Automotive design is a funny thing. There are no objective truths in it, no yes-or-no answers, which is frustrating for a backyard mechanic like me. See, I like problems that have clear solutions: you set your goal, put your time in, and before you know it, boom — problem solved. But when your goal is to make a great-looking car body, it’s a hope and a prayer. As the old saying goes, you pays your money and you takes your chances.
That’s why I’ve got a lot of sympathy for car designers, and I think the public is too quick to criticize their efforts. I’ve always kept a mental list of quote-unquote ugly vehicles that really don’t deserve that reputation. So here they are: my Top 5 cars that should get more stylistic respect.
5: Toyota Prius
I think people like to hate on the Prius because of what it stands for. There’s this notion out there that every Prius driver wears a holier-than-thou smirk. Well, I know plenty of Prius drivers who simply appreciate the roomy hatchback interior and great fuel economy. And if you take an honest look at the Prius’s car body, you’ll see that when it got redesigned for 2010, they made it a lot sleeker from stem to stern. The interior is a home run, too — a spaceship for the street.
4: MINI Cooper Coupe
The Cooper Coupe has gotten the cold shoulder for its styling from the moment it appeared, but as with the Prius, I think folks are conflating two unrelated issues. In the Coupe’s case, the real problem is that a lot of people claim it just doesn’t make any sense. I can understand that — after all, it’s basically a regular Cooper Hardtop hatchback without the hatchback and backseat — but that doesn’t mean it’s ugly! When I look at the Cooper Coupe, I see shades of a fixed-roof Mazda Miata, or even the classic BMW Z3 M Coupe. Plus, when it comes to factory-built cute car accessories or a car body kit, MINI is the all-time auto accessory champ.
3: Mazda 3
The Mazda 3 was the car that pioneered Mazda’s “smiley face” school of design — and as soon as its grinning grille burst on the scene, the fashion police were out in force. But I’ll tell you what I like about the 3’s much-maligned schnozz: it’s distinctive, first of all, but more than that, it genuinely makes me smile when I see it. There’s something to be said for a car that puts you in a good mood just because of the expression on its face. And thanks to extensive aftermarket support, there are plenty of vehicle accessories for the 3 that can jazz up its appearance.
2: Nissan Cube
I’ve learned in my time that familiar concepts often vary across cultures, so what’s cute here, for example, might not be cute over there. Well, judging by the Cube’s plummeting sales numbers, Americans don’t find it cute — whereas in Japan, it’s long been considered a cool car for young people, especially women. For my part, whenever I see a Cube drive by, with its asymmetrical windows and delivery-van profile, I think about what a neat first car it would be for teenagers. But I guess American teenagers don’t think it’s cute enough, and that’s a shame.
1: Chrysler PT Cruiser
They don’t even make this car anymore, but I had to make it my number-one, because I feel like the PT Cruiser always got penalized in the press for its looks. Unlike the Cube, mind you, the PT Cruiser was a very successful vehicle for Chrysler, so I know there’s a lot of Americans out there who agree with me on this. But when I read reviews of the PT Cruiser, I get the feeling that the critics just didn’t take it seriously. And that’s something I can’t really understand, because what Chrysler did with this car was take the humdrum Neon sedan and turn it into something with real 1930s-style visual impact. Was it sleek and chiseled like the latest performance cars? No sir, but it put eye-catching retro styling within reach of the average car shopper–and maybe I’m just getting old, but I wish more automakers would shake things up and give that a try.
Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts carries a wide selection of items to improve your car’s appearance—dare we say, even “cute” car accessories.