The 2000s were very interesting for automotive production, to say the least. We were just starting to get our confidence back from the damage done by the 1970s and 80s. A few tiny oil scares decimated every glimmering hope for horsepower to prevail during that time, but by the 2000s, things had changed again.
Manufacturers had neutered their most powerful machines, axed the really bad ones to make room for even worse ones, and generally diluted the ranks of their lineup with new technology that promised to be better. (It was the smog pump systems of the 1980s, starting all over again.)
Everybody knew cars were lame in the 1980s, so the better part of the 90s was spent trying to make up for lost ground; manufacturers were “finding themselves” again. What we would find, however, is that the long road to redemption doesn’t always lead to salvation.
We’ve left the 2000s with some pretty cool rides from that decade, though. We’ve also picked up a lot of drag from models that just can’t get it right! The technology is there, the manufacturing processes are in place, the knowledge is known; it’s not like it was impossible to build an awesome car in the 2000s. In fact, it should have been a breakthrough decade!
Rather than take the opportunity to shine and run with it, however, many cars fell devastatingly short of what could have been! While the 2000s were been an exciting time for the new generation of horsepower, it couldn’t be more dismal for the regular production car. Sure, we have a lot of good ones out there, but there are also a lot of horrendously bad ones out there too! Don’t believe me? You really should.
23 Pontiac Aztek
The Aztek is widely considered to be among the top 10 ugliest vehicles in recent history. (Some would even venture to extend that timeline back to when we were rubbing sticks together in a cave.) What’s interesting to note about the Aztek, however, is that it was actually going in the right direction. Rather than look at it as a failed SUV, look at it as an ambitious minivan that tried to fool us with its “rugged” body design. We all knew what it really was, and most people hated it; but you could consider it an early crossover—well ahead of its time and timelessly ugly.
22 Chevy HHR
This is the quintessential “recession” car. It was produced from 2005 until 2012 (with just 21 whole units sold the last year). But at the height of the recession, it was flying off the shelf like flapjacks (105,175 units). What was it about this curious little PT Cruiser style-biter that made it so popular? The PT Cruiser was junk; everybody knew that, but we bought over a million of them. Then we tossed flames tint, rims, and white walls on it and acted like it was a classic! (Kinda like this thing.)
21 Chevy SSR
The SSR is an oddity without the specifications. We’ve never seen anything like it before and kicked ourselves for buying it when we did. It had a 400-hp 5.3-liter and a six-speed. By all means, it shouldn’t have been a dud. It also should have been wrapped in a more stylish design, though. It was at the very beginning of the retro-revolution that the 2005 Ford Mustang ignited, but these early retro rods would eventually come into the clarity of hindsight that not even a blind man could ignore.
20 Hummer H2
Large doesn’t begin to describe the H2. It’s not as big and bad as the “H1” but it was about the biggest body you could fit on a Tahoe chassis. Production was only to see the light of day in the 2000s until we realized that gas wasn’t going to be cheap anymore. The amount of chrome you could deck an H2 out with was stupefying, but that didn’t stop H2 buyers; if anything, they wanted MORE and MORE chrome!
19 Smart Fortwo
As abominable as the H2 was, it didn’t come close to what the Smart Fortwo did to the microcar segment. The sorry little Smart would shout from the mountain tops that you couldn’t have your cake OR eat it! If you had any more cargo than a laptop and a water bottle, you were going to need a roof rack, but it’s not like it could carry much up there, either. Everyone that drove one had to pretend they didn’t hate every moment of it.
18 Ford Excursion
There are nearly 200,000 Excursions roaming around the earth today. They were crafted for the new millennium and came in with a bang! It was designed to replace what Ford called the Centurion (that ironically didn’t make it to the turn of the century). It was basically a long Bronco. As the concept traveled over to the large Excursion, however, the expansive sheets of the plain body panels were boring, even ugly. Although it was never meant to be “pretty” per se, they could have at least tried a little bit!
