We've all had to drive one -- some of us, more than one.
Maybe it was our first ride, a hand-me-down clunker from our great-aunt Lorraine. Maybe it was a friend's sputtering pickup we'd borrowed for a cross-town move. It might've even been a rental -- one of those big, beige, boxy sedans that mumbles to the world, "I don't want any trouble. I'm just trying to get to my risk management seminar."
Whatever the case, we've all been trapped behind the wheel of at least one truly embarrassing vehicle.
But what makes a car cringe-worthy? Design? Power (or lack thereof)? Something more abstract? The folks at CarInsurance.com enlisted 1,500 participants in an online survey to find out.
The survey focused on 12 of the most controversial vehicles from the past decade. Some, like the Pontiac Aztek and the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet have been panned by journalists for their odd looks. Others, like the Hummer H2 and the Lincoln Town Car, are often despised for the lifestyles they represent (big/brash, suburban/sedentary, and so on).
Participants were asked to score each vehicle on how embarrassing it would be to drive -- the so-called "cringe score" -- with "0" being "not embarrassing at all" and "10" being "I'd rather ride a mule". When the dust had settled, the cars and their cringe scores lined up like this:
1. Smart fortwo (7.6)
2. Nissan Cube (3.6)
3. Hummer H2 (3.5)
4. Chevrolet SSR (2.1)
5. Volkswagen New Beetle (1.9)
6. Subaru Baja (1.6)
7. Lincoln Town Car (1.6)
8. Pontiac Aztek (1.4)
9. Chrysler PT Cruiser (1.0)
10. Honda Element (0.9)
11. Chevrolet HHR (0.7)
12. Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet (0.3)
Respondents' reasons for hating those vehicles varied. The fortwo? Too small and unsafe. The H2? Big and immoral. The New Beetle? Too girly and cute. The Aztek? It tries too hard -- plus, it's a design disaster. (The respondents' words, not ours, for a change.)
The team that designed the survey couldn't possibly include every car that's rolled off the assembly line since the turn of the century. However, they did want to get a sense of the types of vehicles that embarrass drivers. And the top seven were...
1. Inexpensive compacts: 29%
2. Minivans: 23%
3. Eco-friendly hybrids: 15%
4. Large SUVs: 11%
5. Large pickup trucks: 10%
6. Large luxury cars: 9%
7. Sports cars: 2%
The team also wanted to know what role color played in cringe-worthiness. And so, they asked survey participants to rank the most embarrassing car colors. Mary Kay employees can breathe easy, because pink was miraculously left off the list. Taxi drivers, however, weren't so lucky:
1. Purple: 17%
2. Bright yellow: 16%
3. Orange: 13%
4. Brown: 5%
5. Gold: 5%
6. Green: 2%
7. Bright red: 2%
8. White: 1%
And last but not least, survey organizers wanted to know what role accessories played in creating an embarrassing ride. Here are the five that came out on top...um, bottom:
1. Headlight Lashes: 34%
2. Fast and Furious-style spoilers and wings: 15%
3. "My child is an honor student" bumper sticker: 13%
4. Bumper sticker for a candidate who lost: 18%
5. Stick-figure family decals: 13%