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Nissan’s Ugly Little SUV: Now Uglier Than Ever

3 minute read

What does an automaker do when one of its cars is bashed as hideous? Well, Nissan decided to accentuate the features people hated to make the car stand out even more from the pack.

Introduced in the 2011 model year, the Nissan Juke has quickly ascended to the top of many automotive enthusiast lists. Not in terms of reliability or fuel economy or value—but for sheer ugliness.

Readers at Car Throttle voted the Juke into its “Top 10 Ugliest Cars Ever Made” lists, and a Motor Trend forum gave the Juke the Ugliest Car Award. While not at the very top of Edmunds “100 Ugliest Cars of All Time,” the Juke did get bashed by editors thusly: “It has at least six headlights and fenders that seem tacked on as an afterthought. It’s proudly peculiar and un-pretty.”

Nissan has good reason to embrace the Juke’s peculiarity, however, even if its most unique attributes are considered unattractive by the masses. For all the criticism, the vehicle has been a sales success. The automaker has sold 420,000 Jukes worldwide in less than 40 months, including 135,000 in 2013. Nissan will take those kinds of results over a “pretty” car that’s a sales dud any day.

(MORE: Selling Cars to Millennials: Quirky Models, Flashy Colors Aim to Get Gen Y Out of Neutral)

Now, Nissan is pushing the peculiar angle even further. This week at the Geneva Motor Show, the automaker announced that the Juke, a “design trend-setter” in its own words, will be redesigned in even more “dramatic” fashion. The new model, on sale in Europe this summer (and perhaps soon thereafter in North America, though plans haven’t been released), is even more angular than its “ugly” predecessor, and its rounded front end features odd pointy lights stretching around the hood.

Clearly, the original Juke was polarizing—hated by many, but purchased and described as “cute” by many others—and the new model will be more so. “Great design often is polarizing,” Nissan spokesman Travis Parman told USA TODAY. “Juke is a fun car that allows for more assertive expression—which is exactly what many buyers want.”

Nissan is hardly the only automaker that’s been toying with design described as ugly or, more generously, “polarizing.” The Kia Soul and Honda Element are among the small SUVs launched in the recent past with distinct—some would say homely—exteriors.

(MORE: Will Millennials Change How Cars Are Bought and Sold?)

More recently, Jeep has redesigned one its crossover SUVs and introduced another that have both been subject to unkind attention due to their appearances. Plenty of hate has accompanied the tweaked new grill on the Jeep Cherokee, described by CNN Money in a mostly glowing review as a “strange look, kind of like it got its nose stuck in a print roller.”

The initial reactions to Jeep’s “crazy” little new SUV, the subcompact Renegade, have been all over the map. Many say it got walloped with the ugly stick, while others love its boxy body, garishly bright exterior colors, and most of all that it’s not just another boring, vaguely CR-V-like crossover. “I think it looks pretty cool,” Karl Brauer of Kelley Blue Book said to MLive.com. “It’s going to be a massive success. That small SUV market … is going to be hot in the U.S. and globally. I think the timing on it is very good.”

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