It’s hard to make a really handsome SUV, but making a really ugly one is apparently pretty damn easy. Here are fifteen of the ugliest SUVs we’ve had the misfortune of casting our eyes upon.
Kia Sportage (2017-present)
Kia has been on a roll, styling-wise, for the last decade and a half, ever since it hired Audi alumnus Peter Schreyer as design chief. He’s done an amazing job of making Kia cars and SUVs look handsome and upscale. The Kia Sportage illustrates why Schreyer must never, ever, ever be allowed to go on vacation.
The Sportage is Kia’s apparent take on the faux-headlights-atop-the-fenders school of design (something with which corporate sibling Hyundai does a much better job). Here’s the problem: The idea is to pretend the headlights are atop the fenders and not actually put them there. When you do the latter, and combine it with a bulging body and a short hood, you get a car that looks like a pufferfish. Or like a Ram Promaster. Which looks like a pufferfish.
Jeep Commander (2006-2010)
The Commander was introduced at a time when Jeep had long since perfected its trademark round-headlight-and-seven-slots façade. We’re not sure what prompted the decision to deviate from the formula, but we are sure that the results were a visual disaster. Perhaps Jeep was trying to capture some of the squared-off swagger of the Hummer H2. Unfortunately all the Commander managed to capture was the look of those Styrofoam blocks used to pack flat-screen televisions.
The front fascia isn’t the Commander’s only styling misstep. We can’t forget (nor forgive) its oddly-proportioned cabin, which makes it look a bit like an XJ Cherokee converted to a Popemobile. Jeep is a brand that made home runs out of even pitiful efforts like the first-gen Patriot and Compass, but the Commander was a foul ball from the get-go.
Subaru B9 Tribeca (2006-2007)
The story behind the B9 Tribeca’s garish grille is as unfortunate as its design: Subaru was attempting to recall Japan’s aviation heritage, apparently not thinking about what such associations might raise in the mind of the typical American buyer. Let’s just say it was marketing suicide.
But even if you can get past the grille—and, for the sighted, that’s not easy—the rest of the B9 Tribeca is no better. It’s a minivan-like snoozer that fails to impart the sense of rugged go-anywhere adventure that SUV styling is supposed to broadcast. Subaru made several clumsy attempts to fix the Tribeca’s styling before giving up entirely on its big-ish SUV in 2014. Five years later Subaru tried again and got it right with the Ascent.
Jeep Cherokee (2014-2018)
They say that if you live with pain long enough, you’ll eventually stop noticing it, and much the same has happened with the Jeep Cherokee: After six years on the market, we’ve come to accept the horror of its hideous front end as part of day-to-day life in these troubled times. But let’s not forget just how much controversy the Jeep generated when it first came out, with its squinty little headlights-that-weren’t-headlights and its protruding, fanged grille that made it look like a vampire desperately in need of an orthodontist.
The oddball thing about the Cherokee is that the front end is so ugly that few have taken the time to comment on the back end. The Cherokee’s tail lights are shoved right up into the rear window, leaving the unadorned tailgate looking like a sheet metal Siberia. It was as if the stylists simply forgot to design the back end of the Cherokee, and that makes us wish they had forgotten the rest of the car, too. Jeep finally restyled the Cherokee for the 2019 model year, and with its face fixed and its rump refined, sales soared.
Infiniti QX56 (2004-2010)
When the Infiniti QX56 appeared, we couldn’t quite believe our eyes. Parent company Nissan had produced plenty of odd-looking cars, but the QX56 took ugly to a new level, and we still marvel at this optical crime scene. The half-height headlights fitted to full-height front fenders give it an oddly simian look, and its bizarre roofline—arched over the passenger compartment, flat over the cargo area—make the QX56 look like it was Frankensteined together from two completely different SUVs.
The QX56 arrived just before fuel prices spiked and the economy took a nosedive, and sales never achieved exit velocity. Infiniti may have blamed this on economic conditions, but in retrospect the reasons are pretty obvious: The wealthy have better taste (or at least better eyesight) than Infiniti gave them credit for.
Infiniti QX56 (2011-2017)
Infiniti must have been sick and tired of everyone saying the QX56 was the ugliest luxury SUV on the market, so its designers decided to prove everyone wrong by making its successor even worse. They raised and rounded the hood, lowered the grille, and doubled down on the original QX56’s Neandethal front end.
And then came the coup de gratuitous: A set of chrome portholes on the fenders, which bear a striking resemblance to the stick-on chrome-plastic affairs one usually buys from the discount rack at AutoZone after consuming one more beer than is required to sufficiently inhibit one’s judgement. Needless to say, this had no positive effect on sales whatsoever. Thankfully, Infiniti finally suspended the horror with the introduction of the much-better-looking 2018 QX80.
Hyundai Santa Fe (2001-2006)
Here’s our theory on why the first-gen Santa Fe is so silly looking: Toy Story 2 was just out, and Hyundai figured if its new SUV looked like it was designed by Fisher-Price, it might end up in the next movie. Hyundai produced an SUV that did indeed look like something Mr. Potato Head would drive. Too bad Hollywood doesn’t work that way.
To be entirely fair to Hyundai, 2001 was a time when lousy car design was South Korea’s national pastime. The one advantage to the Santa Fe’s seemingly random arrangement of bumps, bulges, and creases was that it worked like a patterned rug that hides stains: Someone could side-swipe your Santa Fe and no one would ever know.
Buick Rendezvous (2002-2007)
They say the camel is a horse designed by committee, and we say the Buick Rendezvous is an SUV designed by a committee of camels. We can’t quite understand why anyone would inflict those gawky-eyed headlights and awkward oval grille on any vehicle, but what really baffles us is the giant diagonal line on the D-pillar that separates the sheetmetal from the rearmost side windows. And that’s just the view from the front—viewed from the back, the Rendezvous is even worse.
