Luxury has always been a curious word when it comes to automobiles, mostly due to how much the term has changed over the decades. It used to be that a luxury car was something that simply got you from point A to point B as comfortably and quietly as possible, maybe with a minibar in the back seat and a sound system that wasn’t just two tiny speakers in the front dash. Nowadays luxury is having everything you’d expect to find in your living room - comfy seats, flat screen TVs, surround sound, etc. - while also transporting those luxuries down a highway at roughly half the speed of sound.
We truly want it all when it comes to our cars. And why shouldn’t we? Many modern luxury cars cost the same as a small house. If we have to take a mortgage to buy something that’ll only depreciate in value, I’d certainly want it to go ridiculously fast so I could outrun my poor financial decisions.
That’s a thing, right?
For the past century, car companies have been trying to provide everything you could ever want to anyone who could ever afford it. Sometimes they get it very right, and other times they get it very, very wrong. Here are 15 times they may have confused the word “luxury” with “awful."
Around the late 2000s, the word “crossover” started getting tossed around the automotive lexicon. It eventually came to describe a car that wasn’t quite an SUV, wasn’t really a car, but was supposed to feel sort of in between. The best of both worlds, as it were.
Luxury brand Acura tried their hand at a compact SUV in 2009 when they introduced the ZDX, and they basically forgot the whole point of a crossover. Rather than make a small SUV that you could parallel park but still take home the groceries with, they made a gigantic hatchback that you couldn’t fit in your driveway. It had the size of an SUV without any of the interior space, and even though it had a 300 bhp engine, you’d never know it because the whole thing weighed over 2 metric tonnes.
And as it turns out, there are very few people who wanted a luxury SUV that's cramped and underpowered. The ZDX sold abysmally poorly before Acura finally pulled the plug in 2013.
Named after a Japanese animation studio or a Libyan desert wind, the Ghibli is Maserati's latest mistake. Various automotive outlets have named it the worst luxury car of 2017, and it’s not hard to see why. Compared to any other luxury car in its class, the Ghibli has terrible fuel economy, a cramped cabin despite being a mid-sized sedan, and interior styling that looks like it’s from last decade - which it very well might be, considering it’s made from Chrysler's cast-off components.
There’s also an overall lack of build quality that would be distressing to anyone dropping close to six figures once you’ve got it styled the way you want it. Still, it’s not the worst Italian car to make it onto this list.
How would you like to own a car shaped like a doorstop? Apparently, Aston Martin engineers, who thought that the “wedge” design would give them a distinctive look in the mid-1970s, thought you would. They were right in that it was certainly distinctive - distinctively bad.
And if the quirky triangular styling was the only thing wrong with the car, it would’ve been fine, but it wasn’t. Aston Martin had attempted to make the Lagonda their most technologically advanced car ever, including all manner of electronic displays that had never been seen on one of their cars. The only problem was none of them worked. The Lagonda was described by Time magazine as a complete “mechanical catastrophe” in their list of 50 Worst Cars Of All Time.
Do you hate the Earth and everyone in it? Don’t mind if you crush somebody’s Vespa without even noticing? Then this car is for you. Built during a period in America’s history when bigger was always better (at least, when it came to cars), the Hummer H2 is a literal representation of everything that's wrong with American automotive engineering. It guzzled gas like a sailor on shore leave, took up two regular spots at the local Walmart, and made it seem like you were delivering Seal Team Six whenever you dropped the kids off at soccer practice.
Worst of all, the car was actually tax deductible between 2002 and 2006 under a part of the tax code usually reserved for commercial vehicles. You could only deduct the cost of the vehicle if it weighed over 6000 lbs, which no car had ever previously done. The H2 weighs 6400 lbs, making it one of the heaviest civilian vehicles ever sold and tax-deductible for the millionaires who could afford it.
Never bait and switch your customers with specs you can’t deliver. Jaguar learned this lesson the hard way with the XJ220, a car that would sell poorly due to a fateful decision to replace the concept car’s naturally aspirated V12 engine with a twin-turbo V6.
When Jaguar unveiled the XJ220, they showed the world an all-wheel-drive supercar with a completely custom-made V12 engine designed by a bunch of Jaguar engineers who wanted to make a brand new version of the 24 Hours of Le Mans cars Jaguar made in the '50s and the '60s. It got so much attention and requests to buy the car that Jaguar then promised to make a production version and began taking orders.
But they couldn’t profitably remake the V12 engine for the price they’d offered, so they stuffed as many turbochargers into a V6 as they could and hoped nobody would notice. They noticed, and Jaguar had to give a lot of people their money back.
Upon seeing the Aston Martin Cygnet, the question car buyers immediately ask themselves is why they’d spend four times the money on a Toyota IQ just so they could have the Aston Martin badge. The answer is you don’t. Aston Martin initially had a target to sell 4,000 of the cars in 2013. Well, they sold 150 over the car’s entire two-year production lifespan.
There have been many times in modern history when simply sticking a new sticker on something will make the price jump. Cell phones, purses, shoes - you name it - all can be produced cheaply but sold at a very high price with nothing more than a name switch. The same has happened with cars in the past, but none have been as blatantly obvious as with the Cygnet.
Considered by Top Gear to be the “Worst Car In The History Of The World” in 2012, it’s not too hard to see why. The back pair of seats seemed to have been added as an afterthought and were so ridiculously close to the driver’s that not even an anorexic baby could fit enough to be a passenger. The electronically retractable roof (a relatively new feature at the time) took up whatever little space was left for a trunk, and combined with the fact there weren’t any backseats, you had literally nowhere to put anything.
