Culturally we're trained to accept all ideas as equal, that it's wrong to label any idea as less valid than another. But if history (particularly automotive history) teaches us anything, it's that some ideas are clearly better than others. What we have here, then, are some genuinely bad ideas manifested in four-wheeled nightmares.
These are cars on which some automakers may just be crazy enough to gamble, because they can be built. Some may even already exist. Or they might still be peanuts in the mind of a genuinely unbalanced product planner. But they all have one thing in common: incorporation of at least one miserable idea currently on the market.Just call us countercultural.
Acura's deft ability to blur its brand positioning between bourgeois and luxury has been put into question with the forthcoming Acura NSX. An electrified supercar on the roster looks good, but it also poses a risk of clearly defining the Acura brand on a level higher than it seems to want.
To restore the balance of ambivalence, Acura turns to Honda once again to create its smallest and least expensive model. The Acura VEX, much like the Civic-based ILX, repackages the space-efficient Honda Fit into a mildly more upscale form, powered by a 1.5-liter inline-4 massaged to 125 horsepower.
Though the Fit already offers many amenities, the VEX adds a premium demeanor with xenon headlights, a multiview rear camera, more sound insulation and strategic Acura badging throughout the cabin.
As it's set at a starting price of just $23,900 (which doesn't include the xenons or the rear camera), buyers who might have settled for a lowly Honda Accord or CR-V can now "step up" to an Acura.
Aston Martin DB-150
Ever hear of the Aston Martin Cygnet? If not, it's probably because they're sold in limited numbers and never on U.S. soil. The folks in Gaydon, England, have found a way to take what are essentially 90 percent Scion iQ city cars, and sell them for nearly $50,000 a pop.
With its eyes on a bigger market share, Aston Martin has taken the best-selling vehicle in America (the Ford F-150) and applied the same magical Cygnet formula. The Aston Martin DB-150 preserves much of the existing Ford mechanicals but receives a proper aesthetic overhaul replete with Aston's signature grille and an abundant use of LEDs. The interior also undergoes a labor-intensive transformation involving copious amounts of quilted leather, Alcantara and hand-laid carbon-fiber.
Buyers who currently own a Cygnet can drive directly into the bed of their new DB-150 via an optional ramp fashioned entirely of titanium. And for an extra $10K, the Engine Handler package will have an Aston-certified master engine builder take apart and reassemble a Ford F-150 engine of your choosing, after which the mill will feature a plaque bearing his name.
Based off the Cygnet premium (three times the cost of a Scion iQ), the DB-150 provides padding to Aston's pockets at $80,000 apiece. Brilliant.
From the purveyors of really fast, expensive, compellingly red things, comes a new offering that feels somewhat less focused.
Realizing its most family-friendly offering is a 2+2, shoe-shaped coupe priced at more than $300,000, the Maranello collective decided it is time to expand the brand and offer something to those in a lesser tax bracket.
The LaFamilia is based on an existing people mover from the Fiat family called the Dodge Grand Caravan. Here it's undergone extensive reconstructive surgery to resemble something less manic. Ferrari decided to repurpose the existing 283-hp 3.6-liter V6, pairing it with its latest HY-KERS hybrid system. This combo boosts output to a Sienna-spanking 367 hp as rumors report 0-62-mph acceleration runs cracking the low 5-second range.
Ford Mustang III
The Ford Pinto-based Mustang II was spawned in the midst of the oil crisis of '73, answering a call for smaller and more efficient vehicles. Fast-forward to today, and erratic fuel prices and increasingly stringent government CAFE standards threaten to beat the fun out of our four-wheeled friends for good.
A taste of what's to come begins with the new Ford Mustang III. Yes, it still looks the part, but beneath its bulging hood and aggressive Cobra Appearance package sits a 39-mpg-capable, Ford Fiesta-sourced 1.6-liter engine and six-speed automatic PowerShift transaxle.
Ford saved redesign dollars by leaving the solid rear axle in place, and through excellent marketing, is spinning it as a no-cost "Rear Drive Look" feature to entice the more image-conscious buyer. This pony car may kick with the fury of only 120 horses, but remember the Mustang II came originally armed with just 88 of them. We should be so grateful.
Infiniti QX60 Hybrid CrossCabriolet
For most of its life, the Infiniti QX has mingled with the mildly awkward-looking-SUV crowd. Then, in a 2010 redesign, it created its own space by trying to impersonate a manatee. This year it finally takes a turn for the better.
The new QX60 Hybrid is the fortunate clone of the more handsome JX, though it plowed straight on into another ugly tree with this CrossCabriolet variant. Following a blueprint permanently burned into our brains by the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, the QX60 trades its upper half and two-thirds of its cargo volume for a 300-pound canvas-skinned articulating roof. Ingress and egress go from bad to wretched and the conversion to a topless SUV configuration is something only Mother Nissan can love.
This CrossCabriolet's one redeeming quality is its 26 mpg combined rating, which is afforded by its supercharged hybrid four-cylinder powertrain, continuously variable transmission and exclusive front-drive layout. A three-row hybrid convertible SUV? It's the very definition of absurd.
