German cars are often seen as over-engineered and well-built vehicles. It’s really no surprise, as many of Germany’s cars manage to do so much in a single high-performance package. And that’s not even touching upon the many world-class cars that have come out of the country. Cars like the Mercedes S-Class, the BMW 3-Series, and the VW Beetle have been trendsetters that still haven’t been matched to this day. After all, the German cars have become the standard for the automotive world. If there’s a new premium car on the market, you can expect it to be compared to the best cars that Germany has to offer. However, that doesn’t mean that every car that comes out of Deutschland is a trendsetter.
In fact, some German cars are downright terrible. Some cars suffer from terrible engine designs that'll break down once they're out of warranty, and some might not even last that long. While it should be no surprise that some of Germany’s poorly designed motors are in cheap cars, others are ambitiously designed engines made for performance and luxury cars. However, some of their worst cars are just questionable designs that should've never made it out of the concept phase. These cars are ugly and impractical and just defy all logic. How such offensive designs made it past the initial drawings is perplexing. Here are 20 times that German car companies had trouble designing a car.
20 BMW 7-Series E65
The BMW 7-Series is the second best large luxury car in the world, only losing to the Mercedes S-Class. However, if it's extra performance you’re looking for in a high-end luxury yacht, the BMW 7-Series will leave you more satisfied that the big Merc. The M and the Alpina variants of the 7-Series can outperform considerably lighter cars while maintaining a serene interior. However, there are some 7-Series cars that were incapable of doing such things as elegantly as other models.
The E65 7-Series is an awful car in terms of reliability, looks, and resale value.
It was famously unreliable, as it couldn’t even keep its own doors shut while driving. With blobby headlights and a bizarre trunk shape, there are few things to like about the exterior. And of course, with all these problems, it’s unsurprising that these machines that used to cost $100,000 can now be had for 10% of that.
19 VW New Beetle
There are many cars that feature retro styling to entice nostalgic buyers. While the modern muscle cars have likely benefited most from this tactic, the trend was first ignited by the VW New Beetle. After the incredibly long-lived original Beetle was discontinued in most countries, Volkswagen saw a way to get buyers into their new model. They started with the solid Golf platform and built a round body that was meant to remind buyers of the old car. However, this body was designed to look far cutesier than the original car, limiting appeal. But the worst offending feature of the new Beetle was the powertrain. The new Beetle had its power plant in the opposite location of the original car, going for a more conventional and boring layout. Today, VW has since realized that they don’t know what to do with the model, as it just sits in limbo without updates.
18 BMW M5 E60
Cars like the M5 are the reason why BMW can advertise itself with ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ tagline. With every model driving astronomical amounts of horsepower through a sturdy chassis, the M5 is an incredible machine by itself. However, its amazing capabilities are even more staggering when you consider that this legitimate sports car has four doors, spacious back seats, and a huge trunk.
Truly, this is one of the best cars that you can get your hands on. However, despite the 2005-2010 E60 M5 having an alluring V10 motor, it proved to be the model’s flakiest generation.
While this model received plenty of praise from automotive journalists, they got to drive it when it was new. The V10 proved to be horribly unreliable and costly to repair. If that wasn’t enough, the transmission couldn’t handle the motor’s power. It was great to drive but not to own.
17 VW Routan
If you were in the market for a new minivan in the late 2000s, you may remember that Volkswagen had a model available called the "Routan." With an advertising campaign that showed off the model’s German-designed suspension and family-friendly features, this allegedly sporty minivan seemed like a competitive option.
However, the Routan was neither competitive nor really German. It was based on the decidedly not-sporty Dodge Grand Caravan, meaning that this Volkswagen really had an American suspension.
Despite this, the Routan lacked its Mopar stablemate’s desirable features, trading in the practical fold-flat seats and fold-out table options for stiffer suspension. Altogether, this made the Routan a rather poor choice for a family hauler. Not only was Volkswagen apparently incapable of making their own minivan, but they even managed to ruin a Chrysler minivan. None of this stopped VW from selling thousands of them, though.
16 Audi Allroad
The early 2000s proved to be a popular time for four-wheel-drive wagons. Subarus, particularly the Forester and the Legacy Outback, were taking the world by storm. Of course, somebody came along to create a car that was effectively a luxury version of these vehicles. Based on the A6 Avant wagon, the Allroad featured extra body cladding and air suspension that increased the ride height. It even featured a twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V6 that was good for 250 horsepower. As appealing and rugged as these cars were on paper, they became infamous for their poor reliability. Both the trick suspension and the turbocharged motor proved to be weak links for the model. Finally, working on this car is known to be an absolute nightmare. Even simple fixes, such as the timing belts that the V6 loved to eat, required the front end to be removed.
15 BMW M6 E63
The BMW M6 is an exceptional performance car, offering plenty of power and style for those looking for a good touring car. Based on the 5 series, the M6 benefits from all the M5 hardware but has a sleeker body. Originally sold as a two-door version of the 5-series, the 6-series later underwent a few changes from that premise. BMW now offers it as a four-door sedan misleadingly called the "Gran Coupe," and a hatchback version called the "Gran Turismo." Making it even more perplexing, the real coupe version was discontinued, leaving the convertible as the only original version of the model to still be offered. However, that’s still better than the original car’s styling. The E63 M6 had off-putting round styling and a completely mismatching trunk design. And of course, the M6 had the same unreliable powertrain of the M5 until it was redesigned in 2011.