To top it off, the wooden interior made everything seem like it was being marketed to geriatric trust-fund children. That notion was confirmed by being one of the last production cars to feature a cassette tape player.
If there’s one thing the Italians do best, it’s make gorgeous cars. Making reliable cars, on the other hand, is not something the Italians have ever been accused of being good at.
When the Chrysler TC was released in the late 1980s, people were critical of the car, saying it was basically a LeBaron built in Italy with a leather interior. And they were right. It also cost twice as much as a LeBaron, making you question how much value is actually being added by shipping a LeBaron from Italy with a dead cow on its conscience. To top it all off, the TC was prone to mechanical failure at a much higher rate than the LeBaron.
Nearly everyone who looked at the car instead opted for the far cheaper LeBaron, and the TC sold poorly before finally being discontinued in 1991.
The Laforza began life as a military concept truck for the Italian army. The truck was eventually adopted as an armored all-purpose carrier, but the designers felt that there were untapped sources of revenue in the civilian markets. So, they redesigned it as a luxury off-road SUV that they thought could compete with the likes of Range Rover. They were wrong.
Compared to a similarly priced Range Rover, the Laforza was underpowered and unreliable in terms of mechanical failure. What’s worse, the components needed for repairs often needed to be shipped from Italy, making it more expensive to repair than scrap. The Laforza began production in 1989 and shortly thereafter went bankrupt due to poor sales.
You've probably never heard of the brand “Qvale” before in your life. That’s because they made one car - and one car only - the Mangusta. In fact, the entire brand was invented because the car was deemed too slow and too ugly to be branded by their actual manufacturer, Italian carmaker De Tomaso.
In the early '90s, De Tomaso wanted to make a luxury sport compact to compete with then-popular Lotus and Alfa Romeo offerings. To save costs, they used the drivetrain of the Ford Mustang (The SVT Cobra) and named it after the mongoose in honor of the De Tomaso car of the same name from the '60s.
But the car’s bizarre stylings never quite landed with the young and rich. Poor sales meant that they had to brand it under “Qvale” to protect De Tomaso’s name, and this luxury sport compact saw a price drop of over $10,000 to try and prop up sales.
Most people think of Ferrari as the pinnacle of Italian engineering, but even the best of the best have a brain fart every now and again. That’s the Mondial.
Compared with other luxury sport coupes at the time, the Mondial was slow, expensive, and worst of all, prone to spontaneous combustion. The wiring on the Mondial was especially poor, even for an Italian car manufacturer in the '80s, so the wires themselves would eventually degrade, spark, and catch fire. Turning the keys for your morning commute was like Russian roulette with your car’s engine.
The constant risk of your six-figure supercar going up in smoke was enough to completely tank the resale value of the car, so even if it didn’t fail, it was never worth your time to sell it.
The Cimarron is legendary amongst car manufacturers as a cautionary tale on the dangers of rebranding (a tale that not many car manufacturers have taken to heart). In the early '80s, the BMW 3 series was running roughshod over North American manufacturers in the luxury small car segment, and GM decided to do something about it. Their answer was to rebrand a Chevy Cavalier as a Cadillac, give it a leather interior, and hope for the best.
The best never turned out. People immediately saw through the thin facade, noting the Cimarron's poor quality in almost every respect. This car almost singlehandedly killed Cadillac as a luxury brand, and to this day, there remains a poster in GM’s head office of the Cimarron with the words “lest we forget” written underneath.
Today, the Mercedes A-Class is a relatively well-respected compact luxury car. It might be overpriced and underperforming compared with other compact cars, but it comes with the Mercedes badge, so you pay several thousand more.
When the A-Class was first designed in the late '90s, it had a critical flaw: the car would roll over at surprisingly low speeds. After several automotive journalists flipped their A-Class cars during test drives, Mercedes was actually forced to recall every car sold to modify the suspension and add electronic stability control to fix the problem.
It would take almost a decade for the A-Class to live down the shame of its early models, and to this day remains a poor choice for those looking for a small luxury car.
Remember the Cimarron? The rebranded Cavalier that everybody saw through immediately? Evidently, other American auto manufacturers weren’t paying enough attention to learn from GM’s mistakes. Enter Ford Motor Company and the Jaguar X-Type. Jaguar had always been known as a high-end luxury brand, but Ford wanted to compete with the slightly less luxurious midsize sedans that sold well for their German counterparts. To do this, they took a Ford Contour, stuck a big snarling cat hood ornament on it, and called it a Jaguar.
Ford did give the X-Type a bit of an upgrade on its engine and suspension, but it never came close to competing with similar Audis and BMWs. Worse, it seemed to water down the Jaguar brand, to the point that Ford never tried the same trick again.
It’s hard to imagine, but the Sebring was Chrysler’s entry to the midsize luxury sedan market. The only problem was there was literally nothing to like about the car. It had poor performance, ugly styling, bad fuel economy, uncomfortable suspension, and an overall appearance that said: “I am the blandest car to ever exist.”
Worst of all was the convertible version, which took an unrefined drive and made it all the worse by removing whatever tension was being provided by the roof. It was so bad that Jeremy Clarkson considered it the worst car in the world in 2008.
Strangely enough, it was still marketed as a luxury car despite starting at just over $20,000. I guess there’s no accounting for taste.