17 Ford Focus
It’s not a bad looking car when you paint some rally stripes on it and swing it around a hairpin; in fact, it almost looks like it was designed for fun. However, anything short of a WRC-competition Focus is a buck fifty short of a dollar in the style department. Production actually pre-dates the 2000s, but they would creep off assembly lines throughout the decade as Ford’s flagship compact. They intend for it to be their “global” compact, so don’t expect it to go anywhere anytime soon!
16 Chrysler PT Cruiser
This car was so polarizing. It somehow drew a massive following despite everything it made you feel when you looked at it. Chrysler is well-known for their “characteristic” design method (which admittedly leaves much to be desired in terms of character). The car’s misguided styling is somewhat forgivable, however. Having been introduced in 2000, it was designed just before we dialed in the retro style that the 2000s were cultivating. The Chevy SSR, HHR, Ford T-Bird, and Plymouth Prowler are all examples of retro gone wrong—and none of it is pretty!
15 Kia Amanti
It’s as heavy as a Dodge Dakota, half the size of a Lincoln Continental, looks like a rip-off Mercedes, and has enough body roll to write your name on the street as you take hard right-hand corners. The interior was (for once) quality-built but that’s about all you could give Kia credit for. It wasn’t classy or elegant but it claimed to be both. The presidential suite of a back seat just added to the disproportionate appearance and awkward body lines on the outside.
14 Hummer H3
The H3 was born from the root of compromise, a fact that doomed it from the start. Relationships take compromise; car building takes focus. The design team made the decision to strike a comfortable middle ground between H2 styling and S-10 economy. It failed at both but it was a step in the right direction (if you had to get your budget chrome on). Surprisingly, this thing was worse than the H2 and even less popular than the original Hummer! We still bought it, though.
13 Dodge Avenger
A trendy motor-rating magazine gave it a one-star review. Now, although they are a reasonable authority on the matter, we’ve seen them rate many a car (many a bad car) with much higher ratings than the Avenger got. Perhaps they felt a trendy “name” could carry the burden of bad body lines to the finish line? The NHTSA rates it with four stars, so you can’t overtly blame bad design; they obviously can build a “good” car. The 283-hp, 3.6-liter Pentastar was an option, so it’s not grossly underpowered…why does everybody hate the Avenger so much? (Can’t you tell?)
12 Daewoo Nubira
If we could just put aside the styling of this Nubira for 10 seconds, it’s worth noting that this car actually has an amazing feature built into it to prevent it from aging: the feature is called timing belts snapping before they’re due! In this way, the Nubira ensured that it would never get too old: once the engine goes, it’s essentially a throwaway car. We know this because it only offered ABS on its premium trim package. Speaking of premium packages, if this is as good as it gets, we want our money back!
11 Toyota Echo
The Echo was a self-loathing machine that wanted to retire before it even hit the front line. It was super cheap (but not super cheap). Base price was around $11,000 but you got nothing: no A/C, no power windows, not even a CD player. The only way to get A/C was to splurge on $3,000 of other options—but by that time, you could just about have a Civic! Despite all of this, the narrow-body crime of a car actually sold 50,000 units in 2000. Two years later, that number would fall below 2,000. Game…over.
10 Toyota Prius
You didn’t actually think we’d let this one slip by, did you? Not painted like this, we couldn’t! While we were still trying to figure out if this guy actually paid money to have this done to his car, an equally perplexing mystery presented itself: did the paint really make the car any uglier? Or did it just make all that preexisting ugly a little bit brighter? Once we realized we couldn’t rightly tell, we defaulted to the wheel selection for final judgment: chrome, undersize, low-pro tires, accent paint—fail!
9 Cadillac Catera
The Cadillac Catera suffers from a disease in which the only cure is a book of matches and some accelerant on the cloth upholstery. The optional, rip-off, AMG five-spokers don’t fool anybody into a buying frenzy anymore but they worked great to generate a little hype. Most people bought into it eager to have a Cadillac wreath parked in their garage, but this is hardly a Cadillac. It’s actually an Opel Omega B, a $30,000 Opel that people were calling Cadillac, that is. This car would have been suited to GM’s Pontiac line if any General Motors brand was to absorb it—but we’re thinking more along the lines of Daewoo!
