By on March 22, 2017

LFA airborne. Picture courtesy Team Gazoo

Stereotyping is something we all do, for better or worse. It’s in the normative for people to establish an immediate set of parameters around a person, place, or thing (so, nouns) without a second thought. The human brain is comfortable within these predetermined expectations. Similarly, consumers have expectations and stereotypes of brands. X/Y/Z brand are expected to offer a particular style, model, or paint color — and many brands exist in these stereotypes entirely without any joie de vivre, or whatever French phrases people throw out to sound intellectual.

But today I want to know what cars stand out within their brand. Which models past or present threw the marque’s guideline book out the window to become par excellence? (Ugh.)

It seems most marques have at least a model or two in the archives that represent a unique moment of freedom from the accountants, catatonic designers, or the most boring engineer at the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder meeting.

The Lexus LF-A in the headline image today is a good example.

Toyota pulled out all the stops to create an incredibly fast, and insanely technological supercar. Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Lexus brand, the LF-A wore a price tag of $445,000 and Toyota still lost money on every example sold. Park it next to any other Lexus (ever), and the tour de force (gag) that was the LF-A is clear.

But the LF-A is too swoopy and fast to be my selection for a favorite stereotype-breaker. I’ve selected something more square, and a lot slower.

1995 Volvo 850 T-5R

That’s right — it’s a Volvo, and it’s creamy and yellow. This stick of margarine you see here is the genesis of Volvo’s performance R line. In 1995, Volvo made available the 850 T-5R, even in North America, but it was one (year) and done. Horsepower increased by 18 to 243, and a unique Bosch ECU added 2 psi onto the turbo. This formerly boring box could travel from 0 to 60 in just 5.8 seconds. Porsche had its hands on the engine tuning, transmission, and other important driveline bits.

1995 Volvo 850 T-5R Estate

In traditional and ICE-covetous fashion, a huge estate version was also available, taking the T5-R even further away from Volvo standards.

Exterior modifications on both models included a new bumper, rear spoiler, skirts down the sides, and aluminum door sills. Porsche even developed the special leather/Alcantara combo seats. Only 876 T5-R models made it into the United States, and 103 to Canada. In all following years, these models became the more common 850R, and were not considered by Volvo to be direct replacements for the limited production 850 T-5R. (If you find one for sale, let me know, and I’ll do it up as a Rare Rides post.)

The Volvo R models would continue through the late 2000s, with the S60R and V70R being the last examples of the breed. After that, Polestar would take up the mantle producing hot Volvos. Still, the T5-R will always be the first. Volvo had never created such a performance trim before; never had “go faster, intentionally” really been a goal for the safety-loving Swedes.

So, in your opinion, what vehicles stand out against their brand stereotypes?

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90 Comments on “QOTD: Which Models Fly in the Face of Brand Stereotypes?...”


  • avatar
    OldManPants

    London Taxi! From a company that makes Volvos and popcan Kia clones!

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Chevy Impala.

    I know, I’m a Chevy guy, but the latest 2014 design stands out to me of being the most beautiful Impala since the 1972 models, and arguably, the 1977 model (bent-glass coupe only).

  • avatar
    True_Blue

    The Buick GN/GNX, especially in that time period.

  • avatar
    True_Blue

    The Syclone and Typhoon also come to mind. GMC having trucks that ate Ferraris in the quarter mile… rebellious!

  • avatar
    RobbieAZ

    The Cadillac XLR.

  • avatar
    nels0300

    Lincoln and Cadillac pick up trucks.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      I think the question’s wrong. It’s not that inconsistent models “stand out” from their brands, it’s that they FAIL to fit into the brand’s identity.

      The Corvette? Great car. Utterly unrepresentative Chevrolet, so much so that it doesn’t really provide any “halo” of rub-off glamor to other Chevies. Ditto the Acura NSX and the Nissan GT-R (as others point out below).

      At a business level, when a car is so separated from its brandmates that you can’t connect them in your head, it should have been sold as something else. Because it won’t sell, and it won’t help sell the others. Maxima. Phaeton. Cheapie Mercedes. Lexus GS and pseudo-Priuses. Few of these are “bad” cars. All are bad marketing decisions.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    The WRX/STI is the last vestige of enthusiasm left in the brand that used to provide a “hot” version of all their cars. Now it’s all CVTs and a slightly watered down version of the AWD that made their name. (Except the BRZ – which will probably be gone before too long.)

