25 Cars That Were Just Too Embarrassing to Drive
Finding the fastest car in the world is straightforward. You compare top speeds from the racetrack and crown a champion. However, choosing the ugliest car is a different story: There are always people who see “tough” where others see “obnoxious.” Likewise, some folks might see “ambition” in cars you would prefer to ridicule. We could ramble on about beauty being in the eye of the beholder, but we have ugly cars to discuss.
As a driver, it’s easy to tell when your car is a subject of mockery. People look away quickly when you try to catch their eye, or you might see them laughing and pretending there’s something funny besides the thing you’re driving. But it’s not something else; it’s your car.
Everyone has experienced the feeling. Whether it was the last car on the rental lot or a vehicle you inherited from grandpa, you’ll find yourself driving a poorly rated beast at some point in your life. We suggest you take the opportunity to have fun with it and enjoy yourself. While you’re at it, be grateful you’re not driving one of the most laughable cars in history. Here are 25 cars that were just too embarrassing to drive.
1. Acura ZDX
There is no precise formula for being hideous. Automakers seem to fall into certain traps that lead to all-time offenders. For example, the Acura ZDX looks like someone painted an egg and put it on wheels. Where some have failed without curves, ZDX failed with too many of them. Fortunately, it did not stay around too long. In 2013, just four years after its debut, Acura waved the white flag and axed the ZDX. America did not protest.
2. Buick Skylark
We don’t know where to begin with the ’92 Skylark. What was once a cool nameplate by Buick became a malformed beast in the 1980s, and by the ’90s it went completely off the rails. Designers apparently wanted to kill it in a blaze of glory, so they applied every offensive color, cheap texture, and dumb idea to the same car. It worked: Skylark’s 45-year reign on American roads ended after this model entered the scene.
3. Fiat Multipla
The Fiat Multipla fills us with terror. Maybe it’s because people sitting inside look like they’ve been confined to a plastic deathmobile without proper headlights. Its low front clearance and chopped ends enhance this “rollercoaster compartment on the highway” effect. We’re not sure why anyone ever tried the bulbous, Humpty Dumpty design Multipla, but no one ever should have.
4. Coda electric sedan
The Coda electric sedan was so plain and cheap-looking it makes you wonder why anyone ever considered making it. But, hey, it was electric, so the kids in America would go nuts for it, right? Wrong: It sold 117 units before the company went bankrupt. To be fair, we could have called out the Hafei Saiao, the car on which Coda is based, rather than this frumpy EV. Then again, third-rate Chinese cars don’t cost $37,250 — Coda’s electric sedan did.
5. Mitsuoka Orichi
It’s not the paint job: Mitsuoka Orochi looks ugly in any color. Nonetheless, the Evangelion Edition did highlight some of Orochi’s worst features, like the bottom-feeder front and triangular hood vent. Look, Orochi was “a fashion supercar,” so not everyone was supposed to comprehend the automaker’s conception (except Derek Zoolander, perhaps). Mercifully, they only produced 11 models of this special edition, which started at $157,000.
6. Nissan Cube
In its sales pitch for the Cube, Nissan referenced its “friendly front grille inspired by a bulldog wearing shades.” You can’t make this stuff up, folks. A few years back, Americans called it the second most embarrassing car on the road, likely for the meandering blob designers stuffed between two straight lines. If you’re a fan of Veep, you know exactly why the show’s writers gave this car to Jonah Ryan. But everyone knows why another Veep character called it “a minecraft piece of shit.”
7. 1961 Plymouth Valiant
The 1961 Plymouth Valiant looks stuck between cop car, pimpmobile, and flotation device. It compromised by being a boxy, vaguely menacing boat with dorky flares in both front and back. Valiant did not take up as much physical space as some of the most obnoxious cars of the era (think: 1959 Dodge Coronet), but it made up for it with a spectacularly awful design. That took up whatever psychic space was left.