8 Pontiac Sunfire
You could have this puppy in any one of three variations: a sedan, coupe, or convertible. Usually, a convertible means you’re hip with the times and down with it. Driving a Sunfire convertible around shows the world either one of two things: A) You could care less about your image, and although confidence is attractive, people get embarrassed just thinking of sitting in the car with you. Or B) You’re so far removed from any acceptable sense of fashion, that you’re actually proud of your dumpy little Sunfire (which makes you about the only one who is.)
7 Chrysler Crossfire
Chrysler ran this model for five years down the middle of the 2000s trying to perpetuate an aggressive styling to rejuvenate their brand. It’s almost sad to watch their feeble attempts to win acceptance of the general public fail so miserably. Despite Chrysler’s best efforts, they always seem to fall short by a mile. Sure people bought them and they were moderately cool (for Chrysler) but the car has that ugly Chrysler characteristic about it. It’s hard to explain, but impossible to deny. This guy turned his Crossfire into a racecar with intake filters popping out of the grille and a front splitter—and it still looks ridiculous. There’s just no way to take this ugly little thing seriously!
6 Ford Fusion
This car shares a lot in common with its production brother, the Lincoln MKZ, and the NASCAR Fusion, which is the platform they chose to promote. With Ford trying to cut the fat and trim their models down to just a Focus and a Mustang, that leaves the Fusion at even odds for survival. The car is selling incredibly strong still, but that’s just because families “need” a four-door sedan for transporting the whole crew around, which is a task ill-suited for both the Focus and the Mustang. So, is the Fusion winning due to its intrinsic value or because people have nowhere else to turn?
5 Jaguar X-Type
Produced during the first decade of the 2000s, it was developed under the Premier Automotive Group umbrella, basically condemning it to an unfortunate association with the Ford Motor Company. While there are plenty of great Fords out there, many people draw a distinction between it and the Ford Mondeo (basically a Fusion), which has a diminishing effect on perceived value. If that’s not already bad enough, the styling seems dramatically archaic next to the XE S successor; you wouldn’t even know the two were related. Good for the XE S; bad for the X-Type.
4 Chevy Aveo
The Aveo stepped in to replace the Metro in 2003 (which should tell you all that you need to know right there) and lasted until the Sonic took the torch in 2011. Forget the bowtie plastered on the front bumper, this car is nothing more than a Daewoo (and a sorry Daewoo, at that). Although it had respectable sales numbers during the bulk of its production run, that wouldn’t be enough to keep it in favor with the public for very long. With the general profile of a wireless computer mouse, it’s not hard to see why it was in a nosedive from day one!
3 Jeep Compass
If there was ever a single worst year to try and release a new model, Jeep found it (2007). Since the 1940s, they’ve been carving a rugged name for the brand, forged in fire and baptized by light artillery, the Spicer-equipped progenitors of the Jeep we remember fondly were built for battle. Aesthetics were secondary and yet, Jeeps still looked stellar. Flash forward to whatever the Compass purports to be and you can’t help but be disappointed. Sure, it has all the creature comforts you’d expect from a contemporary crossover but at the end of the day, it’s still a crossover!
2 Chrysler Sebring
The Sebring was doomed from the moment the first graphite-tipped pencil made contact with the first blank sheet of design paper. It’s almost as if the Chrysler designers are “preset” on the ugly setting. It’s not like they don’t have it in them to pump out a decent design. You’ll have to look pretty hard to find something as menacing as the Challenger, but this thing? Are we the only ones who think the side styling is as ugly as a tugboat?
1 Lexus HS 250h
It debuted as the first-ever dedicated luxury hybrid car, the most fuel-efficient Lexus at the time of its 2010 release, and number four in their hybrid lineup. They use an Atkins cycle on all their hybrids, which holds the intake valve open during a segment of the compression stroke, thereby reducing power-generating potential. They’ll sell this to you as a distinct advantage, but nobody else uses it. That should tell you something! All we can see is a Corolla with a body kit and lowering springs. (All it needs is a wing!)
Sources: Car and Driver, Car Throttle, Edmunds, Top Speed, Toyota, Popular Mechanics, Motor Trend, Ford, Jalopnik, and Motor Trend.