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Car buyers today have it made. Almost every segment and price point includes vehicles to satisfy not only the driving enthusiast but also the design aficionado. Indeed, high-end brands like Audi and Ferrari are well known for winning designs, but even mainstream players like Ford and Kia now boast lineups full of attractive and tastefully styled vehicles. Not every automaker is created equal, however. Any combination of unrestrained creative ambition, manufacturing and/or packaging constraints, and poor executive decision making can birth an ugly ride. This is our list of today’s worst offenders, ranked in order of onerousness.
10. Subaru Legacy / Outback
It’s not just that the Subaru Legacy sedan and its faux SUV derivative, the Outback wagon, are styled with a mishmash of disjointed, gimmicky, and exaggerated cues. No, what makes it worse is the aesthetic face plant the current models took compared with their predecessors. The previous-gen Legacy and Outback were elegant and offered near-luxury detailing and styling. Not that sales of the latest models have suffered—quite the contrary—and Subaru’s North American executives say that’s justification enough for the styling. We disagree, and so apparently do those at the brand’s Japanese HQ: The 2011 Advanced Tourer concept stands as an apology in steel and is a clear indication that Subaru can do a lot better.
9. Fiat 500L
Have you ever wondered what a Fiat 500 might look like if it had an air hose shoved up its tailpipe? The new 500L is the answer—and it’s not a pretty one. The five-door Fiat eschews any connection with the cute 500 except for the precious lighting and ornamentation, which are plastered onto an awkwardly proportioned, overly tall, and essentially bland wagon. Along with Chrysler’s cash reserves, the little 500 has been Fiat’s savior, so it’s no wonder the brand is trying to milk the concept to the extreme.
8. Honda Pilot
A onetime class-leading people hauler, the Honda Pilot would fade into the crossover static if it weren’t for one of the most obnoxious-looking snouts in the industry. Not helping matters are the stupendously sized halogen reflector-type (i.e., the lowest grade) headlights, which flank the glitzy grille like teddy-bear ears. Of course, this brashness doesn’t carry over anywhere else: The interior is a smorgasbord of conflicting themes, and the rear end simply looks irritated to share a vehicle with the front. Honda’s consumer website adds insult to injury, reaching out to visitors with the statement that the Pilot was “designed for you.”
7. Chrysler 200
This modestly face-lifted Sebring is a sad leftover from the Daimler-Chrysler “merger of equals” marriage from hell. And like nearly every Chrysler from that era, it looks as if its manufacturing tooling were carried over directly from the CAD drawings, without anyone bothering to create a three-dimensional model to hone its graceless lines. The stubby wheelbase and the cramped cabin—to say nothing of its punchless dynamics—are just the rotten cherries on top. Chrysler says the 200 represents “the refined look that no one expected from the city of Detroit.” Except for the “refined” part, that’s true. We expected better.
6. Nissan Versa sedan
“It’s got style to boot,” Nissan says. Whatever. Aiming directly for buyers on a budget who value rear-seat and trunk space above all other attributes, the posterior of the Versa sedan dwarfs the car’s stubby nose and riding-lawnmower-esque 15-inch wheels. On the automotive styling meter, this awkwardly proportioned four-door sedan sits alongside the fruits of Eastern Europe’s finest former Communist economies, and fittingly, its interior is a sea of gray. Or beige. (Your choice!) The Versa, which can be “upgraded” from an ancient four-speed automatic to a droning CVT, sends the message that its driver doesn’t care about much, especially not cars. To be sure, such people deserve and need personal transportation, but does it have to be so depressing?
5. Mini Paceman
The Paceman is what happens when you take the impractical three-door Mini hatchback, make it practical by enlarging it and installing more doors, and then make it impractical again while keeping some performance-sapping weight. The Countryman-based, three-door Paceman seems to have been created by committee, keeping the Countryman’s contorted headlights and grille while adding a set of massive taillights with a huge chrome frame. Traditionally British Mini, which is now owned by BMW, doesn’t have a design studio in the U.K. anymore. That might explain the unchecked proliferation of models that have little to do with the brand’s heritage—or even the brand’s very name.
4. Lincoln MKT
We’re all for saving the whales, but our enthusiasm doesn’t stretch to embracing artificial ones on wheels. Lincoln’s “trademark” grille has closely emulated the baleen of the mammoth mammals, and the rest of the MKT provides the fitting proportions. With the Town Car dead, this front-drive-based model also serves as Lincoln’s livery vehicle, and they’re also being converted to hearses. That last use might explain the poor material quality in the rear of the cabin, given that it might be ripped out anyway. Being based on the Ford Flex, this Lincoln drives well enough, but sharing a platform with that funky, attractive crossover only emphasizes the MKT’s aesthetic failure.
3. Infiniti QX80
You know the old idiom about having a face only a mother could love? This Infiniti puts even maternal affection to the test, its styling having thoroughly shocked the automotive design community when it debuted at the New York auto show in 2010. (It was called the QX56 then; Infiniti has since renamed all its vehicles to Q-something-or-other.) Tall, ungainly, and adorned with extraneous chrome bits, it’s the automotive equivalent of a fairy-tale castle. It’s as big as one, too.
2. Toyota 4Runner
Sometimes you have to wonder whether Toyota’s various design centers exist in happy bubbles, safely disconnected from the real world in sanitized, cheerful bliss. There, oddball characters like the brawny FJ Cruiser and wide-mouthed new Corolla frolic free and unencumbered by the strictures of conventionally attractive design. Of course, such worlds often have villains, and the SR5 and Trail trims of the freshly face-lifted (face melted?) 2014 4Runner SUV fill the bill: Their frumpy countenance looks like a cross of Predator, lamprey Transformer, and gaping wound. The 4Runner Limited has a different front fascia, but its huge chrome mustache isn’t much of an improvement.
1. BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo
Expectations couldn’t have been higher: Years before it was shown publicly, whispers from BMW headquarters excitedly touted a new “space-functional concept.” The Bavarians employed extensive market research, aiming to meet no less lofty a goal than to satisfy every conceivable transportation need. It turns out the solution was to, uh, bloat a 5 Series and raise its center of gravity. Not only does this portly, hunchbacked hatchback wear a misleading badge—a true GT, or “gran turismo,” combines sports-car handling and styling with the ability to cover hundreds of miles quickly and in supreme luxury— but the 5 Series GT also packs useless features like a double-hinged liftgate and a partition behind the rear seats. And even though we like frameless windows, the rear quarter-windows can’t be lowered and jut up from the doors like paddles, adding to the air of ridiculousness. The 5 GT’s taillights look as if they might start weeping. We already are.
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