History will undoubtedly look back on the 2010s as a golden age for the automobile: Cars became more powerful while also becoming more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly. Design, too, hit a high point in many ways, as cars shed the anonymous blobbiness of the early 2000s and some real rock-star designers emerged. But every silver lining has a cloud, and we saw some horrifically ugly cars in the previous decade. Here are the ones we think are the worst offenders.
2010 GMC Terrain
What separates SUVs from a wagons? Or a good-looking cars from ugly cars? Apparently, it’s fenders. Back in 2010 you could draw no other conclusion from the plethora of black-plastic wheel-arch extensions that separated wagons from SUVs. That must have been GMC’s thinking when it developed the squared-off monstrosity known as the Terrain, which echoed the blocky shapes of the Sierra pickup in a compact SUV.
The idea backfired: The oversized cubic wheel housings served only to make the Terrain’s wheels look tiny and emphasize the fact they were shod with ordinary car tires. Color the wheels black and the Terrain would look like it was on shopping-cart castors. What GMC wound up with was an SUV that looked like it barely had the moxie to take on the average suburban driveway.
2010 Honda Accord Crosstour
Whoever said “Fortune favors the bold” apparently never saw this entry on our ugly cars list, the Honda Accord Crosstour. The idea had merit: Put an Accord hatchback on stilts, so as to combine car-like looks with SUV-like utility that would appeal to those who couldn’t bring themselves to join the herd and buy a box on wheels. But it was let down by the execution: The Accord Crosstour was hippy and oddly proportioned, and the half-hearted attempt at simulating butch body trim, with stamped-in fender arches and the oddball pattern on the rocker panels, made it look less like a great adventurer and more like a librarian in hip waders. Honda is not used to getting things wrong, but even it couldn’t ignore the evidence: Accord and CR-V sold upward of 300,000 each per year, but Crosstour sales barely hit 30,000 in its first year and dropped steadily thereafter. Honda gave up on the Crosstour for 2016, and the world has been a better place ever since.
2010 Porsche Panamera
The actual existence of a four-door production Porsche sedan was a new thing in 2010, and we didn’t expect Porsche to get it right on the first try—but we also didn’t expect it to get it quite this wrong.
Porsche’s idea was to make the Panamera look like a stretched 911; how unfortunate that it started with the flat-fendered 996, which the company apparently sawed in two, plugged in some rear doors, then docked the tail and called it good. Even Porsche boss Matthias Mueller admitted “the design could be better,” which was probably as close as he could get to saying, “Every time I see it, I want to claw my eyes out with a salad fork,” at least not without losing his stock options. Of course, Panamera sales took off like a rocket and, to paraphrase Liberace, Porsche cried all the way to the bank. To the company’s credit, the stunning second-gen Panamera of 2017 proved that a four-door Porsche doesn’t have to be unattractive.
2011 Infiniti QX56
When Infiniti finally announced a replacement for the first-gen QX56 (see our list of the Ugliest Cars of All Time), we figured whatever it had coming couldn’t possibly be any worse looking than what it already had. Infiniti sure proved us wrong with this entry onto the ugly cars checklist: The new QX56 did away with the original’s silly roofline, but it doubled down on the awful front end, making the hood even higher and the headlights even lower, and giving the QX56 a distinctly Neanderthal look. The timing was terrible, as fuel prices were on the rise and “Neanderthal” was exactly what a lot of people thought of QX56 buyers. It wasn’t until 2018 that Infiniti finally gave its big SUV (by then known as the QX80) the (literal) face-lift it needed, and hey, ho, what do you know—sales increased sharply.
2011 Nissan Juke
With parking lights disguised as headlights and headlights disguised as fog lights, the Juke bears an unmistakable resemblance to a frog, which turns out not to be an attribute people find desirable in an automobile. No one is muttering to themselves, “I liked the way the BMW drives, but I’m really disappointed that it doesn’t look like an amphibian.”
True story: I was crossing the border from Canada to New York in a Juke late one night, and the immigration officer asked me three questions.
“What is your citizenship?”
“Why does your car have a distributor plate?”
“It’s a media loaner and I’m a journalist.”
“Why is your car so f—ing ugly?”
I couldn’t come up with a satisfactory explanation, but he let me into the country, anyway.
2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
Some things are just a bad idea: Injecting yourself with bleach. David Spade’s movie career. “Cop Rock.” (Look it up if you don’t know). Those are pretty obvious, as was the idea of turning Nissan’s Murano SUV into a convertible. The idea was bad, the execution was bad, and the styling, well, it was just terrible, top up or top down. Worse yet, Nissan insisted on a paint palette full of metallic pastel colors and a white interior, which makes driving a Murano CrossCabriolet feel rather like riding around in Zsa Zsa Gabor’s wardrobe. There are ugly cars—and there are ugly cars.
2012 Mercedes SL
The result was that the sleek and elegant SL now looked awkward and frumpy. Funnily enough, the same styling cues worked well on the smaller SLK, but the SL looked like it was suffering from the sort of skin condition you have to pretend not to notice while making polite conversation with the afflicted. Mercifully, Mercedes toned down the SL’s front end in 2016.