8. Tatra T77A
The early Tatra was the first car serially built for its aerodynamic properties, so beauty was not its primary goal. Anyone who saw one — especially from the back — could see that right away. Later Tatras were even more hideous, but we’re fine exposing the company’s early visual tragedy, the rear-engine T77A. The protruding headlights are offensive, but this car’s back end is a monstrosity. Meanwhile, the “your doors are about to fall off” look came standard, straight out of the factory.
9. Ford Taurus
Over time, insects exerted more and more influence over car designers. By the mid 1990s, they were able to infiltrate one of the world’s most popular cars: Ford Taurus. For the third generation (1995), things got ridiculous, especially in the front of this car. Ford seemed obsessed with making every part into the shape of an egg, and succeeded. We’ll spare you the pain of looking at the Taurus wagon from that era.
10. Pontiac Aztek
Grab your clown wig and hike up your baggy pants — the Pontiak Aztek has entered the building. It was fitting that a cast of extras worthy of a Fellini film welcomed the Aztek to the scene at the 2000 Detroit Auto Show. The car had so many ugly flourishes stuck on the front end we could stop there. Yet Aztek was only getting started. Its side panels, which look like they’d been welded on backstage, never were more appealing in real life. In retrospect, it was a fitting end to a decade of Pontiac disasters, and a preview of more to come.
11. 1978 Chrysler LeBaron
In the ’90s, people mocked 1970s style relentlessly, and the ’78 Chrysler LeBaron shows exactly why. This car takes the fake-luxury approach by slapping on shiny hubcaps and pretending hazards on top (innovation!) will make up for the hideous grille and fascia. Otherwise, you have one of the most boring and conservative American cars ever made — one which would take up three parking spaces today.
Could a car cost $3,990 yet seem overpriced? Yugo answered the question in the affirmative with this laughingstock from the 1980s. It looked like a toy, drove (when running) like a rusty old bicycle, and had the lifespan of a mosquito. But we’re focused on ugliness here, so we’ll just point to the dollhouse side mirror and waffle-iron grille. Soviet-era Yugoslavia did not win itself any car fans in America based on this entry. It was embarrassing to look at, let alone drive.
13. Chevrolet SSR
Professional clowns celebrated the arrival of Chevrolet SSR in 2003. Finally, automakers understood what the merriest profession needed in a vehicle: a punchline on four wheels. Prior to that, clowns were forced to modify existing cars to fit their act, and you needed an expert body shop to pull it off. “No more,” we imagine GM telling the Bozos and Baskets of yesteryear. “We have a car we guarantee people will not take seriously. We’ll even stock it in yellow.”
14. Ford Edsel
Where others failed for not trying enough, Ford’s Edsel failed for trying way too hard. American car makers struggled to avoid excess in the late 1950s, and Edsel consolidated the worst of the era into one vehicle. You can call out the car’s absurd look at every angle, but its primary offense was the front. Some described the centerpiece as a cut lemon; others described it in more vulgar terms. But everyone agreed it was horrible.
15. Nissan Juke
We remember being at an auto show when a new Nissan Juke made its debut. “More like ‘Junk,'” muttered an auto journalist in attendance, while another kept referring to it as the “Puke.” Indeed, there is plenty to dislike about this car. The bug-eyed headlights that soured people on the Nissan Leaf are here. So are a confused grille, deranged bumper, and an extra four headlights for the visually impaired. In an era of awkward, small crossovers, Juke set a new standard for ugliness.
16. Jeep Compass
Tell people you bought a Jeep and they’ll imagine a steel-heavy bruiser ready to conquer the wilderness. So who rounded up all the plastic in sight and slapped that iconic badge on the 2006 Compass? This lump of a vehicle looked dull from every angle and dragged the brand down to previously unforeseen depths. Compass featured the worst grille in Jeep history, bizarre headlights, and enough cut-rate details to predict the Chrysler bankruptcy that followed a few years later.
17. Mitsubishi i-MiEV
This is what happens when you let insects eat too much. They get bloated and misshapen, grow wheels, then start channeling electricity for greater mobility. Seriously, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV was not much of an EV and even less of a car. It’s the definition of a car as appliance, with everything sacrificed in order to get the most range. The experiment didn’t work: i-MiEV could only travel 62 miles on a full charge.
