If the figures are to be believed, the interior of your car might just be one of the most important places in your day-to-day life if you drive to work. According to data-gathering company Inrix, the average American commuter spends 42 hours a year stuck in traffic. That’s an awful lot of time being stuck inside a metal cage, so it pays dividends to have a comfortable, stylish place to sit. And that makes the entries to the following list all the more perplexing. Why would car companies, some of the most well-funded conglomerations on Earth, with research and development budgets that eclipse the GDP of small nations, resort to making cockpits as ergonomically frustrating and bizarre as these?
All the crimes on fashion and common sense you can conceive of are here for you to gawp at in disgusted awe. Square steering wheels! Grey vinyl! Red velour! Green leather! Of course, some of the interiors here aren’t terrible so much as deliberately, willfully odd, and some are even kind of fun to look at, while others make the grade based purely on weird accessories and colour schemes. So, go ahead, pull up a chair, and try not to let your eyes water too much as we go through the 20 strangest automotive interiors ever!
20 1998 Fiat Multipla
The Fiat Multipla is already considered by many to be one of the ugliest cars ever built, with its distinctive two-tiered greenhouse and bug-eyed frontend that goes between being funny and frightening. In fact, I would say that its exterior ugliness effectively overshadowed the raw, naked terror that its cockpit inspires in small children and pets. I mean, look at this photo and tell me it doesn’t leave you with the same feeling of creeping dread you feel after watching an episode of The Twilight Zone. Who puts a speedometer on the side of the driver? Why is the steering wheel so damn thick? Why do the air vents only point at the central passenger? Oh yeah, that’s another thing—instead of doing the normal thing and having two passengers sit at the front of the car, or at least a 3-passenger bench (à la vintage American land yacht), the ‘designers’ over at Fiat sagely decided to plop a third full-size seat in the middle of the front row. Every part of this cabin looks like it was designed by seventeen different subcommittees, all with fetishes for Picasso and M.C. Escher.
19 2007 Chrysler Town and Country
I’ll give you a moment to recover from the synaptic shock of that Fiat and let you soak in the blobby, beigey, inoffensive, and unashamedly nineties cockpit of this Chrysler minivan. "Wait a second..." you cry, "the subheading says that this car is from 2007! That can’t be right!" Oh yes, dear reader. I’m not messing with you—this is a car that was sold as new only 11 years ago, back when even risk-averse Toyota started putting navigation screens in their cars. Somehow, prospective owners didn’t seem to care about the lack of any sort of technology from the 21st century, as Chrysler sold nearly 140,000 of them in 2007. The bizarre adherence to a deeply dated design is what earns this car a spot on our list.
18 1986 Dodge Daytona
This is the first cockpit here that earns its place by being weirdly cool instead of just weird. The Dodge Daytona shared a name and a platform with the awesomely named Chrysler Laser and competed in a hotly contested sports-compact market, with buyers having the choice to get a forced-induction inline-four with almost 150 horsepower. Another leg up that the turbocharged twins enjoyed over competitors were their sci-fi interiors that looked straight out of Blade Runner. Instead of conventional analog gauges, their cockpits were replete with digital information clusters for speed and fuel, displayed in avant-garde green LEDs like a Knight Rider knockoff, the only difference being that the Daytona didn’t talk and you didn’t suddenly become as cool as the ‘Hoff. Another distinctively eighties element is the squarish steering wheel, which looks both dangerously impractical and very, very stylish.
17 1992 Buick Skylark
When I think of the car that the archetypal great-grandmother would drive, this is what my mind would come up with. A dank, nightmarish cave of stiff red velour, slippery vinyl door panels, and overly shiny wood paneling, the air thick with the oppressive stench of nicotine and mildew seeping from seats that somehow feel crunchy and soft at the same time. Man, I really should've put a trigger warning at the top of this entry. Terrifying mental images aside, there’s no universe where you could convince me to sit in here for more than five seconds. Nothing here is pleasing for the aesthetically minded. Heck, there’s nothing here to like for anyone with any semblance of sanity. The sweeping speedometer tries to ape the control schemes of Buicks of the 1950s and 1960s without any of their old-school elegance, while the garish wood veneer bears no resemblance to anything found in nature or even from this planet.
