It's easy to ignore all the cars that are bland, blah, boring, banal and blasé. But the ugly ones, the ones that pollute your day with their visual aggression; the ones that defy rational explanation; the ones that bring up a lump of half-digested food in your throat; they demand that attention be paid to them. Maybe that's better than being ignored, but no, it really isn't.
Picking the 10 most wretched dogs from among 2011's litter of production puppies was distressingly easy. In fact, the list grew to 15 without much effort among the Inside Line brain trust. It was much harder to come up with the 10 best looking cars of 2011. So that's when we decided to limit each manufacturer to just one entry in this list of artistic disrepute. After all, it would have been cruel to list all the Nissans.
Of course all opinions are subjective. Except, of course, our opinions. They're always objectively correct.
So here are our ugly 10 — or 12 if you're paying attention.
For some reason Chevrolet, Honda and Toyota, all of which have produced beautiful and distinct cars of their own, have all decided that a high-tech hybrid should be shaped like a five-door polliwog and wear tiny, little wheels inside big wheel arches. The Prius, Volt and Insight all look limp, tired and fragile.
It's as if the design staffs of all three companies abdicated their responsibility and subcontracted the styling of these appliances to Whirlpool. Only there are some Whirlpool washers that look like they could kick the combined asses of the Prius, Volt and Insight.
Look, the idea of a front-engine, V8-powered Ferrari two-seater is a good one. It's easy to picture that car in your mind... a tightly wound speedster with an aluminum skin stretched tight over its bulging muscles. The hood sculpted around the engine with a scoop to feed it cold air. The nose set down low to slice through the air with a small egg-crate grille. Discrete scoops to feed the brakes cooling air. And finally a fastback roof, bubbled for clearance over the passenger and driver, that finishes in a small ducktail spoiler. Think baby GTO — a serious, lightweight sports car on a new scale for Ferrari.
But that's not what the California is. Instead it's a ridiculously overstyled boulevard trawler that would embarrass even Maserati. The whole thing is misshapen, with a massive rump to hold the heavy foldable metal hardtop. The flanks feature lines that swoop ungraciously, and ridiculous front fender vents. The nose looks like a Toyota Solara's that's been left to melt in the sun. The thick tail is lumpy, features ugly taillights that look ripped off a '59 Cadillac, and those aren't real tailpipes beneath the bumper either. It's the most comprehensively disappointing Ferrari design since, at least, the 1971 365 GTC/4 and maybe ever.
It's hard to believe that Pininfarina admits to designing this.
The second-generation Nissan Cube is something of a design classic. From 2002-'08 it established a whole new market segment in Japan for small, upright boxes with some funk and fascination styling. But that Cube was never sold in America. Instead we get the plug-ugly third-generation Cube.
From its ungainly massive front bumper, overdone headlights and ridiculously shaped windows, the current Cube is a mess. But it's worst from the back, where its drooping rear bumper looks like a full diaper.
The current, third Cube takes the whimsical themes established by the second Cube and makes them look flabby and inert. It's not fun like, say, the Kia Soul. It's not youthful like, say, a Hyundai Veloster. And it doesn't look eager like a Mini Cooper; it looks like a golf cart retirees use to shuttle themselves between bridge sessions in Sun City.
Maybe that's why you see Cubes in the parking lot of a Marie Callender's — at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.
Mazda 3 Sedan
The Mazda 3 gets a lot of breathing space around here because it drives so well and also because of the tremendous performance of the brilliant Mazdaspeed 3. But it needs that breathing space, because the schnoz on it is one of the biggest, most misshapen snouts put on a car since the Edsel.
Forget its gaping maw for a second. That stupid grin of a grille. We'll get to the bizarre foglight openings in a moment. And yeah, we'll cover the weirdness of the headlights. What's worst about the Mazda 3's nose is how incredibly long it is. It sticks out beyond the front wheels like a snowplow. Think of whatever big-nosed celebrity you want —, Jimmy Durante, Jamie Farr, Al Molina, Ray Romano, Barbra Streisand or Danny Thomas — none of them has a nose so disproportionate as the one on the Mazda 3.
