The people behind the scenes in the automotive industry spend years designing the cars we drive. Despite their best efforts, not every car design is one that’s well-received. Maybe it’s underpowered or doesn’t handle well, or maybe it’s just how the car looks. We’ve all seen ugly cars and wondered how they ever rolled off the assembly line. You can find ugly cars from pretty much every automotive era, so it’s been an issue as long as cars have existed.
A myriad of design flaws can make a car look bad, from oddly shaped bumpers to awkwardly-angled rear windows to confusing lines that don’t know whether they want a car to be a station wagon or a coupe. Most of the ugliest cars ever made are, thankfully, not for sale anymore, but you can still find many of these (ugly) used cars for sale today. And while everything from the BMW Isetta to the Fiat Multipla to the Nissan S-Cargo could have made this list, we decided to stick with U.S. market cars only.
Here are our picks for the ugliest cars the automotive industry has had the misfortune to foist on U.S. consumers.
Our first ugly car from AMC is the Gremlin, which debuted on April Fool’s Day 1970 (Hmmm…). Sure, it was a sales hit, but not because people were swooning over its design. Instead, its appeal centered on its price, which, like the Volkswagen Beetle that came before it, was low. It was cheap to build and cheap to buy, and it was one ugly hatchback. The weirdly sculpted rear end looks like it accidentally got chopped short, and is matched with a disproportionately weirdly long hood. Even AMC’s design chief didn’t think it looked good, but that didn’t stop it from hitting showrooms. It was supposed to appeal to consumers looking for a cheap subcompact car, and that’s exactly what it did, looks be damned.
If you’re looking for ugly cars , then look no further than AMC , which has three cars on our list. The Marlin hit the market in 1965 and was produced through 1967. In its short life it saw several names, starting out as the Rambler Marlin, morphing into the Marlin, and ending its production as the AMC Marlin. Doesn’t matter what you call this luxury sedan, it was one ugly car . Unlike some cars that look good from certain angles, no matter how you look at the Marlin it holds zero appeal. Three years and three names weren’t enough to save a car that really needed a thorough facelift .
Rounding out our list of ugly AMCs is the Pacer hatchback. It’s got a little bit of AMC Gremlin styling, with its stubby butt and long hood, not a good look. The AMC Pacer was oddly wide, with huge expanses of glass that made passengers look a little like they were a goldfish in a bowl as they drove down the highway. It was supposed to improve visibility and aerodynamics, but from a design perspective, the effort didn’t work. AMC built its ugly fishbowl from 1975 to 1980, before putting the Pacer out to pasture.
Aston Martin Lagonda
Yes, the world’s most famous spy is a big fan of sports cars, especially the supercars built by Aston Martin, but we’re betting he’d shun this one even if it came equipped with an ejector seat, deployable caltrops, and hidden machine guns in the headlights. The Aston Martin Lagonda is a downright ugly car that was built back in 1976, and that’s where it should stay. This car looks utterly unbalanced, with a rear that’s too short and a wide, flat hood that’s the length of an aircraft carrier’s deck. Only 645 units were sold before Aston Martin decided this was not going to be one of its classic cars. It wisely pulled the plug and decided to build cars people might consider buying instead of cars that made people cringe.
Cadillac is a luxury brand known for building beautiful, bold cars. They have plush, well-equipped interiors, powerful engines, and stunning exterior designs. Except for this one. The Cadillac Cimarron was supposed to be a mini-luxury sedan at a reduced price. Cool idea, but it didn’t look like a Cadillac. It looked like a Chevy, which makes sense because it shares its exterior design with the Chevrolet Cavalier. Inside it was a bit more upscale, which couldn’t make up for the compact car proportions with Cadillac badges – literally the definition of putting lipstick on a pig. You could buy this “Chevillac” for seven years, from 1982 to 1988, before Cadillac finally decided this wasn’t the right direction for the brand.
If you’re asking yourself whether we’re calling out the Lumina sedan or the minivan as one of the ugliest cars, then the answer is both. The Chevrolet Lumina sedan debuted in 1989 and lasted until 2013. While later years were tolerable, its introductory years were, let’s say, disappointing. It was just a bulbous, milk toast sedan that held zero appeal.
But hey, if sedans aren’t your thing, there’s the even uglier Chevrolet Lumina APV, which is a minivan. The front end has a sloped hood that leads right up to the windshield in a single line, giving it a wedge-shaped design like a giant doorstop. The massive windshield meets with equally massive triangular windows at the edges. Why, Chevrolet?
The Chrysler Crossfire had plenty of potential. It combined a little bit of vintage design elements (in the spirit of the Chrysler PT Cruiser), with a little bit of Mercedes-Benz, including the engine and chassis. But something went horribly wrong from concept to production. This two-door tried quite hard to be a sporty little coupe worthy of its Mercedes underpinnings, with the visual promise of American hot rod performance. Instead, it was a poorly designed mishmash that just didn’t work as a sports car. Its exceptionally broad fenders and fastback roofline didn’t appeal to the public, and after five years in production, this automotive outcast was discontinued.