16 2000 Volkswagen New Beetle
The New Beetle was introduced for the 1997 model year and quickly became a sales phenomenon, inspiring a wave of cars that tried to introduce retro styling cues to buyers in the new millennium, with varying degrees of success. The cutesy, unique exterior of the Beetle hid the utterly conventional underpinnings of the 4th-generation Volkswagen Golf, a car that's now often maligned for its propensity for electrical issues. Of course, that’s not why we’re talking about the Beetle right now. The car was unashamedly directed toward female buyers, which is why it has one of the most cynical accessories ever fitted to a car: an honest-to-goodness flower vase behind the steering wheel, a weird inclusion to the ocean of black and grey plastic that made up the interior.
15 2014 Pagani Huayra
With a name that teeters on the edge of pronounceability, exquisitely insane exterior details, and performance sufficient to flatten your face, the Pagani Huayra easily earn a seat at the hall of low-volume supercar greats. What puts it over the top (or knocks it completely off its podium, depending on your point of view) is the entirely bats**t cockpit. An art-deco mess of glossy carbon fiber, buttery-rich leather and milled aluminium, the inside of this four-eyed Italian exotic will make you feel like you’re piloting a steampunk spaceship, even when you’re just trying to navigate the main thoroughfare in midday traffic. The engineering on display is almost p*rnographic in nature. Look at the exposed linkage of the 7-speed sequential gearbox, the floating instrument cluster, or the torpedo-shaped air vents. Any one of these elements would look wildly out of place on your garden-variety Ferrari or Lamborghini, but here, they become a testament to the creative genius of the company’s founder and head designer, Horacio Pagani.
14 2001 Mini Cooper Hatch
Yet another victim of ergonomics being sacrificed at the altar of ‘style,’ the Mini Cooper Hatch had a lot of things going for it when it entered production near the end of 2000. Sharp handling and a fresh, funky exterior meant it quickly became a sales success—another car like the Volkswagen New Beetle that successfully translated retro design cues from the mid-20th century into something palatable for a modern audience. Also like the New Beetle, the Mini had an extremely annoying interior quirk, this time even more ergonomically disruptive. The speedometer was clearly labeled (good), comically oversized (not good), and unceremoniously shoved into the middle of the dashboard (what?). Despite numerous complaints from both prospective owners and the motoring press, the company persisted with this strategy until the arrival of the 3rd-generation Mini in 2014.
13 2017 Tesla Model 3
There have been more than a few headlines written about the Model 3 and its revolutionary design, in terms of both its powertrain and its interior, which, if it were not for the massive touchscreen anchored to the middle of the dash, would look as barren as a Soviet-era Lada. Of course, that impressive dedication to minimalism earns a seat at the table here, as the Tesla’s cockpit resembles nothing else sold on the market and represents a marked divergence from the conservative nature of the offerings from similarly sized BMWs and Audis. That central tablet controls all the vehicle’s functions, from radio to air conditioning to predicted range and speed and can be configured to display whatever the driver wants. That said, there’s still going to be some mental adjustment required to look down and across to see this information, so it’s probably a good thing that the company promises to install fully autonomous driving software soon.
12 2005 Ford GT
I strongly debated the GT’s place on this list. Would readers take its inclusion as an insult? Well, rest assured, captive audience, I’m not planning to disparage everyone’s favorite mid-engine, all-American supercar. Like a lot of other entries here, the distinctive nature of the Ford’s cockpit comes from trying to adapt vintage styling cues to a new age. In this case, that means trying to channel the spirit of the legendary, 3-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 1966 Ford GT40. Cool details include the row of gauges laid out horizontally in a hollowed-out section along the dash, the perforated leather seats (which kept the driver cool in the original car), and the exposed aluminium transmission tunnel, which housed a wonderfully solid-shifting 6-speed manual gearbox built by Ricardo. The new GT, introduced in 2015, abandoned all the retro pastiche of the 2005 model, which can be seen as a plus or a negative depending on your priorities.
11 2011 Nissan Cube
The Nissan Cube has its own fair share of deeply weird design details on the outside; the oblong windows, the asymmetrical rear end, the full-width tail-light positioned just above the back bumper, and the upright shape all come together to form a car that couldn’t possibly be confused for anything else. Hats off to Nissan for not chickening out on cabin design either, as it would've been easy to disguise a standard-issue economy car interior within the almost alien wrapper, but the Japanese automaker committed fully to whatever insane quest they were on. You might think I’m exaggerating. Unconventional color scheme and slightly eccentric cuboid theme aside, it looks pretty normal. Look a little closer, though, near the top of the image, at the center of the top of the dashboard. As Shakespeare once wrote in King Lear, “That way, madness lies.” Nissan has never officially disclosed why there’s a pile of shag carpeting in the middle of the dashboard, so we can only speculate as to its true purpose. In any case, I guess we must salute the Lovecraftian nightmare that drove some anonymous designer to do such a thing.
