Spin-off models are the easy way to make big money in the car industry. Build one car that’s a hit and after a few years, it recoups its investment. Build three cars off the same kit—now you’re talking profit, or at least heaps of credibility.
But not every new spin-off vehicle can be clown-shoe BMW or a Lincoln Navigator. Some spin-offs are just meh—and some are outright failures of imagination, of execution, or of sentience. If those cars were a text message the only rational answer would be “TF?!”
These are the worst car spin-off models ever, according to us. Looking for classics like the Dodge LaFemme or the Porsche 912E? Nope, we’re going with stuff in recent memory, stuff that still makes us wonder if product planning is still a Six Sigma process or if it’s literally just a game of darts.
Your list has something else? Give us your worst in the comments below.
2011 Acura ZDX
Where to begin with this one. The idea of a sport-backed luxury SUV was before its time, but the then-current MDX was a poor organ donor for the poor ZDX. Look, it’s not all bad—there’s Honda running gear underneath, after all. But there’s no cure—not even more cowbell—for the bottle-opener grille, the cramped back seat, or the incomprehensible center stack of controls.
Aston Martin Cygnet Launch Edition
Aston Martin Cygnet
A Scion iQ with Aston Martin badging, the Cygnet was a sort of carbon offset for people who couldn’t have cared less about carbon at the time, unless it was compressed and heated into the form of a diamond.
2016 Cadillac ELR
Can you still buy one of these “Chevy Volts at twice the price” new? Asking for a frenemy.
2004 Chevrolet SSR
A Chevy TrailBlazer pressed like Play-Doh through a Roger Rabbit die plate, the Chevy SSR satisfied a lot of Boomer retro-rodder dreams. So why go cartoonish when you can go full cartoon character? All the SSR was missing was its animated sidekick.
1986 Ford EXP (Escort EXP)
An Escort-based Fiero for people who wanted less performance, the EXP could only have been worse if Ford had tried to sub-brand it a Mustang. Ford actually made a few convertibles and electric-car conversions and sunroof-equipped EXPs—and a Mercury LN7, which helped the EXP live up to the experiment implied by its name.
GMC Envoy XUV
GMC Envoy XUV
The sky was the limit in this half-retractable-hardtop GMC Envoy, but everything else was limited. The rear fold-away roof caused more problems than it solved: It was heavier, not particularly eager or useful, and unreliable. Call it me in college. No respectable SUV powered by an awesome inline-6 (!) should have fallen this far from glory, but if any company could accomplish such a feat, it would have been late-1990s GM.
2012 Honda Crosstour EX-L
Honda Accord Crosstour
Here’s what a good idea looks like when it gets ahead of itself. The idea: Capture some fastback glamour on the then-current Honda Accord. The getting-ahead-of-itself part: An unsuitable base for that tall, tapered, elegant rear end. The Accord Crosstour eventually would spawn the beautifully drawn Accord and Civic of today, but it started with a stumble and a fumble, and a stinkbug rear end that hasn’t grown more lovely with time.
1997 Honda Civic del Sol S
Honda Del Sol
Take a Honda Civic, remove the usable room behind the front seats, snip off the roof panel and throw in a bunch of body groans and creaks. Del Sol! I hustled one of these around for a year with an aftermarket MiniDisc player jacked into its dash, and if that doesn’t tell you enough about how the 1990s went for me, buy me a drink some day.
hummer h3t 06
How far was GM willing to scrape its parts bin for something commercially viable? This far.
2008 Jaguar X-TYPE
Once upon a time, there was a reasonably interesting Ford Contour sedan. It begat a Mercury Mystique, which obviously got dubbed the Mistake. Then there was the X-Type—the plasticky-wood-trimmed, goggle-eyed, ribbed-hood Contour-alike with no discernible advantage over the Ford other than a short-lived wagon model. Nothing good Jaguar ever did factored into the X-Type, and lots of bad things it did, did.
2011 Kia Forte Koup
Kia Forte Koup
Sometimes a bad name can kill good intentions. The Koup wasn’t remarkably inferior in comparison with the Forte on which it was based, but “Koup” foretold a decade of Silicon Valley start-up apps with ridiculously altered names, all in the interests of standing out. Brought to you by the company that dubbed some trim levels with an “!”.
2011 Lexus HS 250h
Lexus HS 250
Us: “How about a Lexus with a Prius price tag?”
Them: “Here’s a Prius with a Lexus price tag.”
2002 Lincoln Blackwood
Sometimes timing is everything. A modern-day Blackwood could work. It might have a normal pickup bed, a twin-turbo V-6 with 500 hp, and a swank blue-leather cockpit. Instead this one had a weird tailgate, zoot-suit pinstripes, and no discernible advantage over a top-end F-150. If you’re gonna come for the King (Ranch), you gotta come correct.
2016 MINI Cooper S Paceman ALL4
Can we just not.
2012 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
This one was signed off on during the Carlos Ghosn administration. Ghosn, in case you haven’t heard, is now the world’s most famous crate engine and the only person ever interviewed by Motor Authority to later flee legal prosecution. So far. Hell, we’d buy one of these now just for the backstory.
2009 Pontiac G3
Any car built under license in Tehran can’t be great.
2005 Subaru Baja (Natl) Sport
Even Subaru devotees pointed fingers and snickered at this one—and yet, the Baja still commands top dollar used. The short pickup bed did a fine impression of the Subaru Brat, while the front end did its Outback part. The jarring combination of the two predated the Lil Nas X/Billy Ray Cyrus pairing by nearly two decades, so let’s politely call it ahead of its time and leave it at that.
2017 Tesla Model X
Tesla Model X
A Greek myth made literal in car form, the Model S grew wings and flew too close to the sun in the form of the Model X. Don’t get me wrong: As an electric car, it’s the bee’s knees. As an SUV, it’s a bit of a question mark. As a pointless indulgence of a billionaire who put his own ego ahead of what customers really wanted to drive—a vehicle with doors that opened all of the time—the Model X deserves last place here.
2004 Pontiac Aztek Rally
Bonus: Pontiac Aztek
Bob Lutz told me once: “There’s nothing the Honda Element does that the Aztek can’t do.” I think about that a lot.