In 1948, General Motors design chief Harley Earl introduced a fresh automotive design motif on the new Cadillac: tail fins. He had been inspired by aircraft design, and Cadillac advertised the new fins as "rudder-type styling." People liked them, so car designers gave them more. Lots more. From the Cadillac's moderate humps came great, towering flaps of metal throughout the '50s. They were functionless, but were sometimes the focus of the whole car. Tail fin design became such a self-parody that it eventually symbolized everything wrong with American automobile design as well as American excess in the name of consumerism.
At long last, Detroit has created a new tail fin: the sport utility vehicle.
These lumbering, porcine creations take superfluous design to a new low. Certainly, there are many straightforward SUV's that do what they're supposed to, from the Jeep Liberty to the Nissan Xterra. But SUV consumer mania has inspired Detroit to transform once-lowly trucks into gargantuan, expensive status symbols that can barely perform their stated functions. The following SUVs are the most ludicrously inefficient and ineffectual vehicles on the planet.
Runner Up: Lincoln Blackwood
I know: It's not an SUV. It's a $52,500 Ford pickup with a Lincoln grill. But that much chutzpah deserves its just reward here in the Bottom 5.
Yes, for those who won't sully their designer jeans by sitting inside blue-collar products from GMC or Ford, there are the "luxury SUVs." What, you may ask, are those? Well, that's where GMC or Ford take one of their regular ol' SUVs and slap a "luxury" nameplate on it. In the case of the Lincoln Navigator, you get a Ford Expedition with a souped-up engine and "Satin Nickel accents" on the dash. Is that worth an extra $10,000 to you? If it is, then step right up! Forder, Lincolnhas a $50,000 bauble for you that'll be sure to make the valets drool. And we all know how important that is.
The Excursion is probably the least silly looking of our Bottom 5 contenders, sporting the most truck-like exterior. But it weighs 7,700 pounds. This bears repeating in a slow, hushed voice: Seven-thousand, seven-hundred pounds. That's heavier than three Toyota Celicas combined. Do you really think you'll be bounding over sand dunes or tearing up mountain ridges while driving (perhaps "aiming" would be a more accurate term) the Ford Excursion? No. Here's what you'll be doing with your Ford Excursion: parking it at the mall and watching people's mouths flap open as they exclaim, "That's one big-ass truck!" Sure it's a lot of money for a vehicle you can barely drive, but you can't put a price on that kind of public adulation.
Explorer Sport Trac
Half SUV, half pickup truckall nonsense. By wedging a tiny cargo bed onto the back end of an SUV and taking the letter "k" out of the word "Track," Ford seems to think it has created a whole new concept in vehicles. And indeed it has: the pickup truck that can't pick much up. But for a mere $30,000, you'll own a very capable groceries-hauleronly with excruciatingly bad gas mileage and a ridiculous-looking exterior.
If there's anything more embarrassing than the Aztek's toy-truck-made-in-Hong-Kong look, it's the fact that GM thought highly enough of this thing to relentlessly push it on TV. If anything, they should've quietly disowned it and hoped that nobody noticed they had made it. But with its brazen appearances on Survivor and in roughly 3 million commercials, the Aztek became an instant laughingstock. And why not? Underneath its idiotic plastic styling and its empty promise of Swiss-Army-knife utility, the Aztek is just an underpowered minivan. But consider this sad fact: In comparison to the other monster trucks assembled here, this is the most sensible vehicle. Oh, the horror.
From what fevered crack dreams did GM designers awake from to conjure this vile beast? "It defies everything, including description," declare the ads. You have to admit the copywriters weren't exaggerating this time. The EXT defies style, value, sense, and human decency. The GM design goal must have read something like this: "Create the ultimate SUV for the under-endowed, short male who can't afford a Hummer. (And, yes, we do mean the truck.)" Similar in design to Ford's half-pickup/half-SUV Sport Trac, the EXT (and its Chevy brother the Avalanche) takes the concept even further into previously unexplored realms of absurdity. Could the EXT be the only SUV with flying buttresses? Oh yes. Those must be worth 10 grand right there. As for functionality, the EXT also offers "Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist"because when you're trying to park nearly three tons of purposeless metal, you'll need electronic guidance systems to get the job done. "The Cadillac Escalade EXT: So Fucking Big You Can't Even Park It." Perhaps Cadillac's marketers know what they're doing, but we must ask: Are there really enough gangsta rappers and old rich white guys to buy these things? Bling bling.
April 11, 2002
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