The first thing you notice about a car isn’t its horsepower output or the size of its infotainment screen. It’s the design that stands out above all. And, while you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, many consumers are unwilling to buy a car if they consider it ugly. That’s why car companies walk a fine line every time they begin working on a new model. Some strive to maintain a degree of familiarity while others move in riskier, bolder directions with varying results.
To celebrate Halloween, we’re looking at some of the cars we’d away run from if they knocked on our door asking for gasoline-flavored AirHeads. Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder, but we’d argue these designs pushed the envelope a little bit too far.
Acura ZDX (2009)
Automakers spend millions of dollars crashing pre-production prototypes to ensure that new models acceptably protect passengers in the event of a crash. These cars — which are essentially mechanical crash-test dummies — get crushed and recycled at the end of the development process. At Acura, one of them cleverly escaped from the scrap heap, hid in the design studio to avoid getting detected by the guards, and unexpectedly received the green light for production. The marketing department named it ZDX.
BMW X7 (2018)
The X7 is BMW’s biggest car to date so it wears BMW’s biggest grille to date. That makes sense, right? The grille is certainly one of the SUV’s defining styling cues. We’re a little bit worried about what the X7 will look like when Paul Bunyan calls to ask for his cheese grater back, though.
Google Firefly (2014)
We know, we know; Google made the Firefly to test and showcase its autonomous technology, not to win prestigious design awards in Milan. But, come on, how much more time-consuming or expensive would it have been to make it look at least semi-decent? Instead, we’ll always remember Google’s original self-driving car as a pod shaped like a vacuum cleaner attachment on four wheels. The Firefly retired in 2017 and Waymo replaced it with more visually distinctive Chrysler Pacifica vans and Jaguar I-Pace SUVs.
Honda Clarity (2016)
Will the person who blindfolded the Honda Clarity‘s designers please step forward? We’d like a word with you.
The Clarity’s front end looks like an Accord doing its best impression of a late-model Renault; we’ve seen the hockey stick-shaped LEDs before. It’s not a terribly original design but it’s not awfully offensive, either, though we’d shave a foot off of the front overhang if we could go back and intervene in the design process. Things get a little bit weird beyond that. When viewed from the back, the Clarity looks like it began to melt as spacemen shot it out of their saucer.
Hyundai Kona (2017)
The Hyundai Kona is the automotive equivalent of a four-year old that insists on wearing a superhero costume to the grocery store. The crossover wears its Iron Man mask all the time, everywhere it goes. Hyundai highlighted the similarities — which are likely not involuntary — with an Iron Man-themed Kona (pictured) scheduled to make its debut in 2019. We’re not kidding; this is Halloween, not April Fool’s.
Jeep Cherokee (2015)
The original, XJ-generation Jeep Cherokee oozed a kind of endearingly rugged charm that no one could take away from it. Jeep could have channeled some of that heritage as it designed the current-generation Cherokee to deliver a competitive SUV that tugged at enthusiasts’ heartstrings. Instead, it gave us a family trucklet that looked like a robotic whale staring into the sun. Polarizing doesn’t always sell, as the company found out. It ordered a major redesign for the 2019 model year that brought a brand-new front end with a less divisive look.
Lincoln MKT (2009)
Lincoln will keep making the MKT in the foreseeable future, partly because it’s popular as a hearse. How’s that for ghoulish?
The Ford-owned brand is going to great lengths to design better-looking cars and its efforts are paying off. We like the Aviator concept. You can’t tell how far Lincoln has come by looking at the MKT, though. It still wears the company’s previous design language, whose central component was the split-wing grille, and it’s shaped like something you’d seriously expect to find a flower-adorned coffin in. No wonder funeral homes love it.
McLaren Senna (2017)
McLaren’s gorgeous Speedtail illustrates what’s possible when designers and engineers come together to make a car without having to worry about pesky rules and regulations. The Senna, on the other hand, shows what happens when stylists take a back seat in a development process led by the aerodynamics team. It’s a masterpiece of downforce but, holy moly, it’s not pretty to look at. Function over form, indeed.
Nissan Juke (2010)
What were they thinking? Your guess is as good as ours.
The back end of the Nissan Juke is fairly cohesive and even a little bit sporty when viewed from certain angles. The middle section of it begins to deviate from that path and the front end looks like the symptom of a serious medical condition. To Nissan’s credit, the love-it-or-hate-it design is exactly what its stylists wanted to achieve. We say mission accomplished.
In the United States, the Juke evidently crossed the border that separates polarizing and eye-catching and polarizing and off-putting. Nissan replaced it with the more conventional-looking Kicks. The Juke lives on in other markets, including Europe, and Nissan promises its replacement will turn the boldness up a notch. One of the firm’s designers described the next-generation Juke as “an urban meteor with a nasty attitude.” Brace yourselves; you can’t say we didn’t warn you.
Toyota C-HR (2016)
Toyota developed the C-HR to entice Juke owners in need of a change, so we weren’t surprised when it made its debut with a design best described as a little bit spooky. Oversized headlights accentuate its gargantuan front end. The body has so many angles and creases that it looks like it lost a battle with a sushi knife. We liked the concept car (which was sportier and more rugged) a lot more.
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