Phoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

Phoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be botheredWhat’s the worst crime in the world of car design? Sure, you might find a particular car ugly or offensive, but at least it encourages some kind of reaction. In our view, there’s nothing worse than a car that goes by unnoticed, failing to register on anyone’s radar.

Which is why we’ve assembled 20 cars that are so bland and so derivative, you might struggle to find them in a supermarket car park. Whether designed by committee or simply because the designer fancied a day on the beach, these are the cars that style forgot.

Vauxhall VectraPhoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

Of the Vauxhall Vectra, a certain Jeremy Clarkson said: “Trying to road test it is like trying to road test a microwave oven”. In a memorable episode of Top Gear, Clarkson went to great lengths to talk about anything other than the replacement for the Cavalier.

In desperation, he pointed to the “cunning little tool which gets the dust covers off the tyre valves” and the “great door mirrors” as the only reasons to buy a Vectra. In a stroke, Clarkson wrote himself into motoring TV history and off Vauxhall’s Christmas card list.

Mitsubishi MiragePhoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

You’ve resisted the all-round brilliance of the Up, Citigo and Mii siblings, the cheekiness of the Suzuki Ignis, the joie de vivre of the Renault Twingo, and the value-added Hyundai i10. Against all the odds, you arrive at a Mitsubishi dealer.

Somehow you manage to look beyond its ditchwater-dull exterior and drab interior, getting to the point of discussing finance options with the dealer. You’re not having a good day, but it’s not too late to turn back. From April 1st, even the tiny carrot of free road tax will be removed from the very short list of reasons to buy a Mirage.

Ford Escort Mk5Phoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

“These days you can’t help noticing how cars are becoming increasingly alike. More and more efficient but, some would say, less and less enjoyable. That’s the Law of Averages at work. Whatever happened to the idea that, above all, a car should be a pleasure to drive? Ford haven’t forgotten. For that’s precisely the idea behind the new Ford Escort. It breaks the Law of Averages in every possible way.”

It did, but not in a good way. The press ad introducing the fifth generation Escort promised a lot, but the car delivered so little. It was all-new, but the styling was bland beyond belief, so much so that Ford was forced into a facelift after just two years. Average? This Ford couldn’t even reach that benchmark.

Renault 9Phoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

The Renault 9 is a former European Car of the Year award-winner, but that’s hardly a barometer of brilliance. Throughout the 60s and 70s, Renault built some legendary cars: the 4, 16 and 5, to name but three. And the signs were good when Robert Opron was chosen to work on the design of the 9.

The Frenchman had penned the SM, GS and CX for Citroen, not to mention the redesign of the DS. For Renault, he had already sorted the svelte and futuristic Fuego. In contrast, the 9 was a backward step, and a rare dead branch on an otherwise brilliant family tree.

Toyota PriusPhoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

The first Toyota Prius was launched in Japan back in 1997 and soon became the darling of green-washed celebs, doing their bit for the environment. It became the brand generic, not only for hybrid vehicles, but for green cars in general.

So it’s a disappointment that Toyota made no effort with the styling. One day, we’ll look at the dawn of the hybrid vehicle and ask: really, was that the best we could do? Such a shame that the better looking and technologically brilliant Honda Civic Hybrid has been largely forgotten.

SEAT ToledoPhoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

The first generation SEAT Toledo was a stylish, Giugiaro-designed five-door hatchback, designed to look like a saloon. The follow-up was a handsome, if forgettable saloon version of the SEAT Leon. The third generation: well that just made us long for the sanctuary of mediocrity.

In fairness to the designers, they were hampered by the need to base the Toledo on the Altea, whilst retaining the Toledo’s big boot. The result was something with the face of the Elephant Man and the bottom of Kim Kardashian.

Toyota CorollaPhoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

The Toyota Corolla started life as a pert and pretty saloon, coupe and station wagon, but time hasn’t been kind to the world’s most successful nameplate. That’s the problem when you’re trying to cater for a mass audience: the result is something terribly generic.

It’s the vanilla ice cream of the automotive world. The magnolia paint. The music you’ll hear in a lift. The Rich Tea biscuit. Toyota knows this, which is why it has placed an attractive woman to the right of this photo, in the hope that you might overlook its blandness.

Skoda Fabia saloonPhoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

Not everybody shares our obsession with hatchbacks. In some markets, buyers prefer the security of a compact saloon, in the mistaken belief that a closed boot offers more class and prestige than a glass tailgate.

As a result, carmakers are all too keen to graft a stubby boot onto the back of an otherwise inoffensive hatchback, creating monstrosities such as the Skoda Fabia saloon. It’s an abomination. A stain on the pants of the automotive world.

Fiat MultiplaPhoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

The original, modern-day Fiat Multipla was an interesting, radical and genuinely practical compact MPV. Despite being shorter than the Fiat Bravo/Brava upon which it was based, it was able to offer two rows of three seats, giving it a genuine standout quality in a crowded sector.

But some people found the styling offensive and small children had nightmares. Fiat bottled it, and gave the Multipla a facelift akin to slapping a layer of magnolia paint over its unique and bold exterior. A victory for blandness and a defeat for originality.

Skoda YetiPhoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

It’s a similar story with the Skoda Yeti. When it arrived in 2009, the Yeti impressed us with its bold styling, which was a welcome tonic to the ubiquity of rival crossovers. Skoda had a hit on its hands, leading to waiting lists of up to six months and a legion of new and loyal fans.

Everything changed in 2013. In an effort to bring the quirky Yeti into line with the corporate look, Skoda furnished it with a bland new face, removing its character in the process.

