It’s not often that I view any car with contempt…I mean sure there are particular examples which infuriate me but that’s usually because of the driver rather than the car itself; BMW’s and Audi’s are often the target of such remarks but in my experience it is just as likely to be a Honda Jazz or Nissan Micra which make me want to scream. Of course my disdain for a car can also extend to the way a car looks, performs, or of course I may just simply hate it for no apparent reason. However on my journey home from work yesterday I was surprised to spot a car which I had forgotten existed, and one that I have always found so utterly pointless that it’s laughable as to why it was ever released to the market. It got me thinking about cars which I consider pointless, at least from a marketing perspective – a couple of them might surprise you!
Mercedes Benz A Class (3 door):
I was always a fan of the smallest machine from Stuttgart; smaller than a Ford Ka but with interior space comparable to cars such as the Focus (or possibly even Mondeo), the A Class was a marvel of packaging that proved to be a relative success with certain customers who loved it’s cheeky looks and premium badge. Admittedly interior quality or road holding was not anything special (the infamous Elk test demonstrates all), but the A was not the devil that some MB fanboys make it out to be. The second generation car ushered in sleeker styling, improved interior and dynamics…it also brought about a 3 door version of the car and it was this that sparked my thoughts and this blog post. Whilst the 5 door version was a premium mini-MPV/pensioners’ runaround, I cannot fathom why a less practical but similarly styled version was produced?! In the days when even the Ford Focus and VW Golf are no longer produced in 3dr form it astounds me that Mercedes thought they would shift any when the car’s primary selling point was practicality and ease of access. Regardless it did not sell well, and with the new A Class taking a different approach to it’s predacessor it’s likely to remain a forgotten part of Mercedes’ history.
Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet:
Believe it or not I actually quite like the Murano convertible…in fact quite a bit more than the standard car, but that still does not distract from the fact that it is an utterly pointless car! Launched in 2011 as the second generation Murano got it’s first facelift, the idea behind the CrossCabriolet seems to have been more a publicity effort than an attempt to make a competitive vehicle. Whilst the first generation Murano was actually an eyecatching car, the second’s squished grill and squat shape took a lot of the visual excitement away from the design, and getting rid of the rear doors and adding a large soft top really hasn’t done the car any favours. That said it is the only proper convertible SUV on the market, and had Nissan decided to launch a convertivble version of one of their luxury SUV’s from the Inifini brand (as opposed to their mainstream model/brand), then customers may have been more willing to pay the $50k asking price. Many ‘true’ gearheads would berate me for saying so, but in theory the idea is a sound one and if Land Rover go ahead with their vision of an Evoque convertible (the image heading this article on the homepage), then they will likely have a big hit on their hands.
Mercedes Benz E Class Coupe:
A controversial choice maybe, but here we have a perfect example of a manufacturer not knowing where to position it’s own product…well actually in this case they have they have the wrong product to match their marketing brief. For many years Mercedes offered a true coupe and convertible version of their E Class; classically styled but expensive the car did not make much of a dent in the vital 3 Series cabrio market that even companies like Saab had ample competitors in. As a result the launched the CLK, a car which was supposed to offer all the glamour of the larger CL coupe but in a smaller body based on the C Class, but with an E Class’ face. The second CLK followed this recipe but added the more fashionable face of the mid 00’s C Class in an attempt to draw in younger buyers. I guess this didn’t really work because MB decided to revert to using an E Class face on a C Class chassis for the third generation car, which is christened ‘E Class Coupe’. Priced similarly to the Audi A5, the car has been a relative success and I do admittedly see a lot of them, but Mercedes also saw fit to launch the cheaper (and arguable prettier) C Class Coupe, which has the same underpinnings but with a different interior and body. Whats more the second gen car is apparently going to be available as a convertible too! This is also in a time when BMW is taking their 3 Series coupe line up market by calling it the 4 Series. I’m all for simplifying nameplates as Mercedes seems to be trying to do, but surely the next generation E Class Coupe should be actually based on it’s namesake, and offer a true-er competitor to the likes of the BMW 6 Series and Audi A7 which are altogether more upmarket and expensive…traditionally what MB excels at doing.
I see a Vauxhall Signum most days that I drive to work…it’s driven by a lunatic who insists on blasting up the A10 at 70mph regardless of other road users, but it’s often the car itself which frustrates me most; why on earth didn’t be buy a Vectra?! The Signum’s existence was the result of a long decline in the large saloon market in the UK; the rise of new niches like the SUV and MPV as well as the sway towards luxury cars meant that nameplates such as the Ford Granada and Vauxhall Carlton disappeared from the roads. One of the last remaining cars of this type was the Vauxhall Omega, a car which was branded as a Cadillac in the USA and was favoured across Europe by police forces looking for a fast, agile and practical saloon that did not cost nearly as much as other German options. But with falling sales and a lack of money, GM decided that the best way to replace the Omega was with a completely different type of car…a Vectra-based hatchback with limousine-like room and seating. I guess in theory the idea was not too abysmal, after all the Audi A5 Sportback and 3/5 Series GT are effectively the same idea re-imagined and given more investment/image. Ultimately it was a combination of strange looks and lack of image that doomed the Signum…even BMW has failed to give it’s cars palatable looks so it can’t be easy and with the Insignia a much improved product all around it seems that Vauxhall/Opel have learnt their lesson, though a true successor to the Omega is often mooted.
Land Rover Discovery 4:
Last but by no means least comes a car which I absolutely adore and would dearly love to own…in fact it has a great image and continues to sell well despite being nearly 10 years old. So why do I reckon that the Disco is pointless? Well it all comes down to the way that JLR has been positioning itself and it’s current SUV lineup. For many years there were just 2 distinct models in the Land Rover stable; the Series I/II/III was the off-road option and the Range Rover was the luxury car for people who intended to drive on the roads. With the launch of the original Discovery in 1989 Land Rover changed it’s naming strategy and so the old Series III/90/110 became the Defender and coming under the Land Rover brand. The Freelander continued this trend, but with the launch of the Range Rover Sport in 2005 things became to unravel quickly; effectively the same car as the Discovery 3 but with more road focus and styling associated with the larger Range Rover, I can see why it made sense to extend the Range Rover line-up to include the Sport…after all it meant they could charge alot more for it! But with the original Range Rover keeping it’s name (which was more of a brand) it meant that many buyers and casual observers got confused. The launch of the Evoque as a Range Rover again made financial sense, but muddied the waters as again it was based on a lesser Freelander model. Maybe this wouldn’t have mattered but the Discovery and Freelander have hardly remained mainstream models, with the prices of each rising astronomically; a well specced Freelander HSE tops out at over £40k which is ludicrous considering the design’s age and fact that a newer (though admittedly less practical) Evoque can be had for around the same price. Discoverys start at nearly £40k and can easily top out at nearly £60k, which not even 10 years ago could buy you a decent spec new Range Rover. When you add in the fact that the totally redesigned Range Rover Sport starts at not much more than a Discovery and can now be had with a much more efficient engine and the option of 7 seats, the pointlessness of the Discovery is plain to see. The future of the Land Rover brand is much discussed; should they focus on more utilitarian vehicles aimed at the likes of the RAV4 and Kia Sorento? Or should they continue to capitalise on the momentum behind the brand and push ever upmarket? The supposed Defender replacement is apparently now more of an urban poser than a hard core off-roader, and the next Freelander is supposed to gain 7 seats and larger interior…so maybe there won’t be any room in the Land Rover line up for the Discovery? I hope not but it may well be the case!