General Motors gets a lot of hate for the Pontiac Aztek, and rightly so. It’s among the ugliest crossovers and SUVs ever made, even if one could argue it was ahead of its time. But it was a different American automotive conglomerate with a distinctive track record of producing ghastly-looking cars in the 2000s: Chrysler.
Whether it was SUVs, sedans, trucks or sports cars, or Dodge, Ram, Jeep, Chrysler or Plymouth — no segment nor brand was immune from a general corporate malaise that produced a range of unmemorable cars with all-too-memorable appearance flaws. Some resulted from too few boundaries. Others resulted from corner-cutting necessitated by too many boundaries.
Below, we list some of the highlights (or lowlights, rather) from that era.
Plymouth / Chrysler Prowler (1997-02)
The Prowler was born in the 1990s, but for some reason, Chrysler kept it alive into the 2000s. It had open wheels, ghastly front bumpers to make it street-legal, an odd matching trailer option and a mediocre V6 that couldn’t capture that hot rod magic. The Prowler had all the weirdness of a Morgan, but none of the coolness.
Chrysler PT Cruiser (2001-10)
If the Prowler was the purist vision of Chrysler’s retro ideals, the PT Cruiser was the attempt to translate those 1930s design cues into a more practical, four-door vehicle. Chrysler tried out wood trim, a convertible version , and…whatever was going on with this two-tone couture edition. Nothing worked. It may have been the least sexy car ever made (unless you wrote for Motor Trend).
Chrysler Pacifica (2004-06)
As a practical, mid-height crossover with a third row of seats, the first Chrysler Pacifica was a vehicle ahead of its time. You can spy a bit of the PT Cruiser’s influence on the front end, but the rest of the design is amorphous and bland. Chrysler gave the Pacifica a bold line down the door handles to give it…we don’t know why they did it, actually.
Dodge Ram SRT-10 (2004-06)
What if you put the 8.3-liter V10 from the Viper in a full-size pickup? For a brief, beautiful few years, Dodge decided to find out. It packed a large power dome hood with a scoop, a mug that looks like it’s jutting out its lower lip, and a jumble of vents on the front, usually highlighted by the ever-popular racing stripes. And, oh yeah: it had a spoiler.
Jeep Grand Cherokee (2005-10)
This Grand Cherokee warrants inclusion for those rounded headlights that distort the shape of the hood alone, especially as they come paired with turn signals clearly intended to go with square headlights. The car looks like someone Photoshopped round lights on it — and not well. The execution of the taillights was not much better, and the unimaginative body did little to salvage matters.
Dodge Nitro (2007-12)
Dodge decided it needed an edgy, street-oriented compact SUV in the lineup. Thus, we got a lowered Jeep Liberty with chunky fenders and an ugly Dodge mug. Off-color cladding on the base models made the lower fascia like a hipster beard. And in case buying a car called the “Nitro” wasn’t extreeeeeeeme enough for you, you could opt for trim levels called “Detonator” and “Shock” to drive the point home.
Jeep Compass (2007-10)
The current Jeep Compass is pleasant enough to look at. The first-gen Compass was a complete eyesore. It had bug eyes, big jowls, oddly squared-off wheel arches and a C-pillar door handle for pizzazz. And what was going on with that triangular D-pillar?
Dodge Caliber SRT4 (2008-09)
The Caliber was the epitome of mid-2000s-era Chrysler sadness. Massive fenders and lower fascia; a grille and headlights that got lost on their way to the bigger SUV they were bound for; and plastic everywhere, including the door handles. Then Dodge decided to make a hot hatch version…with a hood scoop and a spoiler.
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