Auto/Economy
7:53 pm
Wed December 22, 2010

The critics pick the "ugliest cars of the decade"

The auto analysts have weighed in and the car that tops the list (all together now)... The Pontiac Aztek!

Former Car & Driver editor Csaba Csere says of the Aztec:

If you have ever heard that saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee, the Aztek is the application of that concept to a car.

From everything I'm reading, the critics say this car is an example of a lack of leadership. A car designed by many that aimed to please everyone. But it ended up pleasing no one. Poor sales led GM to pull the plug on the Aztek in 2005.

Andrew Dederer defended the Aztek in the Truth About Cars saying:

So who exactly gets the blame for this so-called fiasco? Again, there's no denying that the engineers didn’t make it pretty, but they made it well. The UAW also gets a pass; GM built the Aztek (and Buick Rendezvous) in Mexico’s Ramos Arizpe plant. No, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of GM's bean counters. That’s because the Aztek’s biggest problem wasn’t its confused looks (though they didn’t help). It was price.

After the Aztek, Csere (sounds like Cheddah) had two more picks. These didn't make the list created by our Facebook friends:

The International CXT:

Essentially a semi tractor dressed up as a giant civilian pickup, for those who think they need a vehicle that weighs twice as much as a Hummer and have about $100 grand to waste.

The BMW X6:

Take an SUV and cross it with a sports car to combine the worst qualities of each, lots of weight and a high center of gravity to compromise performance, and a swoopy roofline to reduce interior space.

Michelle Krebs of Edmunds.com agreed with several of the picks that made the Facebook list of seven. Yes, yes, the Aztek, but she also chose the Honda Element saying:

Practical but looks like it wears diapers with the rubber cladding surrounding the bottom; turns out consumers didn't go for it either; thus Honda pulled the plug on it. 

Krebs' other picks:

  • The Isuzu Vehicross, "explains why Isuzu no longer sells vehicles in the U.S."
  • The Honda Cross Tour, "an ugly alternative to the not-terribly-attractive-either Toyota Venza."
  • And "much of the Acura line of late -- just ugly."

Stephanie Brinley is an auto analyst with EMC Strategic Communications. She also picked a car singled out by one of our Facebook friends. Cliff M. called out the Subaru Baja. Brinley had an interesting experience while test-driving the Baja:

 One of the few press cars I drove this year in which a passing motorist actually laughed at me while driving.  Being comfortable in my automotive enthusiasm, and knowing the car was going away, I laughed right back.  Nice concept and good Subaru personality, but not pretty.  

Tracy Samilton, Michigan Radio's automotive analyst, chimed in as well:

Mark, so far no one has nominated the Ford Taurus station wagon.  So I will.  I'm talking about old, bad Taurus, not the newer Taurus X SUV, which really wasn't that ugly. The old Taurus wagon reminds me of one of those creepy looking wasps you see crawling on the ground sometimes. The ones with the huge rear ends. Makes me wince every time I see this wagon on the road.  Luckily, there aren't that many of them.  Ford's decision to wipe the design slate clean for the new Taurus design was clearly the right one.

So what makes us like a car, or dislike a car?

It turns out a lot of us look at a car and look for human characteristics - the headlights being the eyes, the lines of the car forming eyebrows. A common condition known as pareidolia. The same condition that allows people to see the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast.

Jeremy Hsu wrote a piece about this for LiveScience. Hsu says researchers are working to "better understand what goes on in the brain when people see faces in objects... as well as help automakers design more appealing cars."

In the article, Truls Thorstensen, head of EFS Consulting Vienna says: 

"When investing in a new passenger car, you're talking about billions. If you get the wrong styling, you get problems." 

Hsu wrote about a small study that showed people preferred cars that "rated highest on 'power' traits" - angled headlights, low and wide bodies, and larger air intakes.

Could be why people hated the Aztek so much, and why they recoil when they look at the Fiat Multiplex - there's not enough strong human traits they can identify with.