Let’s hop into the way-back machine and take a trip to the year 1958, where you can feast your eyes on the failure of car design that is the Ford Edsel. Or maybe we should say hide your eyes from the Ford Edsel. The idea was to add a mid-range sedan to the Ford lineup with lots of standard features, plenty of options, and beefy V8 engines. From the rear end, it’s fine. From the side it’s fine. From the front end, now we have a problem. That horse-collar grille was striking for all the wrong reasons. The auto-buying masses were not impressed and even today it can’t manage to garner retro appeal. Ford stopped production of one of its ugliest cars after just two years in 1960.
One little car, so many problems. The Ford Pinto is now universally known as the car that catches fire. This is thanks to a fuel tank that could burst into flames if it was punctured during a collision. That’s not really a good selling point for the Pinto, but neither was this car’s lackluster design. It was decidedly dull with nothing attractive to save it from being a bore. It was all wide expanses of metal that just sort of melded into one amorphous blob. Car enthusiasts don’t want to drive around in an amorphous blob, especially one known for catching fire.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Nissan Juke was still on sale a few years ago, so if you want to buy this quirky hatchback there’s a good chance there’s a used model or two at your local dealer for sale. Not that we recommend doing that. A subcompact crossover sold from 2010 to 2017 in the United States, the most notable styling elements on this car were its headlights and foglights. These were placed awkwardly on top of the hood and in the grille, like a multi-eyed frog staring at you from a lily pad. The overall proportions were off, too, with its small roof and windows placed on a wide body with too many lines. The Juke actually drove pretty well, but not well enough to justify that exterior design.
Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
Let’s be clear, that we aren’t calling out the affable Nissan Murano, which you can buy as a new car right now. Instead, we’re looking at its horrific convertible mutation, which was in production from 2011 to 2014. Nissan lopped the roof off of the Murano to create something no one ever wanted or needed to see in public – a four-door convertible crossover. Its odd proportions and tiny rear window simply didn’t work. Top down or top up, this CrossCabriolet wasn’t attractive. As a bonus, it wasn’t a particularly great car to drive, either. Carlos Ghosn, a high-powered automotive executive running Nissan and Renault at the time, gets the credit/blame for this one.
The Plymouth Valiant had a pretty good run from 1959 to 1976 and holds lots of retro appeal, but not every model year is one that looks good. We’re looking squarely at the 1960 model and wondering what the heck went wrong. This Plymouth Valiant is such an ugly car that it takes a while to see all the places where it went bad. It has strange proportions, with a rear that’s too busy and a grille that’s too busy, and a multitude of windows that make the sides – you guessed it – too busy. Car designers often get extra creative when they’re doodling a “what if” idea at their workstations. Unfortunately, in 1960 Plymouth decided to put one into production.
It’s pretty much impossible to compile a list of the ugliest cars without including the Pontiac Aztek. It probably seemed like a great idea on paper. This crossover has a roomy interior for passengers, optional all-wheel drive for bad weather, and great cargo versatility. There was a sliding cargo tray in back with pop-up compartments to organize your stuff, and you could even outfit your Pontiac Aztek with a specially designed tent. It had innovative features designed to appeal to car enthusiasts, but ultimately this car looks just hideous, with oddly shaped plastic cladding along the wheel arches and door/roof proportions completely out of whack. The closest the Pontiac Aztek came to being cool was its stint on Breaking Bad, placed there to emphasize the main character’s depressing life. It was only in production for a few years, and for that, we’re grateful.
Today, Toyota builds the popular Sienna minivan, which is a lovely vehicle for busy families. Back in the 1990s, it built an entirely different minivan called the Previa. It offered a couple of engines, including a supercharged option, and it had available all-wheel drive. The interior was highly functional, with second-row captain’s chairs that swiveled to face rearward and a third row that folded up along the sides of the Previa’s cargo area. But the exterior? It somehow managed to have both a wedge-shaped and bulbous body that looked like something out of a bad 1980s arcade game (Moon Patrol – look it up). Toyota also threw in some horrible plastic cladding, just for good measure. The Previa’s interior design was ahead of its time, but taking advantage of it meant riding around – and potentially being seen – in that exterior shape.
The Toyota Prius is easily one of the most recognizable cars on the road. This hybrid has been through a lot since its introduction way back in 1997 (2001 for the U.S. market), with multiple variants coming and going over the years. While the Prius has evolved, one thing has remained the same – its “distinctive” styling. Sure, it gets exceptional fuel economy, and now there’s even a plug-in Prius, but that shape sure takes the “fun” out of functionality. The Prius deserves credit for being the first mass-produced and fully-successful hybrid. Now here’s the next challenge for Toyota: make it look appealing.
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