OK, now how about that huge grille that seems to be sticking its tongue out? What about those huge foglight holes that look ready to suck in birds? And aren't those headlights shaped like tobacco leaves? It's all so sad because the car drives so well.
Lexus HS 250h
It was a tough battle to figure out which Lexus we loathe most. Some argued for the overall weirdness of the GX 460. Others lobbied hard for the IS convertible, with its awkward shapes and high-stack roof. But it's the sheer forgettable dreariness of the HS 250h hybrid that wins out.
The HS hybrid is a blob. Nothing more. It's a car apparently designed to be overlooked. It could be a late-'90s Camry, it's styled so generically. Or it could be a Corolla of some sort. You decide. What it undeniably is, however, is the first cheap-looking Lexus. It even looks chintzier than the 1990 ES 250.
Ever since Lexus began, it's been accused of building generic-looking cars. The HS 250h takes generic to new lows right into the realm of ugly.
The more you look at a Maybach, the more you realize that it's not just a silly, ridiculously expensive car, but a fundamentally ugly one as well.
It starts with the Maybach logo itself that looks like a Wankel engine's rotor with two ill-proportioned letter Ms stuck inside it. Then there's the massive grille that looks too big even on a car this gargantuan. The headlights manage to be both weird and boring. The fender shapes are indistinct. The roof is too tall and the entire tail seems as if it's trying to fall off. But beyond all that, a lot of Maybachs are painted two-tone and those two-tones are both tone deaf.
Still, we reserve some special scorn for the Maybach Landaulet. This open-roof version of the longer 62 model adds a fussy-looking roof center to a car that's already insanely ornate. It's a roof only a dictator could love.
BMW 6 Series
The just-superseded BMW 6 Series coupes and convertibles were rightly criticized as BMW's version of the Camaro IROC-Z. The 2011 6 Series, however, makes the old F-Car look like a paragon of sophisticated engineering and finely detailed styling.
Back in the late 1970s the original 6 Series was a truly beautiful car and a worthy successor to the glamorous CS coupes of the 1960s. The original 6 Series was a clean design that looked best as the legendary, first M6.
There have been dozens of beautiful BMWs. The new 6 Series is the antidote to them.
Remember back in junior high when you'd be sentenced to an afternoon after school in detention? You'd sit there doodling rudimentary drawings of sports cars in your notebook. You know, cars that had bizarre proportions, didn't seem to account for things like visibility or engine clearance and then finished up in an unnecessarily large rear spoiler. Little did you know then that you were actually designing the Lotus Evora.
The Evora looks like the Elise's pregnant sister. It's overinflated and lacking in surface detail. It's the sort of midengine car that looks as if it's powered by a Camry engine.
So at least the Evora lives up to its looks.
The Dodge Neon was never a great car, but it was an unpretentious machine that seemed to be comfortable in its own sheet metal. Its successor, the Dodge Caliber, is nothing like that.
From the front, the Caliber seems to be trying to look like a tough Ram pickup. From the side it looks like a dwarf-class crossover. From the rear it looks as if a Lego set exploded and someone tried to glue all the parts back together.
The Caliber's problem is that it's inauthentic. Basically it looks like it was designed by 10 guys who didn't talk to each other much. It wears a tough truck grille, but is narrow and teeters on its tiptoes. It's trying to look tough, like a teenager in a leather jacket, but the pockmarked skin, flabby muscles and bare bones belie that it's a wimp.
Every new Lincoln wears a big front grille that looks like Boba Fett's helmet from Star Wars. But it's the MKT's massive prow that's the most jarring of all the Lincolns. And the vehicle that's dragging behind it isn't any better.
For this big wagon, you can see that the designers were trying to evoke some of the elegance of the legendary 1961 Continental. That shows up in the kink in the rear windows that echoes the slight rise in the old Connie's sheet metal. And it shows up in the thick fender shapes. It just doesn't work. Where the old Continental's sharp fenders were capped by precise, small lamps, the MKT ends in a monstrously oversize tailgate that is itself overwhelmed by the giant taillight panel running across it.
The MKT looks as massive as a battleship and as dopey as a dinghy.