    Another would be the GTR. As an avid diecast collector and fan of 90s Japanese cars, my main focus is everything Nissan. Now you can have a good but old 370z and one of the greatest near-super cars ever. Plus a bunch of FWD cars and ugly CUVs.

    • 0 avatar
      cdotson

      I’ll second the GTR, even though it’s presently at risk of suffering the same misfortune allowed to befall the 370Z. I’m not particularly a fan of any brand; my fondness for Nissan stems from and exists solely because my surname is a homophone for Datsun. Nissan’s current lineup, GTR excepted, is evidence writ-large of criminal corporate neglect. To progress from where Nissan was with the early North American Datsuns (Z, bluebird, fairlady, 510, compact trucks) and even the early Nissans (Maxima, Pulsar, Z-cars) to the credit-criminal conveyances of choice they’ve become…the mind boggles.

  • avatar
    nels0300

    Speaking of Lexus, I’m glad they went with a supercar instead of a pickup when they did something different. I’m thankful for not having Tundras with giant predator grills on our roads.

  • avatar
    Acd

    Corvette. A world class sports car sold from a truck and rental car showroom.

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    Toyota fan/apologist here.

    I think the MR2 was a departure for Toyota, the home of the Corolla and Camry. Too bad the second generation turbo engine didn’t make it into the third generation car.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    The original Taurus/Sable. Probably the most radical – and successful – break from a brand’s previous image in recent memory. Plus, they were simply great cars.

    Honorable mention: the first-gen Focus. No matter how you slice it – style, performance, driving dynamics, packaging, refinement – it was way ahead of its’ time, and a complete break from the boring old Escort. Could be the best compact car ever made.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      Good call. Revolutionary and aerodynamic compared to all their other box sedans.

      Similarly, the C3 Audi 100 was a big break from smaller and stoic Audis of old.

      And the Quattro Coupe, breaking the rally car guidebook, and -starting- 4WD passenger cars.

      ^ This should have been my selected item for above.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Thanks, Corey.

        I’d quibble with you a bit on that Volvo, though. Did that really fly in the face of what Volvo had been doing? Meh…they’d been making turbo performance sedans for a LONG time when that R came out. Granted, none of them had the R’s balls, but that feels more like an evolution to me, versus a revolution.

        Now, if you want a completely gonzo performance departure from a European brand…ladies and gentlemen, I present the Mercedes 190E 2.3-16. Radical, high-revving engine, manual with a dogleg first gear, body kit, ***cloth seats***…it was bare bones, almost anti-luxurious. It was an almost schizoid departure from anything Mercedes was doing at that point.

        https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/02/capsule-review-mercedes-benz-190e-23-16/

        • 0 avatar
          Corey Lewis

          I dunno, throwing a little turbo in a very sedate car like the 240 isn’t really all that sporting. They had never gone to such an extent before, and developed something with Porsche.

          As well, it started a new line – the models before were just sporadic in nature from what I can tell.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            True, but the more basic 850 turbo was still pretty darn quick, even without the R tune.

            Interestingly enough, aren’t all the cars we’re talking about – including the Quattro turbo and the 190 2.3-16 – production versions of rally cars?

            Ditto for the Evo and WRX.

            Racing doth improve the breed.

          • 0 avatar
            Corey Lewis

            Did Volvo do FWD rallying at that time? I was not aware.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            “Volvo”, “FWD”, “rallying”

            *Shudders*

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            I don’t know if they had a factory backed effort, but 850s were indeed entered in rallies.

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          The major departure is that the 2.3 was sold as a regular Mercedes, rather than some sort of AMG “pocket Hammer”.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Have to agree with Taurus/Sable. From the brand that perfected the Brougham style and continued with staid sedans on old platforms, the switch to these was daring. If they failed it could have destroyed Ford.

      It might be claimed that the Quattro started a trend that is still ongoing. “Fire up the Quattro.” However have we forgotten the AMC Eagle wagon? Also revolutionary in its time.

      If any British company had built and designed an entirely reliable vehicle anytime between 1955 and 2000 or if Citroen designed and built an entirely practical, conventional and utilitarian vehicle during approximately the same period, then they too might qualify.

      • 0 avatar

        Agree with the Eagle. If it had caught on and sold like the 1st gen Explorer, there might still be an AMC.

        Citroen made the 2CV which was practical and utilitarian… but I don’t know if it was conventional. Their DS was a game changer though.

    • 0 avatar
      True_Blue

      LOVE this suggestion. The aero revolution wasn’t born with these two cars but damn did it make it mainstream.