17. Pontiac Trans Sport
“Would you pull your Dust Buster up a few feet? You’re blocking my driveway.” We imagine these conversations took place in the early 1990s without anyone cracking a smile. Originally, Pontiac wowed the auto world with its Trans Sport concept of 1986. It sported gull-wing doors, removable bucket seats, and an all-glass roof. Once it went to production, it became impossibly dull and comically ugly. Worst of all, it couldn’t hoover up any bits of cheap plastic it probably shed across the garage. Neither form nor function.
18. Oldsmobile F-85 Wagon
Unless you’re a Ghostbuster or regularly drive dead bodies to the cemetery, this car is not for you. Oldsmobile, which had run its classic 88 nameplate into the ground by the late 1950s, opened up the new decade with this beastly F-85 wagon for 1961. To be fair, it’s not much uglier than a modern Chevy Suburban, but the F-85’s crime was trying to be stylish while delivering space for eight living human beings.
19. Zundapp Janus
Like many other flops, the Zundapp Janus did not have a long run on this earth. After making motorcycles for decades, its Nuremberg-based manufacturer tried its hand at a minicar. The public’s judgment (forgive the pun) was swift and unkind. Actually, this car was equally embarrassing for driver and passenger alike. Janus had occupants ride back to back, with terrified passengers gazing out the rear window as the driver tried to make the engine go. Unfortunately, 15 horsepower can only take you so far.
20. Chevrolet Cavalier
Why are the windows as big as the doors? Should the doors be lower that the hood but higher than the fender? Why does every line seem off by about an inch? Either GM designers took the era’s obsession with asymmetry to extremes or the 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier was one of the biggest disasters in history. We have tried to imagine feeling cool driving this car down the road, but it’s impossible.
21. Subaru Justy
American car consumers used to have many more cheap options on the market. For about $4,000 in 1989 dollars ($8,000 in 2017 dollars), car shoppers could pick up a Yugo, Ford Festiva, or another econo-box like the Subaru Justy. They offered a handful of horsepower, decent fuel economy, and not much else. They certainly did not offer style. While some people (see the Justy owner pictured) seemed awfully excited about their car, most found them embarrassing to drive at best.
There is nothing with a Hummer if you’re storming a foreign aggressor with your battalion. However, if you’re taking the kids to school or picking up some groceries, you’re probably driving the wrong car. People have been grimacing about Hummers since they first appeared on the scene in the early 2000s, and their reputation seems to get worse every year. Like other cars that suggest the owner is compensating for something, a Hummer screams “insecurity” before “strength.”
23. Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
You can usually count on a convertible giving off a cool vibe, but that was never the case with Nissan’s Murano CrossCabriolet. Apparently, Nissan wanted to see what would happen if you reduced the utility of a crossover by removing two doors and most of its storage. Then, in a fit of desperation, designers mixed in a drop-top scenario before sending it into the market. There are some things you should never do with an SUV, and slicing the top off ranks high on the list. The final insult was the starting price: $48,000.
24. Chevrolet Caprice Wagon
You have to sympathize with American car consumers of the early 1990s. While they had plenty of affordable options, the public’s choices existed in a style vacuum. Take the Chevy Caprice wagon from the era. Soccer moms who didn’t opt for a minivan could choose this vehicle, which the local police department favored for rounding up perpetrators. The back end of the wagon pushed the car’s length to a stunning 18.1 feet. Imagine trying to keep a low profile (or park) in this beast.
25. Smart fortwo
Back in 2013, Carinsurance.com took a survey of American drivers to find out which recent model was the most embarrassing of all to drive. Smart fortwo was the hands-down winner. (Nissan Cube was competitive and came in second.) People said they felt like they couldn’t afford a real car when they drove a Smart. It’s hard to argue with that logic. Half a car just isn’t enough for most people, especially when it cost $15,000. It’s enough to make you nostalgic for Yugo.
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