Naming a car is tricky business. We know this because after years of challenging design work, engineering efforts, focus groups, and meetings that probably involved colorful PowerPoint presentations, Subaru named its first midsize SUV “B9 Tribeca.” Speaking of which: designing a car is tricky business.
While some car names are bad, others just don’t fit. Allow me to share with you some of the car names I think are least appropriate for their vehicles. As always, feel free to suggest your own.
When the Chevy Malibu first came out, its name was highly appropriate, largely because it was cool. Also, back in the ‘60s, Malibu wasn’t the high-dollar celebrity retreat of today, but rather a sleepy surf town so far from LA that visitors probably thought: Who the hell would live all the way up there? This is documented by a website I visited called “Malibu Complete,” which says the most notable Malibu business that opened in 1968 was a Shell gas station on the Pacific Coast Highway.
But while Malibu’s star continues to rise, the Chevrolet Malibu suffered a tremendous fall from grace, almost in direct inverse proportion. These days, the only Malibus you’ll find in Malibu are tourists in rentals from LAX who drive through the town thinking: I wish I could live all the way up here!
Chevrolet Monte Carlo
I’ve been to Monte Carlo. And when I say that, what I really mean is: I dragged my girlfriend to Monte Carlo several times, and once ran from a restaurant as we were eating to photograph a passing Ferrari F40. By this point, I had completely stopped photographing other Ferrari models, since they’re the Monaco equivalent of the Nissan Altima. (The Porsche 911, meanwhile, is the Monaco Toyota Camry.)
While exotic cars are common in Monte Carlo, the most exotic of all would be the Chevrolet Monte Carlo. That’s because no one in Monaco would ever drive one. Fortunately, they wouldn’t have the chance, since the Monte Carlo would never fit down the narrow roads required to enter the world’s wealthiest nation.
Aspen, Colorado, is home to precisely one type of vehicle: the Range Rover. Admittedly, there are one or two others. For example, some people have Land Rover Defenders. And the police force is saddled with the lowly Volvo XC90. (Apparently, they’ve switched to the Highlander Hybrid. Still, it’s no Panther.) Regardless, no one drives the Chrysler Aspen, which – for those of you who have forgotten – is a Dodge Durango twin with a slightly nicer interior. Also, chrome wheels. Those aren’t acceptable in Aspen either.
“Intrepid” is defined by Webster’s as “fearless” and “adventurous.” Meanwhile, “journalist” is defined as “someone who still thinks quoting Webster’s is a clever opening sentence.”
For all its merits (and I will remember one – just give me a few hours), the Intrepid wasn’t fearless or adventurous. Sure, maybe it was neat when it came out because it wasn’t styled like an IKEA dresser, as the Dodge Dynasty had been. Also, it had a center-mounted backup light that illuminated the word “Intrepid” when in reverse. But the Intrepid wasn’t fearless or adventurous, unlike its drivers, who never knew exactly what problem was going to crop up next.
The Excel’s inclusion on this list is obvious to anyone who ever drove one: it didn’t excel at anything, except possibly being terrible. Performance is an obvious issue, since it used a 68-horsepower four-cylinder mated to an available three-speed automatic. It was also rather unreliable, which later forced Hyundai to change its reputation by offering extremely long warranties. But most importantly, it was just really ugly.
Monterey, California, is a tremendously expensive northern California town that commands unbelievably high property values despite being covered, year-round, in dense fog. Actually, fog isn’t the only weather in Monterey: sometimes, it gives way to a slight drizzle. Really, it’s a beautiful place to spend time.
Sensing this, Mercury decided to name a rather awful minivan after the area. I assume this is because Ford had an edict requiring alliteration for model names, and Mercury had already wasted the similarly unsuitable Montego and Milan on dull sedans.
Honda and Toyota invented the “tiny SUVs for women” segment with the CR-V and RAV4 respectively. Other models quickly joined the party, like the Ford Escape and Hyundai Tucson. Years later, Nissan came out with the Rogue, which used the exact same formula as the CR-V and RAV4. Rogue would’ve been a more appropriate name for the Juke, which is actually roguish since it looks like a fish that divers might discover when searching for an ancient shipwreck.
The Pontiac Parisienne started this whole article idea, on the theory that you could never actually drive one in Paris. Here’s why: Paris streets were laid out to accommodate people on bicycles and possibly the occasional Citroen 2CV, which may actually be smaller. A vehicle the size of the Parisienne probably never even crossed the minds of the initial city planners, whose planning method probably consisted of: “Put a street over there! And don’t make it go too far, or we’ll fall off the edge of the Earth!”
Beyond its size, the Parisienne is also way too uncool for Paris, a highly cultured city filled with beautiful artwork, impressive architecture, and lots of people who smoke. Even Americans weren’t having it, and Pontiac eventually renamed the Parisienne before dropping it altogether.
So, Best and Brightest: what other cars are totally unsuited for their names?
Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.