5 Cars That Made America Argue
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- You can't hit a home run in either baseball or automotive design without swinging for the fences and risking a strikeout -- and here's a look at some controversial models from the past decade that did just that.
"There are people in the industry who believe that a vehicle needs to be emotionally stirring in some way to be a success, and I think there's a lot of truth to that," says Joe Wiesenfelder of Cars.com, which recently named the 10 Most-Polarizing Cars of recent history.
Wiesenfelder and Cars.com's other editors created their ranking by considering all models from the past decade or so that had both vocal supporters and opponents among auto critics and the public alike.
Widely panned models such as the 2001-05 Pontiac Aztek sport utility vehicle didn't make the list because they had plenty of enemies, but few friends. "The term 'polarizing' suggests that there are two poles -- supporters and detractors -- but the Aztek was just ugly," Wiesenfelder says.
The expert believes automakers sometimes create polarizing vehicles by accident, developing what they think are sure-fire "winners" but finding out after a car reaches the market that part of the public loathes it.
Other times, Wiesenfelder says, manufacturers deliberately OK polarizing designs because they figure cars that some buyers love and others hate will sell better than those that neither inspire nor upset.
"When people go to automakers' focus groups and see a car that's just kind of OK, they might give it a score of five out of 10 across the board -- but a polarizing car might get a mix of sevens and threes," he says. "The final scores look the same on paper, but the reality is that people who give a vehicle a seven or higher will buy it."
Read on to check out the five polarizing vehicles at the top of Cars.com's rundown. Years shown in parentheses refer to the model years when a given car was available, while dollar figures refer to 2014 manufacturers' suggested retail prices for base versions of those vehicles still in production.
Fifth-most-polarizing car: Ford Flex (2009-present)
Ford rolled out the boxy-looking Flex large crossover SUV at a time when square cars were all the rage (the equally boxy Kia Soul and Nissan Cube premiered in the same model year).
Some buyers hated the Flex instantly, but the model continues to have its proponents even though Ford redesigned the Explorer (its traditional-looking large crossover) in 2011.
Wiesenfelder thinks the Flex endures because its boxy design offers more interior room than regular SUVs. "I think people who buy the Flex like how practical and roomy it is and don't primarily think about styling."
If you're flexible enough to go for a Flex, 2014 models start at $29,910.
Fourth-most-polarizing car: Toyota Prius (2001-present)
Eco-friendly drivers have made the fuel-efficient Prius the bestselling hybrid in America, but the model also has detractors who see it as the poster child for a leftist, tofu-and-granola lifestyle that they hate.
South Park even devoted an entire 2006 episode to slamming a car that looked suspiciously like the Prius for reducing America's smog problem but increasing "smug" -- the smugness that some hybrid owners display toward those with less-efficient rides.
"Prius drivers can be polarizing," Wiesenfelder says.
If you're a Prius proponent, the model's 2014 version starts at $25,010.