10 2004 Nissan Quest
Let’s keep the Nissan ball rolling, this time, with the 3rd-generation Quest, the automaker’s full-size, 3-row minivan. One might think that the interior of the vehicle ostensibly meant for the transportation of young children would be devoid of anything that could upset them. As we all know, kids are a fickle bunch, and they’re not exactly known for being emotionally restrained. So, why did the geniuses over at Nissan HQ decide to make a cabin with the explicit purpose of making them cry? The supporting pillar of the dash looks like a decapitated R2-D2, while the blood-red and black trim really ties together that satanic sex-dungeon vibe that prospective minivan buyers look for. All this goes without mentioning the crimes against ergonomic common sense, too. Any car that gives the front-seat passenger a better view of the speedometer than the driver is one that doesn’t deserve to be bought.
9 2001 Pontiac Aztek
Not content to occupy the top spot in everyone’s “Ugliest Car Ever Made” list, the Pontiac Aztek gave a fair shake at trying to win the highly coveted “Worst Interior Design” prize at its introduction in 2000 as well. While countless gallons of ink have been spilled over the contentious exterior styling, it’s another car that, like the Fiat Multipla, has had its unfortunate cabin glossed over. However, unlike the frightening Italian, the Aztek didn't sacrifice style at the altar of raw practicality. Instead, it was almost willfully ugly, the work of tired, apathetic designers that were sure that whatever they put out, it would be completely and immediately overshadowed by the vaguely rhinoceros-like body. Let your mind wander for a bit. Can you feel the brittle, hollow-feeling temperature knobs or hear the acres of shiny black plastic squeak as you thump over another pothole on some lonely suburban road in Albuquerque?
8 1985 Renault 5
Let’s pause with the entries from this millennium and head back in time. The Renault 5 was a cleverly packaged French sub-compact that became wildly popular, selling over 5.5 million units over its 24-year production history. The boxy exterior held an interior that was both intuitive to use and uniquely French and therefore quirky. One of the Renault’s most distinctive interior features was the pocket on the passenger’s side of the dashboard, which permitted easy access to small objects like maps and guidebooks. It came in a wide variety of upholstery and color options, running the gamut from somber black to benign beige, all the way to bright-red cloth.
7 1979 AMC Pacer
I’m starting to realize a lot of cars with ugly interiors seem to have hideously styled exteriors as well. The Pacer was essentially an upside-down fishbowl on wheels, built by now-defunct US carmaker AMC. Not much here is surprising if you’ve been paying attention to the other American entries on this list—masses of shiny tan vinyl, uninspired slabs of wood veneer, and an uncomfortable-looking steering wheel that I guarantee will get slippery after less than 5 minutes at the wheel. Don’t be disheartened, friends, as that’s not all. The square-shaped instrument cluster was unceremoniously shoved into a dark crevice in the dashboard and made impossible to read, the numbers backlit by a weak teal glow, while the radio and air conditioning controls look as though they were tacked on just before lunch. How could I possibly forget the wide, unadorned transmission tunnel that separates you from your passenger, an expanse of vile brown carpeting that makes me think of cornfields afflicted by the blight?
6 2011 Citroën DS5
The Citroën DS5 is another entry from the land of fine wines and cheese, this time, a modern, sophisticated family hauler with an avant-garde styling inside and out. In fact, the name references the DS line of hyper-luxurious French limousines of the 1960s and the 1970s, which featured advanced suspension and transmission technologies to become the favored rides of Parisian diplomats and business leaders. In other words, it was kind of a big deal for Citroën to revive the nameplate and attach it to a new line of premium cars. Thankfully, the DS5, while not having the same impact on the industry as its ancestors did, wasn't a disgrace to the DS dynasty. It won the “Best Family Car” award from Top Gear Magazine in 2011. The interior was comfortable and far different from its German peers without being obnoxiously so, mostly because buyers of luxury cars today don’t tolerate that kind of nonsense when dropping the equivalent of almost $50,000 on a new vehicle.
