One of the greatest names in auto history, Lancia had its reputation nuked when its cars began rusting while still sitting in UK showrooms. That was in the Seventies. By the Nineties, some would say that calling your last-gasp UK-market turnaround hope the Dedra was something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not a truly terrible car in its own right, but a symbol of what happens when a big car company – here, Fiat – eats its own.
11: 2007 Dodge Caliber
The Pontiac Aztek is unquestionably the ugliest car of the past 20 years, but it was never sold in the UK so we can’t include it. The Dodge Caliber, on the other hand, was on sale here, and while substantially less visually offensive – despite its pseudo-SUV styling – misses the mark by a similarly heroic distance. Kind of like Kid Rock in car form, although marginally less annoying.
10: 2005 Nissan Micra C+C
If you need us to justify its inclusion here, you are not only reading the wrong mag, you are living on the wrong planet. Even Ferrari and Pininfarina couldn’t come up with a folding hard-top on the California that avoided Fat Arse Syndrome, so what chance did Nissan have with the Micra? As much fun as sticking chilli-infused toothpicks in your eyes.
9: 1995 Vauxhall Vectra
The Vectra was so mediocre that JC refused to drive it. The resulting six minutes of telly is classic, both cementing his status as a broadcasting deity and ensuring that he would never again be able to buy a kebab in Luton. Not a bad car, but certainly a cynical one, which is probably worse. Actually, come to think of it, it was pretty bad. “Will this do?” GM asked. “No it won’t,” a nation replied.
8: 2005 Hummer H3
The H3 is another cynical marketing wheeze from GM, surely one of the world’s most comically misguided corporations. It was allegedly the small Hummer, whose ladder-frame chassis and leaf springs consigned it to on-road hell, and gave you some idea about its overall ambition. Not bad off-road, but who cares? Now condemned to an afterlife as a stretch limo for hen nights.
7: 2003 Citroen C3 Pluriel
With its detachable roof pillars and sliding roof, there were nods here to the 2CV and the now ultra-chic Méhari. Unfortunately, the gap between fantasy and reality proved to be more a chasm. Once removed, those bits of roof had nowhere to go, apart from the back seats, which was problematic if they happened to contain people. All in all, a car that was as useful as a chocolate teapot.
6: 2003 Rover CityRover
Witnessing the prolonged death rattle of Britain’s last volume car manufacturer was one of the less enjoyable aspects of the past decade. The Rover CityRover – almost certainly not the inspiration behind the Ferrari LaFerrari – wasn’t so much the last roll of the dice as the final nail in a faux-walnut coffin. It wasn’t grossly offensive to drive, it was roomy enough and it wasn’t particularly hideous to look at. It wasn’t even the ignominy of cash-strapped MG Rover having to rebadge the Indian-made Tata Indica as a means of getting a foothold in the market. No, the problem was the sheer cynicism with which it was piloted to market: you needed nine grand for a decently specced one. When MG Rover finally collapsed in April 2005, the so-called Phoenix Four and chief executive Kevin Howe had somehow managed to trouser £42m between them in four years. Banging, as we used to say in 1996.
5: 2007 Ssangyong Rodius
Designed by a Brit, the Rodius is a vehicle of such cosmic ineptitude that it must surely have been done via pre-Skype in the days of glitching dial-up modems by a team of visually impaired misanthropes. Who signed it off? Can you imagine sitting round the table during that meeting? “Yes, chaps, we’ve really nailed it this time!” The only thing worse than looking at the Rodius is driving it, as this is a car that visits every possible dynamic flaw upon its luckless occupants, including an unresolved ride, arthritic performance and hysterically awful handling. Indeed, corner hard enough, and the back door may even fly open, such is the Rodius’s structural rigidity. Still, it conveniently answers one oft-asked question: yes, there is still such a thing as a genuinely bad car.
4: 1995 Suzuki X-90
In many ways, the Nineties was a golden era for the Japanese car industry, as it bestrode the WRC like a colossus and invented a whole new subculture in the guise of the PlayStation generation. Fortunately, our aching sides didn’t get a moment’s rest when Suzuki misread the motor show runes and pressed its 1993 Tokyo show X-90 concept into production. Evil progenitor of the pre-TOWIE Essexmobile, the Vitara SUV, the X-90 compounded Suzuki’s reputation for marketing-led myopia and wobbly handling. But even if the car looked as though it didn’t know whether it was coming or going, Suzuki GB whipped it off sale after barely 18 months in a moment of damage limitation, at roughly the same time Billie Faiers was being born.
3: 2001 Reva G-Wiz
Not a car, of course, but a quadricycle, a legal nicety that in no way excuses its many crimes against humanity. The scourge of all right-thinking TG readers, but beloved of tofu-munching sandalistas, the G-Wiz’s rise to urban proliferation – in London, at least – was surely one of the most depressing trends of the past two decades. Ugly, badly made and distressingly engineered, the G-Wiz was also genuinely dangerous, as we pointed out in issue 166, and Euro NCAP and tragically a coroner’s court later confirmed. We’re unsure if it’s the vehicle’s innate hatefulness that most riles us, or the fact that otherwise intelligent people sacrificed common sense on the altar of trendy but ultimately wafer-thin eco-awareness to be seen to be doing the right thing. Both, probably.
2: 2008 Maybach 57/62
Pre-2008, we heard a lot about ‘high-net-worth individuals’. If you had £10m or more in disposable readies, you were in. BMW went after HNWIs with its epic Rolls-Royce reboot, the Phantom. Volkswagen did a fine job with Bentley. Mercedes-Benz decided to reactivate a brand that nobody under the age of 90 outside Stuttgart remembered, slathering an ersatz reject Hyundai luxury body over an ageing S-Class platform and hoping that various oligarchs, rap stars and Paris Hilton wouldn’t notice that it was actually an elaborate con. They didn’t. But we did. The 57S version finally gave the hapless guy up front something to do other than stirring up revolutionary resentment towards his boss, but by the time the Landaulet appeared, the game was up, and Mercedes iced the brand in favour of six different versions of the new S-Class. Smart move. Rolls-Royce, meanwhile, is on course for a record year in 2013.
1: 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Cabrio
Retro styling was one of the most notable trends of the Nineties. Execute it properly
– the VW Beetle, Audi TT, Mini – and you could sit back counting the cash as customers flocked to bathe in the fuzzy glow of a time they’d probably only read about. You could argue that 1993’s Plymouth Prowler concept was one of the progenitors of this whole shtick, a slick hot-rod homage that went on sale saddled with a useless 214bhp engine and crummy auto ‘box. Undeterred, Chrysler added the same tropes to the late-Nineties Pronto Cruizer concept, and thus onto a five-door family hatchback which yoked an imagined American Graffiti past onto a rubbish platform and then tried to sell it to a country that was still more Coronation Street than Route 66.
That was the PT Cruiser. Where next? How about lopping its roof off and adding a bracing bar that didn’t actually serve any purpose? Truly, a remarkable car. Everything dubious that has happened in the world of cars since TG mag’s inception in September 1993 is here, present and correct. We would salute it, if we didn’t want to blow it up first.