Badge-engineering is the often-maligned practice in the auto industry of slapping a different badge onto an existing vehicle and then marketing the variant as a unique model.
Badge-engineering is a necessary evil (OK, that’s a bit harsh) in today’s market. It’s less expensive to rebadge a model once or multiple times than it is to design and engineer an entirely new model.
While detractors cite such automotive abominations like the Cadillac Cimarron (essentially a Chevy Cavalier with fancy duds) when establishing a case against badge-engineering, but we wouldn’t have several sweet DNA-sharing machines without it.
Here are seven of the coolest cars whose existence is owed to badge-engineering.
1. BMW Z4/Toyota GR Supra
The highly-anticipated GR Supra may borrow its platform, engine, and transmission from the latest BMW Z4, but there’s Toyota touches everywhere, from the aggressive origami-inspired exterior to a sportier suspension tuning. The Toyota Supra also offers a distinctive and engaging driving experience from its Bavarian brother. Overall, we think Toyota did a marvelous job at differentiating its flagship sports car from the Z4—inside and out.
2. Dodge Stealth/Mitsubishi 3000GT
When Mitsubishi and Dodge collaborated on a world-class sports car back in the early 90s when both companies were at the top of their game, you knew that the result would be brilliant—and the Stealth pretty much was. The Dodge Stealth was a rebadged Mitsubishi 3000GT, but that didn’t matter because the 3000GT delivered dangerous doses of dopamine. Pro tip: Spring for a used Stealth R/T because you’ll get the All-wheel-drive system, twin-turbocharged 300 hp V6, four-wheel steering, active aerodynamics, and electronically adjustable suspension borrowed from the Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4 trim.
3. FIAT 124 Spider/Mazda MX-5 Miata
How could an Italian interpretation of the glorious ND-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata (that’s the current model) possibly be bad? The FIAT 124 Spider shares the same platform with the Miata but supplants the rev-happy normally-aspirated four-cylinder with a torquey turbocharged motor. The FIAT makes a better daily driver thanks to its more relaxed suspension tuning and a slightly nicer interior. And of course, the FIAT 124 Spider sports handsome Italian style that sets it apart from its Japanese sibling.
4. Lexus IS 300/Toyota Altezza
In the late 90s, the BMW 3 Series was the undefeated king of entry-level sports sedans, but Toyota made a valiant effort at deposing the monarch from Munich when it rebadged the superb Altezza sports sedan as the Lexus IS 300 in 2000. The Altezza and Lexus IS 300 impressed critics and buyers alike with a playful rear-wheel drive chassis, smooth 215 hp inline-six engine, and fetching interior and exterior styling.
5. Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky
Intended as a domestic rival to the mighty MX-5 Miata, the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky shared the same rear-wheel drive platform, engine options, and transmissions, but offered subtle differences in terms of styling. For example, the Solstice flaunted curvaceous and muscular exterior styling while the Sky sported a more angular and angry aesthetic. Sadly, the GM top-down twins sold poorly compared to the Miata, but that just means you can pick up a mint used example for a bargain-basement price.
6. Saab 9-2X Aero/Subaru WRX
You may think that Subaru and Saab is a more peculiar pairing than sardines and peanut butter, but the 9-2X Aero is arguably a more proficient sports wagon than the WRX that it’s based on. The Saab preserved everything that made the Subaru WRX wonderful—its 227 hp turbocharged engine, five-speed manual, and All-wheel-drive system—and upgraded the interior with plush, luxurious materials and amenities. The Saab 9-2X Aero was essentially a WRX wagon with a livable interior, sharper steering, and quirkier Swedish styling. What’s not to love?
7. Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86
This list wouldn’t be complete without the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 twins. Back in the early 2000s, Toyota and Subaru collaborated to produce a lightweight, rear-wheel-drive sports car that virtually everyone could afford, and the results were nothing short of exquisite. The Toybaru twins deliver razor-sharp handling, Porsche-like steering, and a tuner-friendly platform. If the bargain-priced BRZ and 86 are the results of successful badge-engineering, then more manufacturers should join forces to save the affordable sports car.