      The second-gen Sable was one of the most aerodynamic vehicles built when it was new. Ford even built one or two from aluminum – heady back in the early Nineties – as testbeds.

  • avatar
    wiseweasel

    Honda/Acura NSX. Supercar from the brand that didn’t even have a sports car.

    Until their other stereotype breaking car the S2000 came around. God I always wanted one of those!

  • avatar
    threeer

    I’m thinking of yet another Volvo…the C30. Sure, the P1800 existed back in the day, but the C30 just looked cool (and still does). If not for the Chinese-ownership (and well, family obligations), the C30 would have been on my short list several years ago. I drove by the local dealership more than once looking it over.

    And on (minus) style points alone, the Nissan Juke. Had one for a rental a few months back and just couldn’t wrap my head around the design. But then, I’m not the model’s demographic.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      True, the C30 was a big departure for our market, but they’d been making compact hatches for the Eurozone for a long time by that point.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      My wife had a C30 for several years. While it was an odd ball here in the USA it is a common car over in Euroland as its fits the mold of standard small hatch just a bit more upscale. Overseas it was even available with a diesel and non-turbo 4 banger to save gas. Now ours was very un-Volvo like in that it had terrible reliability – always breaking something expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      manny_c44

      I agree the C30 had a cool ‘spacepod’ design that was unusually sleek for a Volvo. Also had an available inline 5 Turbo if I’m not mistaken!

      Has anyone driven that one? Probably pretty sweet.

    • 0 avatar
      John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

      I saw a C30 in Knoxville on the trip I took a while back, very cool. I always thought it was the best looking Volvo I’d ever seen.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        Yep ours was sexy and different, plus kind of quick with the turbo 5 (0-60 in 6.4, same as my old Eclipse). The engine was torque limited in 1st and 2nd gear to cut down on torque steer. Once over that and the turbo lag it took off. Originally my wife protested even looking at Volvo since they were associated with being boring and safe (boxy but good!). However the interior was fantastic – as if designed by Apple using that minimalist approach along with excellent fit/finish/materials, the seats came from the gods, all while being FWD (and Volvo) safe. Its small size plus hatchback made it perfect as an around town / city car. Despite having only 2 doors four adults fit without much complaints – that “spacepod” shape contributed to more room inside that one might think. To me it was a modern take on the mids to late 80s Civic 3 door hatch, a car I owned and loved for many years.

        Honestly the C30 might be one of the most under-rated and overlooked cars made recently. Originally Volvo brought it to the US to complete with Mini as it appeared (for a blink or two) that small, premium, FWD hatches might take off. However the Veloster and CRZ crashed that party. Volvo offered the C30 in a rainbow of colors including gold, brown, orange, plus two shades of green, blue, red, black, silver and white. Ours was two tone cream pearl white over java brown. The C30’s only real claim to fame: being in that vampire movie all the tweens screamed about.

        However since nobody associates Volvo with fun or sexy it just never registered with the public. Plus I don’t think Volvo even advertised the poor thing. They sold a pathetic 300 a month at its peak of popularity I once read. When we bought ours there were only 3 used examples with a stick shift available for sale in all of Florida! Its a rare bird so even with the badges people had NO idea what it was. The front end was a copy of the S40 so anyone familiar with Volvo’s corporate grill and headlights of that era saw a familiar face.

        However as I mentioned above ours was terrible in terms of staying out of the shop and got pathetic gas mileage. With my 350Z getting better overall mileage and repair bills pilling up the wife could not longer take it and got an Infinity Q60.

  • avatar
    Richard

    1990 Taurus SHO. Yamaha V6, 10000 rpm redline, 5speed (up until 1990 car had horrible 4 speed ).Chassis and powertrain in perfect harmony. Top speed 150.
    Ford’s M5 or RS6.

    • 0 avatar
      John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

      The 1988 and 1989 SHO had 5 speeds too.

      The only 4 speed Taurus was the automatic, which wasn’t an option in the SHO until later in the 2nd generation.

    • 0 avatar
      True_Blue

      First year for the SHO was ’89, had a cable-shifted 5-speed stick. In ’93 the automatic version dropped. Yamaha bored out the 3.0L six to 3.2L, to compensate for the lost, sapped-up torque in the ATX version.

      Swapping the ATX block with MTX cams into a Quaife-equipped MTX was the hot ticket a decade ago.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    Porsche Cayanne

    Corvair

    (At the time) Honda Passport (seriously, a sport ute from Honda, and a badge engineered one from the less reputable Isuzu brand ?)