Toyota RAV4Phoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

Remember the original Toyota RAV4? Launched in 1994, the RAV4 was a crossover before the Qashqai was a twinkle in Nissan’s eye, with an ability to offer car-like dynamics in an SUV suit. In three-door guise especially, it was also bold and interesting to look at.

The current RAV4 is neither bold or interesting. Both inside and out, it’s the automotive equivalent of the television test screen. In 2016 it was the seventh best-selling car in the world. In other news: McVitie’s Rich Tea biscuits are more popular than Ginger Nuts, Hobnobs, Custard Creams and Jammie Dodgers. Proof that being popular isn’t necessarily a reliable barometer of fine taste.

Nissan SunnyPhoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

Even as recently as 1978, the Nissan (neé Datsun) Sunny was an interesting alternative to the humdrum saloons being offered by European carmakers. The 120Y coupé was quite an iconic car of the 1970s, if only for the fact that it kept moving when other family cars were struggling to cope with damp mornings in suburbia.

By the turn of the 1990s, the Sunny outlook had turned to drizzle, as the family car spiralled into an abyss of blandness and mediocrity. Worse was to come: it would have to suffer the ignominy of being replaced by the Almera. Oh, the shame.

Fiat 500LPhoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

‘Divisive’, ‘challenging’ and ‘quirky’ are just three of the more pleasant words we’ve seen used to describe the looks of the Fiat 500L. Others aren’t repeatable before the watershed.

You can understand the rationale behind styling a compact MPV to look like one of the world’s most popular small cars, but doesn’t make it right. Even moody photos fail to make the 500L look anything other than bed-wettingly distasteful. And to think some people found the Multipla hard to look at.

McLaren MP4-12CPhoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

Its inclusion is likely to be controversial, but the McLaren MP4-12C has always felt a bit too clinical. It’s the cold and aloof member of the sports car fraternity: a car that’s easy to admire but hard to love.

Even the name – later shortened to 12C – sounds like a laptop. “The shape is not overpowered by styling elements that don’t need to be there,” said designer Frank Stephenson. Fair enough, but this is one McLaren that’s unlikely to be battling for bedroom wall space.

Ford Ka+Phoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

Once upon a time there was a small and cheeky city car with the world at its feet. It was fun to drive and blessed with quirky good looks that enabled it to stand head-and-shoulders above its tedious rivals. That car was the Ford Ka.

Then Ford replaced it with a second-generation model that was a shadow of its former self. Its character and charm ripped from its core. The current Mk3 Ka+ plays the role of a ‘world car’, catering for the masses and majoring on blandness. The Ka, as we once knew it, is dead. The end.

Toyota AurisPhoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

The Auris name is derived from ‘aurum’, which is latin for gold. That’s about the most interesting thing we can say about the Toyota Auris. Sorry, Toyota, a new name doesn’t make it any more interesting than the Corolla.

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Vauxhall MerivaPhoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

No child has or will ever grow up wanting to drive a Vauxhall Meriva. It’s dull to drive, dull to look at and dull to be inside. We’ve seen more excitement in the cardigan department at Marks & Spencer.

Vauxhall facelifted the Meriva in 2006, in the mistaken belief that a chrome strip across the tailgate would make the world of difference. It didn’t. Comically, Vauxhall also built a VXR version, which was akin to sticking a firework under a beige riser-recliner chair.

Lamborghini HuracanPhoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

Look, we’re not saying the Lamborghini Huracan isn’t good looking. Park one of these on your driveway and net curtains will be twitching. But by Ferruccio Lamborghini’s own standards, is it a true Lamborghini? The Italian always maintained that if passers-by didn’t turn around in astonishment, the styling was not good enough.

Compare and contrast the Huracan with some of Lamborghini’s past greats: does it pass the bedroom-wall test? Sure, it might be a more civilised and useable Lamborghini, but is that what we really want from Sant’Agata? Heck, it might even be upstaged by the Audi R8…

Nissan LeafPhoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

If the automotive world wants us to get behind an electric future, it might want to start building cars we’d want to be seen in. Renault has made a good fist of the Zoe, but the Nissan Leaf is dull, bordering on ugly.

We’ve seen more stylish hospital bedpans.

Mitsubishi CarismaPhoned in: 20 cars where the designer couldn’t be bothered

The irony of this car’s name isn’t lost on us, but this Mitsubishi suffered from more than just a charisma bypass. Reliable it might have been – you probably wouldn’t need to call upon that AA badge – but the Mitsubishi Carisma could so easily have been called the ‘Tiresome’ or the ‘Bleak’.

Amazing to think that it was based on the first generation Volvo S40 and that its chassis would be used for the Proton Impian. Actually, those aren’t amazing facts. Mount Everest is the height of 643 double-decker buses: that’s an amazing fact.

Has an unhealthy obsession with cars of the 80s and 90s. Doesn’t really do supercars. Not a huge fan of sports cars. But loves the undervalued and the underwhelming.

Is probably a bit strange.

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  • Aaron Alleyne-Wake

    That article is savage lol – good read though!

  • Murgatroyd

    The Corolla and Auris are not that bad TBH. Bland but inoffensive and have not aged too badly. The boring colours in these photos do not help. I think that the current Auris looks OK. However, the RAV4 is downright ugly.

  • Robert Miller

    How much does Toyota pay you Gavin a year? I have read your articles for a long time and you seem to me to be another boring Toyota fan ( that includes Lexus). Toyotas have to be the most boring cars in the world but not as bad as Ladas. I have had two Toyotas and both have been reliable but exceedingly boring. The Worst car I have owned was a Subaru.

  • Ha. If Toyota had paid me to write this article, I think they’d be asking for their money back.

    Fancy a Rich Tea biscuit?