A few years back, CarInsurance.com sat 1,500 licensed drivers down and asked them to look at photos of 12 vehicles made in the last decade to decide if they would be embarrassed to be seen driving them. The participants were then asked to rank the three most cringe-worthy, and with more dumb cars on the way, it doesn’t look like things are going to get better any time soon.
“All these cars are bold statements,” CarInsurance.com managing editor Des Toups said. “You either love them or hate them.” While going out on a limb has certainly yielded some tremendous results in the past for certain auto manufacturers, more often than not, the general populace remains divided into two camps: “Camp Love It!” or “Camp Hate It!”
Unfortunately, little to no explanation was offered as to the thinking behind respondents’ particular choices in these polls, and it should be noted that the users were told to only rank the 12 cars given to them, rather than submitting contenders of their own.
Additionally, CarInsurance.com’s “Cringe Score” represents the relative weight of all votes cast for a particular vehicle based upon a 1-to-10 scale, which means that the points given were not a percentage. The Cringe Score made it possible for assigned point values to represent the top three vehicles chosen as the most cringe-worthy, then standardized them on a 1-to-10 scale. Here’s how the experiment shook out.
12. Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
Based on an SUV but featuring the retractable roof of a convertible, Nissan’s Murano “CrossCabriolet” never really fit into either camp. It was too big and bulky to be enjoyed as a convertible and had none of the utility or practicality that makes an SUV desirable either. Overall, this mutt of a Nissan scored a 0.3 on the scale.
11. Chevrolet HHR
A few years ago, retro-inspired design was a big hit-or-miss strategy with car makers, and even though it has since been largely discontinued, it appears that Chevrolet’s application of aesthetics to the HHR did alright. The car scored a lowly 0.7 on the cringe-worthy scale — and given the nature of this list, that’s not too shabby at all.
10. Honda Element
Boxy and square in just about every measure, the Honda Element’s styling cues certainly weren’t for everybody, even though the car did appeal to the avid outdoor crowd. There were apparently a few members of that crowd among the participants in the poll, as the Element scored a 0.9 for cringe-worthiness.
9. Chrysler PT Cruiser
In an approach that was quite similar to Chevy’s HHR, the Chrysler PT Cruiser set the benchmark for the return to retro. It seems that the HHR was able to pull it off more effectively though, as the survey’s participants awarded the PT Cruiser a barf score of 1.
8. Pontiac Aztek
We’re actually a bit surprised that the Pontiac Aztek didn’t end up higher on the list, as it has been dubbed one of the ugliest cars ever by numerous parties, including the court of public opinion. Its quirky, plastic-laden, oddly proportioned figure was given a rating of 1.4 on the cringe scale.
7. Lincoln Town Car
The entry of the Lincoln Town Car in this list left us a little puzzled. Perhaps its score of 1.6 is due to its nearly identical resemblance to the car’s Crown Victoria cousin — or maybe it’s the vehicle’s unbreakable bond to the geriatric demographic. Regardless, the Town Car enjoyed tremendous success, particularly among the business traveler class.
6. Subaru Baja
Part truck and part car, the Subaru Baja was a sort of Japanese take on the El Camino. Though it proved itself to be a very capable vehicle, it was also quite a polarizing spectacle to lay eyes upon. Its score was tied with the Town Car, at 1.6.
5. Volkswagen New Beetle
The Volkswagen Beetle’s return has been met with mixed results, and while the 1990s versions of the new Beetles were a decidedly feminine car, VW tried to “man up” the vehicle a bit with a more aggressive stance and a meaner scowl for the most recent refresh. Still, it ranked No. 5 on the list, with a score of 1.9.
4. Chevrolet SSR
Part hot rod, part truck, the Chevy SSR fell into a wide range of definitions and represented one of the most peculiar models in GM’s arsenal at the time. Though it was definitely a car meant for the pleasure of driving (i.e., it was not a work truck), participants in the study gave the SSR a score of 2.1.
3. Hummer H2
“Women really didn’t like the H2,” CarInsurance.com’s managing editor, said. That’s not too surprising either, as the behemoth was really designed to convey the most masculine demeanor possible. Participants slapped the car with a 3.5-point cringe score.
2. Nissan Cube
Say what you want about Nissan’s Cube, but the one thing you can’t hold against the company is that it nailed the name for this car. Nissan tried to bring the distinctly Japanese styling to the states, but the vehicle just wasn’t met with the same warmth that it got back home in its domestic market. Participants were not feeling particularly warm toward it either, as it scored a 3.6 on the scale.
1. Smart ForTwo
The Smart Fortwo took the top — or bottom? — spot on the list by a wide margin with a score of 7.6. It “looks like I couldn’t afford a full-size car.” It’s “too dorky.” It “looks like a toy.” Those were just some of the thoughts that participants in the CarInsurance.com study had regarding the tiny car. However, if parallel parking is a sore subject for you, the Smart might be worth a second look.