My Favorite Misbegotten Vehicles
Think about the idea of intention and purpose. A designer, an engineer, and an executive – oh, yes, let’s not forget the folks in accounting – are all involved in the process of creating a vehicle. Once everyone signs off on it, they have to campaign for its success. Even the marketing folks have to be on board with selling it to everyone – dealerships, the communications folks, and, ultimately, the consumer.
Some vehicles are just simply missing the mark.
How? Think about the idea of intention and purpose. A designer, an engineer, and an executive – oh, yes, let’s not forget the folks in accounting – are all involved in the process of creating a vehicle. Once everyone signs off on it, they have to campaign for its success. Even the marketing folks have to be on board with selling it to everyone – dealerships, the communications folks, and, ultimately, the consumer.
What if all of the hoopla yields something that was intended to be a winner, simply turned out to be a dud. Vehicles arrive to the symphony of trumpets, but some are given a sad trombone when the reception is less than stellar.
But, which ones do I remember the most? Which vehicles remind me of a great idea turned sour? Considering these are not my favorites of this group, let’s just call them the ones that I remember that we may have forgotten. And, some of them are tied into more notorious vehicles that get a bad rap by everyone.
So, let's go back in time – so we can forget about these vehicles.
2002-2007 BUICK RENDEZVOUS: If you thought that the Pontiac Aztek was a forgettable piece of General Motors lore, then look no further than the same Mexican assembly line it came from. The Pontiac and its Buick twin came from a platform called the GMT250, which was developed from the GMT200 minivan platform. From the minivan, they created a tall wagon-ish crossover that was supposed to be more focused than a minivan (read: only two rows of seating) and added the all-wheel-drive system called Versatrak. Some styling miscues prevailed, especially the back quarter of the tall wagon, which was to take the place of the Estate Wagon in terms of family use. Buick sold this thing for six model years (2002-2007) and included it in a three-vehicle family strategy of non-cars (The Terraza minivan and the Rainier SUV)
1975-1980 MERCURY BOBCAT: Another badge-engineered effort of a poorly designed car that also began in Canada. In 1974, Ford of Canada gave their mid-priced brand a Pinto with a more formal grille and a name that would seem like a subservient (but, equally vicious) cat. That car arrived at Lincoln-Mercury dealers in the USA for 1975. Of course, when we learned of the placement of the fuel tank at the extreme rear of the Pinto, no one brought up the fact that it would end up on the Bobcat, also. But, we never heard of any tragedies involving Bobcats. Yet, being badge-engineered also means being guilty by association. The Bobcat’s run ended in 1980 with the introduction of the North American version of the front-drive Ford Escort and its Mercury version – the Lynx.
2009-2012 LEXUS HS 250h: Not everything from Japan was a hit. Sadly, this was one hybrid too much for a market that embraced the Toyota Prius as the savior of the green car movement. Sold in Japan as the Toyota Sai, the 2009 HS 250h changed out badging and front trim to the oval-L design. Sadly, it looked nothing like any of its fellow Lexus models on the showroom floor. They gave it the larger 2.4-liter gasoline engine to pair it with the Lexus Hybrid System. While this improved performance over a Prius, customers still looked at it as "just another hybrid." They added wood trim and leather to the interior in hopes of making it inviting to luxury car buyers. Still, customers were balking. They simply passed up on the HS for other sedans, including the IS, the ES, the GS, and the LS. The curtain fell on the HS when the brake software had to be reprogrammed through a recall in 2010. By 2013, there were no HS 250h models left to sell.
1975-1977 PONTIAC ASTRE: You would think that GM’s Canadian unit would save the maligned Chevrolet Vega by offering it to Pontiac dealers. Think again. It was the same Vega with an arrowhead badge. Maybe a tweak in the grille texture, but you cannot mask the meltdown of an aluminum engine and the semi-effort in execution for the corporate "subcompact." American consumers received the Astre in 1975 as a way to offset customers worries about fuel economy after the OPEC Fuel Crisis. The only thing that differentiated the Astre from the Vega was the twin-kidney grille and the arrowhead badges. That alone could not stem the damage of this car’s image, which soldiered on until 1977. Luckily, GM had moved on to a newer series of models built off the same platform, but with better engines (Read: Pontiac's 2.5-liter Iron Duke four-cylinder). Therefore, the Sunbird rose from the ashes of the Astre – a car we forgot actually existed.
2001-2009 JAGUAR X-TYPE: Sir William Lyons' old automotive company was as Victorian and Edwardian as you can get. Then, British Leyland got a hold of them and almost destroyed them with terribly built and expensive machines. Eventually, Ford would rescue the old Coventry car works and instill a new sense of quality and purpose. Part of that plan was to expand the lineup into new segments Jaguar has never competed in. To do so, they took the same front-drive platform as the Ford Mondeo and built a Jaguar on top of it. The result was a puzzling mix of "Jaguar" with "WTH?!?" The purists questioned the execution of the X-Type as it was not a lavish, rear-drive car that made you a cad and an absolute snob. It was powered by a V6 in the USA, but was that enough? We even got the Sportswagon, which may have helped its cause. But the Germans began to rule that segment in force. No luxury car customer would ever be found dead in a new X-Type from 2005 onward. This attempt at vehicular credibility would be akin to wrapping a Lincoln onto a basic Ford platform, but, as a reminder, a Lincoln was not a Jaguar, even in the first decade of the 21st Century.
1996-2000 PLYMOUTH BREEZE: Chrysler's cab forward revolution was complete with the introduction of the mid-sized Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Cirrus. There was probably a reason why this car was not offered in a lower-priced Plymouth version – not because there was the Cirrus in their respective showroom. Yet, someone thought it was a great idea to add the 1996 Plymouth Breeze to the Stratus/Cirrus assembly line. They did so by offering it with a smaller engine than its Dodge and Chrysler siblings – a 2.0-liter four-cylinder from the compact Neon – and a single trim level. The reason was to keep costs down and offer it at a lower price. It almost worked, except that the Neon engine was too weak for this heavier sedan. Plymouth began selling the Breeze with the larger 2.4-liter engine, which brought up to respectable levels of performance. The Breeze experiment ended as the Plymouth brand was phased out in 2000.