5 2012 Lexus LFA
I’ll be upfront here—the Lexus LFA stands as one of my favorite cars ever made, a completely unhinged, handbuilt masterpiece, complete with an unearthly 5.2-liter V10 howl that sounded like a Formula 1 car off its meds. To have it share a spot on a list with a Chrysler minivan and an AMC Pacer, no matter the reason, hurts my heart a little bit. However, the LFA is here because it’s awesome, not because it’s awful. The cockpit is the ideal marriage between Lexus quality (only cranked up to 12) and idiosyncratic, manga-inspired design flair. The two-tiered dashboard is straight out of 1980s Japan’s vision of the future, with a completely digital tachometer (the legend goes that traditional analog rev-counters couldn’t keep up with how fast the motorsports-derived V10 could hit redline). In fact, that completely digital gauge cluster might just be the coolest part of an already impossibly cool car. Switched to its sportiest setting, the offset metal ring surrounding the virtual tachometer will slide into the center of the driver’s line of vision with a hidden mechanism inside the dashboard.
4 1985 Subaru XT
Our final quartet of freakish interiors all come courtesy of cars built within 12 years of each other; the late seventies and early eighties were a weird time for fashion—and not just the kind that you wear. Let’s kick this off with another Japanese entry: the 1985 Subaru XT. The XT was Subaru’s first actual stab at building something that wasn’t a utilitarian commuter car or a delivery vehicle, and its specification reflected the company’s ambition. Its 2.7-liter flat-six engine and relatively sophisticated all-wheel-drive system were clothed by a sleek, wedge-shaped design. The sci-fi theme carried over to the cockpit as well; observe the ‘wings’ on either side of the asymmetrical steering wheel, festooned in buttons that make it as though you’ve become Captain Jean-Luc Picard on the Starship Enterprise. The red LCD speedometer looked like it had been pillaged from a set of props from Tron, while the automatic shifter was shaped like a joystick from a starfighter and featured a trigger that activated the AWD system.
3 1983 Citroën GSA
The last French car on the list clearly had to be the strangest, and in the pantheon of weird French automotive interiors, none reach higher than the Citroën GSA. The GSA was unusual in a lot of ways; it had a sleek, fastback-style body with semi-covered rear wheels for improved aerodynamic efficiency, while it’s hydropneumatic suspension allowed it to flow down a road with far more poise than its similarly sized contemporaries. It could even be optioned with a rotary engine! But oh, that interior. Unlike the Subaru XT, which drew inspiration from fighter jets and whose controls could therefore be understood after a bit of effort, the GSA had a cockpit that resembled nothing mankind had ever built. It’s just a bizarre mix of haphazard parts-flinging (such as the radio being wedged sideways into the center console) and vast quantities of hard drugs (the speedometer was a rotating drum that showed your speed in a small viewing window).
2 1988 Buick Reatta
When you think of automotive technological pioneers, the Buick Reatta probably isn’t the first thing you’d think of. Yet, it predicted the arrival of one of the most ubiquitous features on the inside of almost every new car built in the past decade. I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Mechanically, the Reatta was utterly conventional. The sporty two-door body disguised a transverse engine layout that drove the front wheels only. It was Buick’s version of a relatively affordable grand tourer, meant more for cruising down boulevards than carving up canyon roads. Open the door, however, and your audience would be treated to a view of the world’s first touchscreen computer interface installed in a car. And don’t confuse it for being some novelty item. The screen did the same job then as it does now; everything from radio and climate control to vehicle diagnostics and date reminders was at your fingertips.
1 1976 Aston Martin Lagonda Series 2
This is it—the summit of questionable interiors. No other production car cockpit looks quite as odd as this. While the previous entries have made questionable aesthetic choices (read: tacky) or didn’t make sense from an ergonomic perspective, no other car but the Aston Martin Lagonda has had the nerve to do both at the same time before turning around and asking minted would-be buyers for the equivalent of nearly $450,000 in today’s dollars. It’s not like it wasn’t ambitious, though. The Lagonda was the first car to have a completely digital control panel with LED readouts, while touch-sensitive buttons were used for lights, power locks, air conditioning, and seat controls (unlike the more complicated computer interface on the Buick Reatta). I know what you’re thinking—complicated electronic systems in a British car from the 1970s? Well, rest assured, reader. It went exactly as you’d expect. Only 645 were originally built, and most estimates place the total number of roadworthy examples as being much, much lower.