Remember the Pontiac Aztek? For the four years Pontiac sold this crossover SUV, reviewers complained more about the car's obtuse dimensions and bulky panels than they praised its pleasing performance and strong road composure.
Times have changed -- now many cars take after the ugly duckling more than they resemble the graceful swan, and it's becoming cooler to drive around in the most awkward-looking vehicle you can find. So it's a good thing that many of the cars with the wackiest, oddest and weirdest designs have some of the most innovative interiors and powerful engines.
We've scanned the crowd to find the funkiest cars you'll love to hate. Some of the cars will soon be discontinued, some have yet to make it to production, and others are only sold overseas. All of them, however, have enough personality to make you look twice -- and maybe arrange a test drive.
Arguably the most recognizable car design of yesteryear, the Volkswagen New Beetle still holds on to the bulbous fenders and bug-eyed headlights that it first debuted in 1938. Experts are divided on the overall effect, but praise the VW Bug's sterling build quality and fun-to-drive personality. What the New Beetle lacks, however, is utility. If cargo capacity is high on your list, New Car Test Drive says Chrysler's PT Cruiser "combines the retro look of late '30s American iron with modern performance, efficiency and features," plus its height provides abundant cargo room and plenty of headroom. Now is a great time to get a deal on a PT Cruiser, as the Chrysler label restructures and merges with Fiat. Check out our Chrysler Deals to see what's available.
Another vehicle long on stowage options and throwback style is the Ford Flex. Reviewers say the Flex's quirky features are evident in both the interior and exterior design. A rear seat refrigerator is optional, as is a multi-panel vista roof that spans all three rows of the Flex's cabin. On the outside, "The ribbed doors recall classic American 'woodie' station wagons, but not in a cheesy, retro sort of way," Automobile Magazine says.
Petite, If Not Pretty
The tiny Smart Fortwo definitely made a splash when it arrived in the United States last year -- and not just because of its diminutive size. The little car's unique, almost-disproportionate styling is one of its most distinctive traits. About.com's reviewer aptly states, "It's still hard to look at it and think of it as a car. I'd look at all the vehicles parked on my street and think 'Car, car, car, Smart, car, car.'" And speaking of parking, the Fortwo's miniscule shape translates into park-anywhere capabilities. The Smart car's agreeable price and cavernous gas tank could also make you disregard its clownish shape.
If money is less of a concern, consider the BMW 1-Series -- another small car with a slightly misshapen yet eye-catching frame. Similar to the Smart Fortwo, the 1-Series is sold as a coupe or convertible -- but this quirky micro car also offers outstanding engine power and sharp handling. However, as with the Smart Fortwo, auto writers find themselves weighing the 1-Series' capabilities against its unforgettable appearance. "I love the mechanicals of this car," says the Los Angeles Times. "Well, I loved them before they got jammed into this ugly Size 8 Birkenstock."
The Cubism Movement
With shag carpeting, rippling water design effects and asymmetrical windows, the Nissan Cube epitomizes funky. Likened to an "apartment on wheels" by CNET, "a washing machine" by Edmunds, and even a marshmallow in the Chattanooga Times Free Press' estimation, the Cube has more than a distinctive appearance. Reviewers also praise the car's comfortable seating and enjoy the polished continuously variable transmission found in many small Nissans. The 2010 Kia Soul is also recognized for a cushy cabin and in-your-face look. Plus, Kia's 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty could win over shoppers that are undecided on the Soul's boxy look.
But both the Cube and the 2010 Soul don't offer much in terms of storage capacity. If you want both utilitarian shape and functionality, the Honda Element might be a better bet. Writers say it's not your typical SUV -- in fact Car and Driver describes the Element as a "rolling breadbox." If that's the case, the Element can hold a lot of bread. Its unusual reverse-hinged rear doors facilitate a maximum of 74.6 cubic feet of cargo and create an opening that's larger than most minivans. And the Element's height allows plenty of room for even the tallest passengers.
The drivers overseas embrace automobiles with strange dimensions and atypical designs more readily than we do. The Peugeot 207 is one of the most popular hatchbacks in Europe thanks to its impressive quality, turbocharged performance and its screwy but strong design cues. Top Gear says, "The 207 is nicely styled and still looks fresh, and with that in mind it's possible to convince yourself there's a bit of Parisienne chic going on here."
Our Toyota Yaris has sloping lines that resemble the Peugeot 207, but Italy's Covini C6W truly is one of a kind. That's because the sports coupe has one removable roof, two seats, two doors and six wheels. According to the manufacturer, the car's six wheels provide better braking, grip, comfort and road absorption, plus they should reduce the risk of hydroplaning or the front tires deflating. Few have had the opportunity to test this out, as the C6W isn't slated to reach limited production until the end of the year.
There are some new cars expected in the coming months and years that will continue to satisfy our desire for the fresh and funky. Chrysler has declared bankruptcy and announced plans to merge with Italian automaker Fiat. As part of the agreement, a handful of Fiats and Alfa Romeo hatchbacks with Euro-cool styling could soon make their way to the United States.
The Alfa Romeo MiTo, which could be available by 2010, has avant-garde looks that are frequently compared to the MINI Cooper and Volvo C30. Meanwhile, the closely related Alfa Romeo Milano, "is one very stylish hatchback," according to Consumer Guide. "Like MiTo, the Milano is an Italian stylish blend of curves and creases, announced by a rounded nose a la Alfa's exotic 8C sports cars with sweptback headlamps and a large triangular grille." The Fiat 500, Fiat Grande Punto, and Fiat Panda are slightly less luxurious, but Edmunds say the Fiat designs have "iPod-style coolness that everyone responds to."