2012 Nissan NV
You have to give Nissan a lot of credit here, because making an ugly van really is quite an accomplishment. Seriously, how hard is it to design a van? Draw a box, stick some wheels under it, and you’re done. It may not be gorgeous, but it won’t be awful—unless you follow Nissan’s lead.
The NV’s biggest visual flaw is the giant snout, which comes courtesy of sharing mechanical bits with the Titan pickup truck. Not only does the nose ruin the looks, it also ruins maneuverability, which is kind of the whole reason people buy vans in the first place. The low-roof models are dorky enough, but the high-roof versions look as if Nissan strapped a rowboat to the roof. Vans don’t need to be pretty, but they certainly don’t need to be this ugly.
2013 BMW i3
It’s no secret that most automakers aren’t happy with electric-vehicle mandates, as it’s difficult to build EVs at a profit. You have to admire BMW’s approach to this rather thorny problem: Produce a car so ugly that no one with properly-functioning retinas will want one. For those rare cases where a would-be buyer might not be sufficiently repelled by the outside, BMW continued the i3’s visual assault on the inside, with a dashboard that looks like the writing desk at one of those annoyingly trendy hipster hotels and two-tone seats inspired by the elbow patches on an English professor’s sport coat. With the public sufficiently deterred, BMW can plausibly claim that no one wants electric cars. The good news is that the i3 is 95-percent recyclable. We say the sooner, the better.
2013 Youabian Puma
Perhaps the champion of ugly cars. When we first set eyes on the Youabian Puma at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show, our first thought was that Dr. Seuss had come back to life and was very, very angry.
It turns out this 20-foot monstrosity is the brainchild of Dr. Kambiz Youabian, a cosmetic surgeon who spent much of early 2014 sending cease-and-desist letters to the publications that wrote what they really thought about the Puma’s styling. We can’t decide which is the worst way to view the Puma: From the side, where it looks like a cross between a Volvo C70 and The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine movie; from the front, where it looks like a Chevy Cobalt being eaten by a monster truck; or from the rear, which looks like the front of a completely different (but equally unattractive) car. As of 2015, Youabian had managed to erect four Pumas and sell at least three, though not all at the hoped-for selling price of $895,000.
2014 Citroën C4 Cactus
We expect strange cars from France, and particularly from Citroën, but really, the C4 Cactus is taking things just a bit too far. That stuff on the doors that looks like mutated bubble wrap really is mutated bubble wrap—air-filled rubber bladders meant to cushion blows from shopping carts, car doors, and superstitious passers-by attempting to beat the C4 back to whatever hell it came from.
But don’t let the “airbumps” (yes, seriously, that is what they are called) distract you from the rest of the C4’s oddities, including its face, which proves that if you sand down the front of a Nissan Juke, it doesn’t get any prettier. Apparently the C4 Cactus was too strange even for the French; in 2018 the company introduced a toned-down version with a conventional grille and the airbumps banished to the rocker panel—and it’s actually kind of cool.
2014 Fiat 500L
While the idea of a minivan-hatchback mashup is sound, the Fiat 500L seems to get it wrong in every possible way, and we mean that quite literally. It’s possible with most ugly cars to point to a place where things went awry, but in the 500L it’d be quicker to point out what’s right—at least it would be if there were anything to point out.
Other than making the wheels round and putting the roof on top rather than, say, putting it in a box and mailing it to Aruba, the designers seem to have screwed up everything. The proportions are awkward. The stance is all wrong. The headlights are too high. The bumpers are too low. The grille is too narrow and the fenders are too wide. The wheels are too small and the doors are too big. If this car were a cartoon, it’d have a deep voice and a string of bad luck, and always be saying things like, “Sorry, guys, I screwed up again.”
2016 Toyota Mirai
Apparently, Toyota envisions that humans of the future won’t have eyes. This is the point where we start making jokes about a car’s ugly details, but on the Mirai we’re stumped as to where we can even begin, because aside from the wheels and the door handles, there is literally no part of this car that isn’t repulsive. If visual beauty can be translated to music, the Mirai would sound like the noise you hear when you repeatedly bang your head on a piano keyboard.
2017 Honda Clarity
2019 Bentley Bentayga
Maybe “ugly” is too a strong word for the Bentayga—after all, it’s not like we haven’t seen the Rolls-Royce Cullinan. But the Bentayga is the exact opposite of what we expect from a Bentley: It isn’t stately. It isn’t unique. It isn’t sexy. It isn’t elegant. It isn’t graceful. It isn’t racy. It isn’t subtle. On second thought, maybe ugly isn’t too strong a word for the Bentayga.
2019 Chevrolet Camaro SS
If you are familiar with the auto industry, you probably know that it takes at least two or three years to design a car—so when a company debuts a new look and then changes it a year later, that means it knew the car was a turkey well before the public ever saw it.
Such is the case with the 2019 Chevrolet Camaro SS, which Chevrolet managed to ruin by sticking a black crossbar with a big chrome bow-tie between the upper and lower grilles. In lighter colors, the Camaro looked as if it had one of those obnoxious handlebar moustaches. It seems amazing that one badly chosen styling cue could do so much visual damage, but there you are. The backlash, as GM must have anticipated, was severe, and sales, already on a downward trend, took a stomach-lurching dip. Chevrolet rushed a re-revised 2020 Camaro SS with a body-colored crossbar. Thank goodness.