The overall effect is that the Rendezvous looks rather like its target buyer, which we presume was a mid-level engineer in his early 40s with the beginnings of a comb-over, a pocket protector, and an impressive collection of outdated ties kept on an electric rack in a closet of the house he shares with his mother. Happily, the Rendezvous was a loser SUV from a loser brand, so few were sold and we rarely have to look at it.
Nissan Juke (2011-2017)
Like the Cube, Nissan wanted this compact crossover to look different—and it was different, all right. You know what else is different? Piercing your toes. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. The Juke was an early adopter of the parking-lights-as-headlights design motif, but all Nissan accomplished was to make the Juke look like a cross between a toad and the insects on which it might dine.
So much scorn was heaped upon its frog-like façade that little was left over for the rest of it, and that’s just too bad, because the Juke’s visual sins are many. Chief among them are front and back doors that look like they came from two different vehicles and a D-pillar that arches at an angle ordinarily associated with spinal disease. Nissan killed off the Joke—sorry, Juke—here in America after 2017, but continued to build it, with no changes, in other markets. Is there any doubt Carlos Ghosn is a criminal?
Jeep Compass (2007-2016)
Ugly as it is, we have to admire the honesty of the first-generation Compass’ design: It was a pitiful Jeep, and looked every inch the part. If cars could snivel, this one would. Unlike its macho siblings loudly proclaiming their mettle and might, the Compass whispers “please don’t take my lunch money” every time you reach for the door handle.
Unlike several vehicles on this list, the Compass really was as terrible as it looked. A remnant of Chrysler’s own malaise era, the entry-level Patriot had a cheap-crappy-plastic interior, a noisy powertrain, and inept chassis tuning. It was a Jeep for people who couldn’t afford a Jeep, and it seemed to be designed and engineered to remind its buyers of their parsimony. Amazingly, Jeep tortured the public with this rolling eyesore for nearly ten years before replacing it with something much better.
Rolls-Royce Cullinan (2018-Present)
It’s a little hard to talk about just how unpleasant the Cullinan is, because three years after its introduction, we’re still in shock. How could the greatest luxury car manufacturer the world has ever known produce such a horrendously unsettling SUV? The Cullinan looks as if the Rolls design team took every trademark styling cue from the marque’s cars—waterfall grille, squinty headlights, suicide doors—and grafted them onto a couple of old whisky crates.
The effect is unsettling, as the Cullinan looks rather like a London taxi with a very unfortunate moustache. It is, perhaps, the one vehicle that our buddies at Mansory can’t even ruin, because really, how do you make the Cullinan look any worse than it already does? There was a time when the arrival of a Rolls-Royce prompted onlookers to bow to the royalty within. The Cullinan prompts them to double over with laughter.
Suzuki X90 (1996-1998)
The X-90 wasn’t cute. It wasn’t stylish. It wasn’t anything—an anonymous blob with some lights and a basket handle grafted on. With no back seat and virtually no off-road ability, the X-90 was a sport utility vehicle devoid of either sport or utility. As a vehicle, the Suzuki X-90 was insipid and pointless, and it totally looked the part.
SsangYong Korando (1996-2006)
When we look at Korean cars of the 1990s, we wonder if South Korea thought hideous design was the next Olympic sport—and if so there’s no question that SsangYong would bring home the gold. The Korando isn’t even SsangYong’s most visually offensive vehicle, but our lawyers dictated that we choose it. Apparently, there’s some question of liability if our article prompts you to vomit on your screen.
Our first guess as to how this atrocity was committed was that the Korando’s clay model was involved in an industrial accident with a taffy puller, but it turns out that SsangYong was merely looking to build a two-door on the platform of the longer Musso. So instead of stretching the cabin, which would open up some much-needed back-seat room, the designers stretched the nose. Hey, that makes perfect sense to us—but only because we’re on really strong pain meds at the moment.
Glenfrome Facet (1983)
What boggles the mind, more than the sheer atrocity of the Glenfrome Facet, is the question: Why? Why would anyone take a perfectly good Range Rover—yes, believe it or not, that was the starting point for this assault on your optic nerves—and turn it into this?
The answer can be found in that old saw about fools and money. Glenfrome was an English crime syndicate that specialized in abusing Range Rovers, and it pitched the Facet as an all-terrain sport coupe, which is a little like pitching gangrene as a mild skin irritation. The Facet was sold to rich (and presumably myopic) jetset-types for £55,000, which is about $245,000 in today’s dollars. But taking one of the most enduring SUV designs and turning it into something that looks like it was drawn by an Army-obsessed nine-year-old? That’s priceless.
Pontiac Aztek (2001-2005)
The Pontiac Aztek is, to paraphrase Pulitzer-winning automotive writer Dan Neil, the Mona Lisa of ugly SUVs. It is a design that is nearly perfect in its atrocity: Lousy proportions, awkward lines, and abominable details. From its misshapen headlights to its undersized wheels to its bizarre burrowing-into-the-ground stance, no SUV fails to please the eye quite as thoroughly as the Aztek. People groaned when it rolled onto the floor at the 2000 Detroit auto show and they haven’t stopped since.
The irony here is that beneath that hideous skin, the Aztek was an incredibly useful vehicle. It was an early example of a crossover SUV derived not from a truck but from a minivan, a formula that would yield two decades of success for Honda’s Pilot. The Aztek had a roomy interior, lots of nifty accessories (like an optional tent!), and it wasn’t even terrible to drive. Sadly, the Aztek was so badly disfigured that it would be remembered not for its utility, but for being the ugliest SUV ever made.