No one buys a Hummer to fade into the woodwork.
Instead, look-at-me vehicles like the Hummer do exactly the opposite: They attract the eye, polarize opinion and practically demand to be judged.
What’s the car that makes America cringe the most? The Smart ForTwo.
We showed a gallery of 12 nominees to 1,500 licensed drivers, who were asked to indicate which one would be embarrassing to be seen in. Then they were asked to rank the three most embarrassing. Finally, they were asked why each vehicle was embarrassing and given the option to write in a reason of their own.
The “Cringe Score” below represents the weight of all first-, second- and third-place votes expressed on a 1 to 10 scale. The Smart ForTwo -- about half the size of a Hummer H2 or Lincoln Town Car -- was the runaway winner. “It looks like I couldn’t afford a real car,” one participant said.
|Vehicle||Cringe score||No. 1 votes||Most-cited reason||Top write-in|
|1. Smart ForTwo||7.6||497||Too small||Unsafe|
|2. Nissan Cube||3.6||113||Tries too hard||Just plain ugly|
|3. Hummer H2||3.5||208||Too big||Immoral|
|4. Chevrolet SSR||2.1||93||Tries too hard||Tacky|
|5. Volkswagen New Beetle||1.9||83||Too 'girly'||Ridiculously 'cute'|
|6. Subaru Baja||1.6||60||Tries too hard||Funny looking|
|7. Lincoln Town Car||1.6||73||Too 'Grandpa'||A prom rental|
|8. Pontiac Aztek||1.4||57||Tries too hard||A design disaster|
|9. Chrysler PT Cruiser||1||28||Too 'Grandpa'||A cliché|
|10. Honda Element||0.9||24||Tries too hard||A box on wheels|
|11. Chevrolet HHR||0.7||27||Too 'old'||Looks like a hearse|
|12. Nissan Murano Cabriolet||0.3||11||Too 'girly'||Ugly as hell|
Just under half of all drivers surveyed rated the ForTwo embarrassing, and a third of them gave the Smart their first-place votes. A large number of second- and third-place votes pushed the Nissan Cube past the Hummer for second place overall.
We compared dislike across age ranges, and though tastes were largely similar, they differed most on two vehicles. Drivers 45 and older were far more likely to be embarrassed by the Hummer H2 than younger drivers were, and they were much less likely to be embarrassed by the Volkswagen New Beetle.
Some vehicles fared better among men than among women. Women were more likely to be embarrassed to be seen in a Lincoln Town Car, a Hummer H2 or a Subaru Baja. Men didn’t want to be seen in the New Beetle or the Smart ForTwo.
|Vehicle||Age 25-44||Age 45-65+||Women||Men|
|Lincoln Town Car||18%||13%||20%||11%|
|Nissan Murano Cross Cabriolet||8%||4%||4%||8%|
|Plymouth PT Cruiser||18%||14%||17%||15%|
|Volkswagen New Beetle||27%||12%||11%||26%|
Only the Nissan Cube, Nissan Murano Cross Cabriolet, Smart ForTwo and Volkswagen New Beetle are still in production.
Better embarrassed than bored
The bolder the car, the bigger the gamble. Sometimes it works.
The wait to buy a PT Cruiser back in 1999 stretched for months. More than 30,000 people ponied up $99 to reserve a place in line before the Smart’s 2008 debut. And the in-your-face Hummer drew critical praise and sold well even as backlash against its size and gas mileage mounted.
Others stumbled right out of the gate and disappeared quickly. The Chevrolet SSR evoked classic pickup truck styling, had a folding hardtop and a lusty V8 engine, and it was gone in a heartbeat. Subaru sold only a fraction of the 24,000 Baja trucklets it expected to move each year and pulled the plug after four model years.
In failure, some cars attain a perverse sort of cool. Consider Walter White’s loser-mobile in “Breaking Bad,” a serially abused, plastic-shrouded Pontiac Aztek minivan/SUV that accrues in death all the street cred it lacked in life.
Success doesn’t necessarily spare future embarrassment. Nothing about the Lincoln Town Car was daring except that it sold steadily and largely unchanged for decades, earning derision as the ultimate retiree car -- and a bundle for Ford.
Yet the list of write-in candidates indicates that some drivers would prefer even an obsolete dinosaur to conformity and blandness. The top write-in suggestion for most embarrassing car was the very sensible, very successful Toyota Prius.
This is why you can’t sell your purple minivan
The survey also asked drivers about their tastes in colors, vehicle styles and accessories.
Men were pickier about color than women were -- but women objected to orange pretty strongly.
What color makes you cringe?
|Depends on car||38%||44%||31%|
Which is the most embarrassing type of vehicle?
For most embarrassing types of vehicle, it’s the inexpensive compact that tops the charts for both men and women. But look at who’s more embarrassed by a minivan.
|Type of vehicle||Overall||Women||Men|
|Large luxury car||9%||13%||5%|
Which is the most embarrassing vehicle accessory?
When it comes to accessories, it’s important to remember that someone cared enough to purchase them and install them in the first place. Which makes headlight eyelashes all the more mystifying.
|Bumper sticker for a candidate who lost||18%|
|Fast and Furious-style spoilers and wings||15%|
|‘My child is an honor student’ bumper sticker||13%|
|Stick-figure family decals||13%|
CarInsurance.com commissioned an online-panel survey of 1,500 licensed drivers, who were shown a gallery of 12 images of vehicles. Participants were asked to rate each vehicle as embarrassing or not, then to rate their top three choices, most embarrassing first. The Cringe Score assigned point values to all 1, 2 and 3 rankings, then standardized them to a 1 to 10 scale.