So last year, I ripped into the 3rd generation Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable a bit for being a very ugly looking car. But that wasn’t the only car that was beaten with the ugly stick, oh lord no. Every decade has its share of automotive embarrassments, and the 90s was no different. Take a look at the cars that must have been designed by someone on a crack/crystal meth cocktail, and marvel at as to why these automakers thought releasing these cars onto the general public was a good idea.
#10: BMW M Coupe (E36) - The problem I see with this version of the Z3 is that the car was designed as a convertible, and by closing the roof off entirely and making the car a shooting brake (wagon, for those who don’t know what that means), it just doesn’t look so hot. I never really liked this variant of the Z3, it just doesn’t look right. Sometimes you can go crazy like Ferrari with the FF, and make a shooting brake for the hell of it, but at least on Ferrari’s part, it was built from the ground up, and not modified like what BMW did here. Surprisingly, it’s more effective with the Z4, but the overall design of the car supports that kind of design change.
#9: Last Generation Chrysler New Yorker – The whole issue I have with this car is that it looks like one unwieldy, massive beast. The car is one of the biggest sedans made, and its size alone makes it look sort of ugly. Yes, this was their flagship car, but the overall design seemed incredibly generic, and nothing about the car strikes as luxurious. If being a flagship car means creating the biggest damn thing on four wheels, Chrysler succeeded. This may as well have been a SUV, and probably got the same gas mileage as well. Maybe there are some out there who can defend this one, but I think it’s just too much car, and the overall design just doesn’t back up the cost this car originally commanded.
#8: Volkswagen New Beetle – VW decided to bring back the Beetle in 1998, but it wasn’t just called the Beetle, no. It was the NEW Beetle, and for some reason was referred to that as years. This is also the car you should thank for starting the retro design craze, leading us to the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Chevrolet SSR and HHR and the god awful Ford Thunderbird redesign. Unless you’re female, the NEW Beetle probably isn’t going to wow you over. The design is just too round, curvy, and yes, pretty girly. If the VW New Beetle was meant to cater to the female demographic (and with a flower holder on the dash, yeah, they nailed that), then the Audi TT was the male version of the New Beetle. The TT shares some similar design cues with the New Beetle, but they’re squashed out and more appealing to form a desirable sport coupe.
#7: Chevrolet Lumina/Pontiac TransPort/Oldsmobile Silhouette – This is the van otherwise known as the “dustbuster”. Minivans never really looked that great, at least until the mid-2000s when they were marketed as something more desirable to drive over a crossover. Most minivans at the time had a fairly common look (like the Dodge Caravan, Ford Aerostar and Chevrolet Astrovan), but this design was just odd. I don’t know why the front end has a sharp “wedge”; it certainly couldn’t have been for aerodynamic reasons. It just made the van look stranger than it had to, and probably embarrassing for the kid being hauled around in one of those. Also, why did Chevy decide to give the van the exact same name as the sedan it produced? That’s like Ford deciding to rename the Fusion the F-150.
#6: 1st Generation Toyota Previa – Another unattractive minivan, this time from Toyota. If the GM minivans of the time like dustbusters, then Toyota kind of nailed the “let’s make the car look like a penis” design pretty well. While the Toyota van may have a better build quality than the previously mentioned GM vans, this is another car that you probably wouldn’t want to be in the backseat of as a kid. I’m not sure why Toyota opted for a very round look for the van, especially when you consider the rest of their cars were still boxy looking when the Previa came out.
#5: 4th Generation Hyundai Sonata – There was once a time where Hyundais were just a bare-bones economy car that may actually make it to 100,000 miles, if you were lucky. When Hyundai first introduced its vehicles, they were boxy and incredibly generic. Sure, they tried to get their cars to look somewhat like a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord, but the build quality wasn’t there. In the mid-90s, the people at Hyundai thought it might be nice to give the Sonata some curves, but much like Ford with the Taurus, the result was incredibly undesirable. The front end is squat, with a very unattractive grid-like grill. It also has the same kind of bug-eye lights that would appear on the Subaru Impreza a couple years down the road. The back end is equally unattractive, looking like a lot like a Chevy Lumina (the sedan version). Thank god Hyundai has better design teams now, making some of the best looking vehicles on the road today (and that’s my opinion, I ain’t getting a kickback from Hyundai from that one!).
#4: Oldsmobile Aurora – You couldn’t blame the designers over at Oldsmobile for trying to design a car for a younger market. For decades, Olds was known more of a, well, “old people’s” car. In the 90s, the carmaker tried to shake off that image by creating cars like the Aurora. While the interior and ride may be nice, the initial design is just ugly on the back end. Sporting a full “end to end” taillight and bizarre design cues on the rear, Olds tried to go for a futuristic look, but just created something ugly. I shake my head when I see one of these pass by, because the potential was there for Olds. They eventually got better with the car in the next generation by simplifying the back end. While Olds had a much more attractive lineup in the early 2000s (especially with the Intrigue), GM shut down the automaker in 2004.
#3: 3rd Generation Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable – Yep, I’m still going to beat this dead horse. While it doesn’t secure the top spot of this list, it’s still one frickin ugly car. I don’t understand the reason behind Ford designing the car as one big bubble, but from front to back; this is just one ugly car. There is just no angle where this car would be flattering. To be fair, many auto makers like Buick and Oldsmobile were making the edges of their cars rounder, but where the round look is conservative in something like the Buick Century or Regal, Ford just went crazy with the bubble look. It makes the Hyundai Sonata above look much more attractive in comparison. But, Ford did manage to sell a lot of these despite the look, and at least they fixed the design big time in the next generation. Luckily, modern Ford vehicles look way more attractive than their late 90s designs. I wouldn’t mind having that new Fusion, it’s as close to owning an Aston Martin as I could get.
#2: Fiat Mutlipla (1st Generation MPV) – If you thought the Pontiac Aztek was an unholy creation (which doesn’t qualify for this list, since it came out after 2000), the Italians over at Fiat created something only Homer Simpson could love. Where do you begin with this thing? The car looks like it has two layers! Why did Fiat think there was a need to have headlights that far up on the front end of the car? It’s one of the most bizarre looking creations of this decade for sure. But the craziness doesn’t stop once you go inside the car.
GM EV1- I never understood why electric vehicles are designed so horribly. Look at the Nissan Leaf, which looks like it melted in the sun. To be fair, there is the rare exception where an electric car doesn’t look atrocious, like the Tesla Roadster. One of the first electric vehicles to be manufactured to consumers was the GM EV1. While the car may be ahead of its time back then, and customers warmed to the idea of using an electric car, GM killed it off claiming it was unprofitable. Also, it was hard to find recharging stations back then, and there wasn’t anything like the smartphones and in-dash GPS systems to hunt them down like we have today. But that’s all aside the point. It’s all about the design of the car, and this is probably the UGLIEST car in terms of design for the 90s. GM basically took a Saturn, and rounded the edges further, and covered the back wheels. I’m not sure what the deal is with covering the back wheels (the Honda Insight did that as well), but looking at the electric cars now, like the Leaf, Volt and so on, the back wheels aren’t covered. Maybe GM thought this “car of the future” should look futuristic, but this is one hot mess of engineering.