    Lincoln Blackwood

    VW Phaeton

  • avatar
    jeoff

    Sedans and SUVs from Porsche.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      This was my immediate thought. A Porsche SUV? a 4 door Porsche? Does not compute!
      Sadly future generations will look back at their 2 door sports cars (with engines in the rear no less) and not understand them.

  • avatar

    The original Nissan/Datsun Z cars and Skylines.

  • avatar

    How about the Subaru SVX? It may be the most under appreciated car of the 90’s.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      I don’t think it was under appreciated. While it was outside the box for Subaru, it wasn’t that far removed from quirky things like the XT.

      As well, though it looked cool it was:
      Heavy
      Slow
      Automatic only
      Rather fragile
      Quite expensive

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Mini Countryman. Anything VW over $20K is no longer Volks… It is more like 1%wagen

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    Viper.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I think the i3 is a departure from BMW. I actually think it looks cool and drives well, and it is at least RWD. But it doesn’t have any design congruity with the rest of the BMW lineup. They even eschew the traditional “halo” headlight rings for a simple outline shape on the DRLS. The i3 is very much in the vein of the BMW Isetta for its not-a-BMW-geekiness…and the Isetta really *wasn’t* a BMW, originally; it was a licensed and improved-upon design for post-war Germany.

    Then again, the i3 is also overpriced, depreciates like a rock, and gets limited range *with* the extender, so maybe it’s a BMW through and through.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      My sister offered a style opinion in the car, upon seeing an i3.

      “Ew, that is so ugly!”

      I said “It’s electric, and a BMW.”

      “So what?!”

    • 0 avatar
      John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

      I do like the i3.

    • 0 avatar
      tylanner

      Among current models I can’t think of better answer than the i3…though the dawn of EVs does spoil us with numerous “proof of concept” examples to choose from.

      But the i3 is just so glaringly un-BMW…the heritage of BMW and the number 3 is pretty storied….even sacred to some.

  • avatar
    True_Blue

    Haha. The Aston Martin Cygnet. I still can’t believe that got pushed out the door.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    I was going to say the Cygnet, so as a runner-up: Plymouth Prowler.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    Lamborghini LM002

  • avatar
    john66ny

    To some degree, the Cadillac CTS-V Wagon, especially with the 6MT. Certainly not what I perceive as a “Cadillac”.

  • avatar
    Malforus

    This thread fails without Fiero: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/7d/1985_Pontiac_Fiero_GT_rear_right.jpg/220px-1985_Pontiac_Fiero_GT_rear_right.jpg

    Seriously, just as Pontiac was pivoting to full size vehicles with front wheel drive comes a rear drive mid-engine small coupe built in the style of the 2 seater sporting cars.

    That car continues to make people go ‘OH right, yeah that thing was weird’

  • avatar
    brn

    Jaguar F-pace

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Agree with 240Z, NSX, Corvair, Viper, LM002, and LF-A. Would add Ford EXP, Pacer, BRZ, BMW M1, and (when released) Miata.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Lexus GS F. Someone at Lexus has a pulse and they’re high up in product development to try this.

    Sales of the GS are down significantly, CUV/SUV’s rule the roost and yet they still said “f(*k it, let’s stick a V8 in this and see what happens”.

    It’s a bummer they priced it the way they did, but it’s understandable.

  • avatar
    sprkplg

    Hyundai Genesis.

  • avatar

    The Chrysler Turbine car fits the article’s question in my mind. (perhaps someone has already mentioned it. I skipped down to comment before reading other contributions.)

    • 0 avatar
      BigOldChryslers

      Except the Turbine was never a production car, even though consumers got to drive the prototypes.

      Might as well mention the Chrysler ME-412 then, since it was supposedly a production-ready prototype which didn’t get the go-ahead. Chrysler and mid-engine supercar don’t normally go together at all.

      On that note, the AMC AMX/3 mid-engine supercar is an even better example. A half dozen actually got built before AMC pulled the plug on that project.

  • avatar
    lon888

    Morgan +8 – especially the ones with the BMW V-8. A car built on a wooden body with the aerodynamics of a barn door all wrapped up in a basic design that dates to the 1920’s. It has 0-60 times and a top-end that will embarrass many high-buck and high-tech cars. I say bring on your stinkin’ Hell-Cat or Demon and watch me mop the floor with your punk arses. It also benefits by being a true chick magnet – ladies love a ragtop.

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