14 Mercedes S-Class W220
What's world-class luxury? Other than the super expensive Rolls-Royces and Bentleys of the world, the Mercedes S-Class is at the top of the pile when it comes to luxury cars. Even in comparison to those other brands, the S-Class is usually considered to be more dependable. It comes standard with many high-tech features, such as night vision, massaging seats, and screens throughout the interior. However, the earliest S-Classes weren’t as high-tech and complicated, so a transitional period was required to make it into the car we know today. It didn't go well.
The 1998-2005 W220 S-Class was unreliable, with its air suspension and many electronics developing issues over the years.
As with many of these high-end German luxury cars, the resale value is miserable. Just don’t bother buying one even if it’s affordable. It won't be cheap after something breaks.
13 Porsche 911 996
If you’re looking for the most unique performance car on the market, it would have to be the Porsche 911. Despite the motor being located in the rear, the 911 is a car that offers amazing performance for something with rear seats. For the longest time, it was an air-cooled beast, using old-school technology until the late ‘90s. Unfortunately, the conversion to water cooling just didn’t work out the way it should've. Debuting in 1998, the 996 generation of the 911 featured some of the worst headlights to ever grace the front of a Porsche. While this 911 did feature strong performance for the time, it came at a cost. The IMS bearing proved to be a horrible Achilles heel, as it could destroy the engine if not dealt with. Even the preventative maintenance is costly. Other 911s are both more attractive and more reliable.
12 VW Phaeton
Despite looking like the considerably less-interesting Passat, the Phaeton was Volkswagen’s premiere model for those seeking an undercover luxury car. Although, VW would likely prefer that you not think of it that way. However, don’t let the bland styling and VW badge fool you into thinking that this is a budget luxury car with an interior to match. The Phaeton was every bit as luxurious as the S-Class and 7-Series of the time. It even rode on the same platform as the Bentley Continental and was powered by an exotic W12 motor.
So, what was the problem? Besides the high price for a non-prestigious brand, its Bentley parts had Bentley prices.
When something goes wrong, and it will go wrong, it’s not cheap, as even the Volkswagen parts are proprietary to the Phaeton.
11 BMW 8 Series
If there was a list of the coolest-looking ‘90s cars, the BMW 8-series would have to be near the top of it. With its sleek, low lines and clean pillarless coupe body, the 8-series was truly a one-of-a-kind car. It was offered with a choice of V8 motors, but the V12 options were the most eye-catching options in the lineup. Despite the power from the brag-worthy number of cylinders and the interior toys that were unheard of at the time, the 8-Series can prove to be a headache for owners. The complex, early V12 models can have cylinder issues in the US due to high-sulfur fuel. And if there are alternator problems, you’re in big trouble, as these cars use two batteries. While they’re not horribly unreliable machines, owners should keep some extra money around for when something breaks, as it’s never cheap to fix.
10 Mercedes GLC
The Mercedes GLC is a recent contender in the increasingly popular luxury compact crossover segment. It's offered in two body styles: a standard SUV-like body and the dreadful ‘coupe’ fastback. There are many people who are willing to pay extra for these leather-bound compact utes. Unlike many other competitors, the AMG GLC is even offered with a twin-turbo V8, perfect for those looking for some power in this segment.
Despite contending in such a competitive market, the GLC doesn’t quite make the cut when it comes to reliability.
Consumer Reports found it to be one of the least reliable cars of 2017, suffering from brake, suspension, and electronics issues. But, if you’re still planning on getting one anyway, avoid the hideous and impractical coupe version. You’ll even save some money.
9 VW Passat W8
The Passat is very much a boring car in its normal form. It’s basically the German Camry but not quite as bulletproof—a fact that W8 owners know all too well. Presumably to get more performance out of the Passat and as a possible bid to win over premium buyers, VW offered their otherwise bland Passat with an intriguing W8 motor. It even had an exciting manual transmission available. However, the motor just didn’t last as long as it should've.
Featuring a complex timing chain system that was guided by plastic tensioners, the system required more maintenance than most timing-chain motors.
When these tensioners wore out, the engine had to be removed, as the timing chain faced the firewall. In some ways, it’s a shame that the W8 wasn’t any good, as it could’ve turned into an interesting sleeper option if VW had worked everything out.
8 BMW 318ti
In the late ‘90s, BMW decided to sell a compact version of the 3-Series. Only offered in a three-door hatchback format, this cheap BMW may seem like a fun little car. While that may be, the real issue of this model is the awful styling. Instead of going with the usual hatchback shape, BMW decided that it should have a pseudo-fastback look. While it may have worked on a larger car, the 318ti’s stubby profile just didn’t work. Combine that with the low-end model’s unpainted bumpers and trim, and this car hardly carries any of BMW’s normal prestige. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the second generation looked even worse. Instead of sticking with a normal BMW-style headlight, the designers decided to split the headlight and the high beams—a look that matched the rest of the car’s appalling styling.
