entrant: the Venue. It’s not as lumpy or angly as some of its competitors. Its more squared-off and conservative style might have worked if they hadn’t added those bizarro fenders and the dumb “extreme eyebrows” front fascia. What’s with that look anyway? Does anybody actually like it?
7. Honda Civic Si
I used to like the Civic. They ruined it. But the Si version is the one that still really stands out; it takes the worst things about the normal Civic and multiplies them. It looks like they just kept hitting it with the design stick until it couldn’t take it any more. Bad angles, crab-claw tail lights, a pointless spoiler, and a whole lot of other stupid aero trim. It’s not as bad as the discontinued Civic Type R though, so that’s something.
6. Mercedes GLC Coupe
Two themes dominate the ugly car list these days: the aforementioned econo-cubes whose designers were trying way too hard, and the German potato brigade. The GLC Coupe is the first of the German potatoes, and the least bad of the four that appear on this list. But it’s still a big ol’ lump of pointlessness. It’s an upper-mid-sized crossover trying to pretend it’s a sedan even though its manufacturer, inexplicably, calls it a coupe. It is not a coupe.
5. BMW X4
The second entrant in the German potato brigade is the X4. It’s basically just the BMW equivalent of the Mercedes GLC Coupe: same size, same general shape, same complete lack of a reason for existing, and same misuse of the word “coupe” in its marketing materials. At least BMW didn’t put “coupe” in the name. That’s good. But that lumpy rear-end and odd aero-bits make it at least a hair worse than its Mercedes competitor.
4. Mercedes GLE Coupe
The third member of the German potato brigade is the GLE Coupe. It is everything its stablemate GLC Coupe is, but bigger . . . so it’s harder to avoid looking at. And like its stablemate, it’s a crossover with misguided dreams of being a sports sedan. And its manufacturer just can’t figure out how to use the word “coupe” properly. That really gets under my skin. Once again, it is not a coupe.
3. BMW X6
The fourth and final—and ugliest—member of the German potato brigade is the X6. It is comparable to the Mercedes GLE Coupe. It’s bad enough that one company makes one of these; I have no idea why two companies make two each. But the X6 is the worst of ’em. It’s just as big as the GLE Coupe, but with the same lumps and aero bits that made the X4 a bit worse than the GLC Coupe. So many potatoes.
2. Toyota C-HR
Toyota excels at nearly everything it does . . . even when it’s doing a bad thing. Remember all those references before to econo-cubes whose designers were trying way too hard? Well Toyota tried harder than everybody else. Those bizarre angles, pointy overhangs, plastic cladding, lumpy lights, partitioned windows, and gaping maw of a lower grille. It would be the ugliest thing on the road today if it weren’t for one more car. . . .
1. Toyota Prius
The Prius holds on to its crown as the ugliest car of the 2021 model year. I mean, just look at it. Everything about it is wrong. The lines all meet in places they shouldn’t, the rear hatch windows have that awkward split, the taillights were clearly designed by drunk children, and what the heck is going on between the rear passenger windows, the roof, and the hatch? It’s still the worst thing on the road.
In addition to the ten ugliest cars each model year, I also “award” either a car model or manufacturer with the “dishonorable mention.” This year, the “award” goes to:
Hyundai has made great strides over the decades. They now make some of the most reliable cars on the road. Many of them are popular. Most of them look fine.
But for some reason Hyundai has completely ruined their line of sedans. They’ve thrown in a bunch of the weird angles that Toyota and Honda insist on incorporating into their worst designs. This is most evident in the rear; just look at what they’ve done to the Elantra and the Sonata in the photo above.
I know sedans aren’t very popular anymore, but that’s no reason to punish them. Or us.