Innovation, engineering, design – these are the three legs of the stool that makes for a truly excellent car. Unfortunately, sometimes one of those legs is a bit wobbly. Or collapse-y.
We’ve seen it happen time and again as automakers push the envelope to get customers through the door. Here are ten examples of really stupid things manufacturers tried to unsuccessfully foist upon an unsuspecting – and unwilling – market.
Model X gullwing doors
Well, we might as well get this one out of the way. Tesla fans are often, shall we say, passionate (cough rabid cough) and any criticism of the company’s products tends to result in the sort of measured and calm response you got around a biblical stoning.
But this is one even Elon Musk has admitted was a bit of hubris. While the rear “falcon” doors on the Model X look a bit DeLorean-ish when they’re up, they have some serious practical drawbacks. Having spoken to a couple of Tesla owners with older kids, the slow operation is a pain at the school drop-off. Roof racks are an issue. Alignment is often shoddy.
Basically, the Model X would have been better had it just kept plain-old doors. Mild criticism delivered– Ow! Who threw that?
One of the long-running tropes in the automotive world is that of the battle between the bean-counters (accountants) and the engineers. The engineers want to build the best car, so the story goes, while the accountants want to cut costs. I’m not so sure.
Witness the run-flat tire, developed not because it was the best idea, but because they could. Getting rid of a spare tire frees up all kinds of space, and is just the sort of thing that looks good on paper.
However, in the real-world, run-flat tires ride like you’ve strapped bricks to your BMW, and are hideously expensive to replace. Stop messing with what works, engineers.
Suicide rear doors
Some cars have two doors. Some cars have four doors. And then there are those cars that have two-and-a-half doors.
Think of the BMW i3, the Toyota FJ Cruiser, and the Honda Element. All of these have stubby little rear doors that only open if you’ve already opened the front door. Again, in theory you’re getting better access to the back seats. Makes sense on paper.
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In reality, getting a kid out of the back seat of an i3 when you’re parked beside another car is a colossal pain. The only way to do it is to climb out, open both doors, put them in the front seat, close the rear door, then get them out, and close the front door. No time or effort is saved.
Three-wheelers are making a bit of a comeback these days, with the Polaris slingshot providing all the thrills of a motorcycle with a little added protection around you. Seems perfectly reasonable.
However, years ago, people hadn’t worked out that the only way to get this formula to work was to put the single drive wheel out back and let two front wheels do the steering. The result was cars like the Reliant Robin and the rare Davis Divan. The latter was particularly dangerous, as it rode smoothly and safely, right until you turned the wheel and it fell over.
I’m torn on this one. On one hand, the automatic seatbelts of the 1980s and early ’90s were tacky and clunky and not above strangling you. When airbags came along, they were mostly phased out.
But on the other hand, something like a third to a half of all North American road fatalities are of people who aren’t wearing their seatbelts. We’ve had seatbelt interlocks before, but the technology wasn’t there yet. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the idea?
One of the options you could get in your 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham was a glovebox-mounted minibar. The idea was well executed, right down to the magnetized mini shot glasses and beautiful chromed construction.
But, of course, drinking and driving is a baaad idea, especially in 1957, when the crumple zone was your face. Let’s just say this idea was before its time, as a minibar will probably be perfectly fine in your 2057 fully autonomous Cadillac.
Fastest boat on the road, best car in the water. Truth be told, the Amphicar was good at being the worst of both worlds. It would have been far better had they built a master of one trade rather than a jack of none.
However, let’s soften the blow here and say that perhaps the Amphicar wasn’t a bad idea, just one that couldn’t yet be executed properly. A semi-aquatic ATV, the Quadski dusts off the Amphicar’s optimism, and makes it work. You will, however, get quite damp.
Another case of trying to juggle too many tasks, the GMC Envoy XUV combined the passenger comfort of a pickup truck with the bed capacity of an SUV. Fitted with folding seats and a retractable roof, it could convert between covered, lockable space to small pickup bed. Perfect for the family that collects, I dunno, grandfather clocks.
The issue was that the XUV was old, and clumsy, and hideous. People just went and bought a Silverado with a canopy instead.
The Honda Civic Type-R is a wonderful vehicle – to drive. To look at, it’s like pressing your face on a waffle iron. The worst part? Even though this is the hottest version of the Civic in decades, it still comes with big fake air intakes that don’t actually do anything.
This is all part of a campaign of hyper-aggression that seems to have nothing to do with either
- aerodynamics, or
- owning a pair of eyeballs.
Please, just stop. Send the designers back to the drawing board, and maybe check their prescriptions first.
Four-cylinder turbocharged luxury car
Getting a car to pass modern emissions testing and efficiency requirements is tough. What’s even tougher? Getting a four-cylinder turbocharger car to actually hit those targets in the real world.
Remember when even a basic BMW had a lovely straight-six engine? It felt like you were paying more for the engineering than the badge. Now, everybody runs the same unlovely 2.0L turbocharged fours, all of which lack any kind of character.
A turbo-four in a sport compact makes sense – your GTI buyer won’t mind paying a bit more for fuel, nor the economy-minded roots. A four in a BMW 5 Series? There’s nothing luxurious about that.