7 VW Touareg V10
The Touareg was VW’s first entry into the SUV market. Serving as the basis for Audi and Porsche SUVs, the Touareg turned out to be a decently popular premium SUV. It was offered with a number of engine choices. Even with just the VR6 motors and a Bentley-derived W12, a buyer would be spoiled for choice. However, if you wanted something truly unique, Volkswagen would sell you a 5.0-liter diesel V10.
With over 300 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque, this SUV was a monster. It was such a monster that it was unable to meet some US emissions standards, limiting its American release.
But even if you were able to get your hands on one, that wouldn’t be the end of your problems. The V10 was notoriously unreliable, quite an achievement for a car that also offered a Bentley motor. The engine needed to be dropped for any work.
6 Mercedes C-Class Coupe W203
Seemingly not learning from BMW, Mercedes decided to get in on that sweet 318ti money. The C-Class wasn’t a very intriguing model. With the exception of a few AMG models, which had a 5.4-liter V8, there isn’t much to say about these cars. The coupe model, however, is something different. Instead of just chopping off the rear doors and giving it a fastback look, Mercedes decided that something a little more unique was in order. The stubby overall length ruined what few good lines the car had in sedan form. Despite beating it to market by a few years, the Mercedes-Benz’s rear is reminiscent of the 2nd generation Toyota Prius, which isn't a compliment. Perhaps, that was what inspired Toyota all those years ago. On top of the styling, the thick rear pillars and a bar across the rear window probably didn’t do any favors to the car’s visibility.
5 VW Golf Mk. IV
The Golf is usually a safe choice for a cheap hatchback. It's even offered in multiple performance options, ranging from turbocharged four-cylinder motors to six-cylinder VR6 cars. The Golf offers a lot for many different buyers. However, there’s one exception: the Mk. IV. These cars have proven to be fairly unreliable. Besides a poorly built interior that frequently needs new window regulators, the Mk. IV
Golf suffered from a number of electronic issues— primarily, the coil packs and mass air-flow sensors will likely fail on many of these cars.
Even after only a few years on the market, the Mk. IV gained a reputation for its poor reliability. Its biggest problem is that there are just so many practical, sporty, and reliable options on the used market. Either buy a different generation or don’t by a Golf at all.
4 Mercedes A-Class
Compact luxury cars are popular in Europe. If you want a car with premium materials that still gets good mileage and fits down narrow village streets, a tiny luxury car makes sense. Needless to say, there’s not much of a market for these vehicles in America. However, America should be happy that they missed out on the Mercedes A-Class. The styling is narrow and awkward, which is never what you want to see on a luxury car. Needless to say, there wasn’t much power to be had in one of these cars either. To make things worse, the early models were well known for their instability, as one tipped over during the challenging moose test. Despite a PR nightmare, Mercedes was able to fix the problem and continued selling these awful cars for many years.
3 VW TDi
While not a specific model, Volkswagen’s TDi diesel motors have proven to be a huge problem for the company and the world. After many years of these reliable, efficient motors being available on the market, it was discovered that various TDi motors would pollute excessively when not tested for emissions. Some TDi cars were found to pollute up to 40 times the legal limit in the United States. Ironically, VW had an ad campaign featuring the Mythbusters ‘proving’ how clean these diesel motors were. Perhaps, this is a testament to how good German engineering is since VW was able to hide the egregious cheat device for so many years. Even after much litigation and many buybacks and promised fixes, Volkswagen is still one of the world’s best-selling car manufacturers.
2 BMW 2-Series Gran Tourer
BMW makes a lot of cars these days. From the diminutive 1- and 2-series to the large, fast, and luxurious Alpina B7, BMW makes a car for anyone who’s not on a tight budget. The company has prided itself on selling driver-oriented cars, seemingly committing to building solely rear- or all-wheel-drive cars. However, BMW apparently decided that it needed an entry in the compact minivan segment. While the standard 2-series is an exciting car, the Gran Tourer doesn’t really benefit from the high-performance coupe. Not only does it have a narrow and tall look that can’t be good for stability, but it’s also BMW’s only front-wheel-drive car. While BMW could’ve made an epic rear-wheel-drive 2-series M minivan, they instead decided to play it safe and boring.
1 2016 Mercedes S550e
A plug-in hybrid Mercedes S-class may sound like a good idea to those who want a large, comfortable vehicle that gets good mileage. Unfortunately, that’s not what you get with the Mercedes S550e. Usually, plug-in hybrids run off a battery and an electric motor, similar to a fully electric car, until it runs out of juice, at which point it switches over to the gasoline motor. While the S550e does do that, it'll be running off the gasoline engine sooner than you think. While a normal plug-in hybrid like the Chevrolet Volt can go over 50 miles on electric-only power, this luxurious Mercedes can only manage 12 before needing gas power. And for those extra 12 miles, you lose 13 horsepower while spending far more over the standard model. You’d think the creators of the S-class would be able to make a plug-in hybrid that works properly...