If you recall anything automotive from the late '50s through the '80s then you probably remember car-based pickup trucks like the Chevy El Camino and Ford Ranchero. Possibly you've forgotten the Dodge Rampage, and you're better off for it.
The Jeep Granchero is Chrysler's second attempt at what went awfully wrong the first time. Starting with the latest Mako Shark-faced Jeep Cherokee model, everything aft of the front seats is scooped out. This forms a bed space for carrying everyday items like bags of mulch, a twin-size mattress, or more realistically, a large load of nothing.
Using the Cherokee's existing four-wheel-drive layout, the Granchero is already leaps and bounds better than its front-drive predecessor. Nevertheless, reinforcements to its roof structure return most of the weight it attempted to shed in its metamorphosis, while its new trucklike silhouette adversely affects fuel economy.
The Granchero has the potential to satisfy the needs of a handful of Jeep customers. But it also does something even more crucial for Chrysler: It makes the Cherokee appear less hideous.
Mini looks to recapture the customers Volkswagen abandoned when it went in the direction of the New "Man" Beetle. The all-new Countrywoman models were developed from the ground up, and reports say they took twice as long to design as the Countryman.
The Countrywoman line includes more visually attractive engines that are both smoother and operate with more aural delicacy than the Countryman. Clutch take-up is smoother and power, though equal, is far more refined in its delivery.
Some unique features include the Countrywoman navigation system that comes with a Conversation and Mood Recognition feature. The CMR software processes cues from words and tone during voice commands and responds with things like "You sound exhausted, love. Reroute to the nearest Starbucks?" Also built in is a selection of configurable voices from George Clooney to Colin Farrell. Rumor has it the new system is also capable of multitasking.
Organic Lavender, Red Velvet and Louis Vuitton are a few exterior paint examples and the interior can be dressed in everything from Hello Kitty Cashmere to yoga mat. The options and accessories available to the Countrywoman are the most extensive the car industry has seen...and that's not even counting the 37 types of acrylic flower vases.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution XI Hybrid Diesel
We have nothing against progress, but Mitsubishi's Lancer Evolution has a legacy to uphold. And as we've learned from Michael Schumacher, some comebacks are better left to speculation.
The Evo became more advanced and capable over the years but it also gained weight and slowly lost its hard edge. And though it continues its practice of out-drinking nearly every four-cylinder vehicle on the market, its specific output is about as high as they get.
Hybridization, however, is the final straw. Following the vision laid out by MMC President Osamu Masuko, the Evolution XI comes powered by a diesel-electric powertrain that generates enough torque to haul a fifth-wheel trailer, but runs out of breath above 4,000 rpm. And though the new Super All-Wheel Control torque-vectoring motors, lithium battery stack and robust diesel drivetrain conspire to outweigh a 3,800-pound Nissan GT-R, you can also be sure they'll command a commensurately heavier price tag.
Mitsubishi, build this car if you must, but spare its dignity. Do not call it an Evo.
When it first arrived on U.S. soil, Smart was confident its Fortwo had the micro-sized fuel-sipper market cornered. But this two-seat disappointment was outwitted in every arena by the Scion iQ and is now drowning in a flood of relevant 40-highway-mpg subcompacts offering real cargo space.
Smart's potential solution? Downsizing. The Forone model improves on the Fortwo's power-to-weight ratio and relatively meager fuel economy by eliminating its passenger seat and trunk area. The result is solitary confinement-like intimacy.
The Forone's shortened wheelbase and shoulder-width track necessitates a new Electronic Crosswind Mitigation feature. This technology is claimed to be effective against wind currents of larger vehicles heading in an opposing direction.
Although the Forone carries over the existing 1.0-liter engine and the world's slowest-shifting five-speed auto-manual transmission, it manages to eke out an additional 2 mpg on the highway: just enough to buy its way into the 40-mpg club.
Toyota Prius FU
From the moment it came into existence the Toyota Prius had a target on its back, dodging the flaming arrows of its competition's fuel economy claims. In response to these repeated affronts, and to put a permanent end to the debate, Toyota's Prius FU is the mother of all hybrid electric vehicles.
The Prius Fuel Unlimited (FU in shorthand) utilizes an Atkinson-cycle 1.3-liter four-cylinder based off the Scion iQ's engine. Dispensing of its largest electrical loads means the FU omits creature comforts like A/C, a multimedia/navigation system, power steering and headlights. This makes night commutes somewhat problematic, but Toyota sees it as incentive to drive during times when free energy is most abundantly absorbed by the solar-paneled roof.
Additionally, the Prius FU features windows that automatically roll up and stay up above speeds greater than 5 mph to reduce aerodynamic drag. And braking is completely regenerative, exploiting kinetic energy recovery to the fullest and eliminating the need for weighty mechanical hardware.
Early test figures put acceleration from zero to 60 mph around a minute, 35 seconds, but it matters little when you're getting close to 100 mpg. In. Your. Face.
For cars we want to see, check out our list of "Cars We Wish Automakers Would Build."