Some cars you just can't unsee again.
Sometimes you see a car and go, "Ugh, I don't like that," but you see why others might and then forget about it and move on with your day. Occasionally, you'll see a car that evokes a definite and negative reaction, then go about your day wondering why someone would have paid money to be inside that car.
Then, once in a while, you'll see a car so ugly you wonder how people got paid to make it look that way and how it reached the point where it ended up on a dealer's forecourt. Those are the special cars that defy the odds, get built, get sold, make it onto the roads, and become a part of automotive history. Some are even being sold today.
The 1990s saw a more smooth and aerodynamic approach to car design, but Ford took that long past the point of diminishing returns with the late 90s Taurus. Ovals were the theme and, man, did the design team deliver. Unfortunately, the end result is something quite depressing to look at. Road and Track even described the late 90s Taurus as, "the saddest car ever made.”
A few good things have come out of the auto industry’s penchent for retro styling. The Chevrolet SSR, upon reflection, is not one of them and should have stayed as a concept. You can see what the designers were going for and, at first glance, it’s kind of cool. But, the lack of cohesion makes the SSR uncomfortable to look at for too long, and once your eye notices the tiny side-mirrors and the long awkward whatever that is across the front, you then start to wonder why someone tried to merge a truck and a sports car in the first place.
Minivans have never been cool, but that hasn’t stopped manufacturers trying to force the issue. Pontiac’s attempt to sport up the minivan looks like something that should have a handle on the back so you can use it to vacuum your seats. Pontiac actually described the Trans Sport as the "space vehicle of the 90s.” We think of it more as a portly middle-aged dad that suddenly decided he should wear all the latest training gear to the gym.
If you think Suzuki’s tiny two-seater 4x4 compact coupe SUV looks quite absurd, then you’re not alone. If you’re of a certain age and think it looks familiar, just imagine one with a giant Red Bull can on the back. The X-90 debuted in 1993 at the Tokyo Motor Show to a mixed response, the most generous being that it looked "unique.” To us, the X-90 looks like a glorified roller skate and lasted just two years in production with only 7,205 being imported to the U.S.
The Nissan Juke has taken quite a bashing from both the press and enthusiasts over the years for its looks, but still sold well until its retirement in 2017. Nissan even embraced the oddball design of the 2011 Juke and made the startled frog concept even weirder for its 2014 refresh. We don’t claim to like the looks of the Juke, but poured one out for it as we appreciate the fact Nissan tried to do something creative and fun and then doubled down on it.
You couldn’t put together a list of ugly cars without mentioning the automotive internet’s whipping boy. The Aztek was actually ahead of its time as an SUV. It was rugged, functional, fine to drive, but just so damn ugly. It really is amazing that somebody signed off on the design of the body. Car and Driver went as far to point out that one of lows of the Aztek is that it "Does not include a personal disguise for when you're driving in crowded areas."
The Nissan S-Cargo lasted just two years of manufacture in Japan from 1989 to 1991. The tiny van has a 75-horsepower engine, and is perfect for a tightly packed city as well as the wallet. Unfortunately, the S-Cargo also looks like a character that didn’t make the cut for a Pixar Cars movie because it was too cartoony.
Ford wasn’t the only major manufacturer dropping a major clanger in the 1990s. Chrysler decided to bring back the statuesque Imperial name, and then put it on something that wasn’t forgettable, but something everyone deliberately forgot. What Chrysler was aiming for was a new car to appeal to its aging customers with classic style and ride comfort. Instead, they delivered an absurd looking, badly made, and horribly underpowered insult to the Chrysler Imperial name.
When it comes to modern monstrosities, the Fiat Multipla is up there with the worst. It was an inventive compact MPV that featured two rows of three seats but looked like a creepy robot duck. Comically, the Multipla was displayed in 1999 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as an example of automobiles for the next century. It did get a redesign to make it more palatable, and that must surely have helped the Multipla stay in production all the way to 2013.