A vehicle’s name is arguably one of its most important aspects. Of course design, features and performance are what ultimately sell a car, but a majority of marketing focuses on a car’s name. Often expected to illustrate or suggest an auto’s essence, names such as Jeep Renegade or Lamborghini Diablo conjure a visceral image of the vehicle. This leaves us wondering what went wrong with the following car names. Petty power struggles? Poor translations? Three-martini lunches? We’re not saying all these are bad cars (although some are not great), but they certainly could have benefitted from better names. Here are just a few of the worst car names we’ve experienced in America. Add other personal favorites in the comments.
Before General Motors introduced its groundbreaking EV1 electric car in the mid-1990s, the company showed a prototype electric vehicle called the Impact. Although we can see what they were thinking — this car would make a huge impact on the industry and America — riding in a car named after the first thing you don’t want to have happen while in a car seems wrong. Although the name was marginally better than Crash, Smash or Slam.
The Probe was a fine sport coupe — it didn’t have great performance but the styling wasn’t bad. The name, however, could have been better. When we think of the word probe, what comes to mind is what space aliens reportedly do with captives. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a probe is “a thin, long instrument that is used especially for examining parts of the body” — along the lines of that space examination. A hot shower might be in order after driving a Probe.
In 1973 Volkswagen imported an odd-looking vehicle originally designed for the German military. Sold as the Safari in Mexico, Trekker in the UK and the Kurierwagon in Germany, apparently VW had run out of creativity by the time they got around to naming the American version, so it was simply called the Thing. Sold in America for only two years, the Thing’s doors and windows could be removed, the windshield could be folded down and — with drains in the floor — it could be hosed out when dirty. With a 55-horsepower engine the Thing boasted a top speed of 71 mph. Perhaps Thing is more appropriate than we first thought.
Chevrolet sold the Citation in the early 1980s — it was the brand’s first front-wheel-drive car, but with quality and reliability issues the compact model was not terribly successful. Perhaps naming the car after the second thing you don’t want to occur while driving wasn’t the best idea either. Maybe Chevrolet marketing mavens glossed over the type of citation given by a traffic cop. According to Webster’s, citation also can mean a statement praising a person’s bravery. Back in the days of mullets and New Wave, you had to be pretty brave to buy a Citation.
There are plenty of cars named after living things that conjure positive images. Ford Mustang, Mercury Cougar, Chevrolet Impala, Dodge Ram — even Volkswagen Rabbit. So why would AMC name their car after something that nobody would want to associate with? According to Webster’s, a gremlin is a small imaginary creature that gets blamed when something doesn’t work properly — something you certainly don’t want in your car. But AMC fully embraced the name, even featuring a little Gremlin on the gas cap.
Sold in America for just a few years in the mid-1990s, the Ford Aspire was a small 2- or 4-door hatchback built by Kia. The very basic car had few amenities and with its anemic 4-cylinder engine took more than 16 seconds to reach 60 mph. Perhaps the name was appropriate — anyone driving the Aspire would shortly be striving to drive something else.
Is it really there or did you just think you saw it? Another naming fail is this small Mitsubishi, since a mirage is something with no substance that appears to be real but isn’t. The car is something like that — with just 74 horsepower, less-than-appealing styling, tiny 14-inch wheels and lackluster performance it might be better to reach the horizon and find the Mirage wasn’t really there.
Lincoln — MK?
The Lincoln Motor Company has a rich heritage of wonderful cars with evocative names. When the company introduced a new midsize sedan in 2006, it was named Zephyr after the classic 1930s Lincoln. The name only lasted one year — the following year it was unfortunately renamed MKZ, and since then all Lincolns (except for the Navigator and new Continental) are named MK followed by a letter. There’s MKS, MKT, MKZ, MKC, MKX — with no easy way to determine the car from the moniker. Lincoln — it’s time for some real names.
This small Japanese car company only sold vehicles in the U.S. from 1988 to 1992, and billed the Charade as a premium subcompact car. But with basic equipment and a weak 3-cylinder engine, premium was a bit of a stretch. Perhaps the small car was just living up to its name — charade is an empty or deceptive act and, based on the description, so was this car.
Ferrari took the wraps off its this supercar a few years ago at the Geneva Motor Show, and while the crowd of attending auto journalists were excited and impressed with the high-tech hybrid system and claimed 950 total horsepower, they were left scratching their heads when the name was announced. LaFerrari translates into English as “the Ferrari.” Sure, we get the elemental nature of the name, but Ferrari’s flagship sports car should have been given a more deserving moniker.
Along the same lines as LaFerrari, Renault was a bit short on creativity when it came to naming this little French car. At first blush it appears that the translation to English would be “the car,” which is rather unimaginative. However “car” in French means coach or bus — so this tiny econobox is actually named “the bus.” At least the name is big.
Nobody likes a brat. Typically an annoying child belonging to someone else (our own children are never brats), this is not someone you want to spend any time with. So why would you name a car after an ill-mannered, annoying child? As it turns out, BRAT is an acronym for Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter. So while the little 4WD Subaru with the rear-facing open-air seats was great fun in its day, the name is definitely annoying.
The Hummer was a civilian version of the military Humvee (a nickname for the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle). Arnold Schwarzenegger pressured AM General to make the big SUV available to the public, so AM General put the Hummer on public roads in 1992. However, you might hear some snickering whenever this big vehicle’s name gets uttered, given that it’s slang for a certain oral act. Not exactly what you want associated with your new vehicle, but hey — sex sells, right?
Nissan’s luxury brand always had a naming convention of letters and numbers — the letters indicated the vehicle series, the number was determined by the engine. But recently Infiniti rebadged all vehicles, and it’s no longer possible to determine the vehicle based on its name. Every vehicle name starts with a Q. Why? Good question. There doesn’t seem to be much logic behind the names — the car named Q60 is a 2-door version of the Q50, but the QX60 SUV is bigger than the QX50. (The numbers no longer indicate the engine, simply the order in the vehicle lineup.) Very confusing, even for those in the industry.
If you’re not feeling great about yourself, buying a good-looking, quality car could certainly raise your self-esteem. Strangely enough, the car named Esteem would no doubt fail in that endeavor. The Esteem was a basic economy car sold in the late 1990s through 2002, and while it would get you around, very few people would hold this car in high esteem.