It happens all the time in the motoring world — some new niche is explored, and subsequently hailed as the answer to buyers’ prayers. But then there are those cars which do the opposite, vehicles which aren’t the answer to anyone’s question, or at least are forgotten about when somebody steals the idea and passes it off as their own.
I’ve been thinking about this list for a little while, and although some aren’t necessarily the first nameplates which come to mind when the word ‘revolutionary’ is mentioned, they each did a little something different to the norm.
That’s not to say all these vehicles were failures, more that they foreshadowed a change in buyers’ habits…
Without a doubt, the Matra Rancho is one of the most unusual looking cars to have graced UK roads so far. Best described as a practical 7 seater with off-road aspirations, it failed to take off in terms of sales and ultimately helped its brand fade into obscurity.
However a 7 seat crossover is exactly what buyers are after today, and the back-to-basics message that the Rancho had is clearly evident in the likes of the Dacia Duster. Maybe if Matra had got the looks right it could’ve taken off big-style.
By no means a failure, the original Suzuki Vitara was really just an evolution of the earlier Samurai/SJ models, but notably more refined. For a while they captivated buyers who wanted a compact SUV but one that drove like a car and had a comfortable interior.
But then cars like the Toyota RAV4 came along and stole Suzuki’s thunder — the Toyota is often credited with starting off the compact SUV craze, but it’s forgotten that another Japanese manufacturer managed it a good 5 years earlier.
MPV’s in general have been around since the early 80’s, but it took until the launch of the Renault Scenic in 1996 before they became less vans with seats, and more practical raised hatchbacks. Sliding rear doors to this day are quite rare, but add another dimension of practicality to such models.
However the Prairie had both of these things and way back in the mid-80’s too! In a car no longer than an average small estate car, there were 7 seats and tonnes of room for bags too. It may not have been as flexible as a Vauxhall Zafira, but it had the same mission statement.
A relatively recent model, the Audi A2 originated in a time when Audi was still trying to really establish itself as a rival to Mercedes and BMW. The A2 was similar in theory to Mercedes’ A-Class, but had lightweight aluminium construction and a much nicer interior…a higher price too though.
The A2 didn’t survive that long before being axed, but a revival of the nameplate has often been mooted — a premium supermini with fantastic fuel consumption would now sell like hotcakes.
Nissan Micra Mk2
The original Nissan Micra was a very worthy-but-dull supermini that excelled at nothing except being boring. The follow up though was boldly styled with lots of curves, and a practical interior with modern design to boot.
It sold very well and remained on sale with minimal updates for around 10 years — impressive, but really it was the funky modern design and youthful appeal that kept the Micra on sale, and its legendary reliability has kept a large amount of examples on the road.
Fuel economy has been a concern for car manufacturers since the early 1970’s, but Honda really made a bold statement with its 1999 Insight — a supermini sized car with enough aerodynamic aids to give it an 82mpg average.
Yet the odd looks and poor performance didn’t endear it to buyers, and when Toyota launched their similar (but less revolutionary) Prius in 2000, the design was a lot more conservative — ironically modern Prii are a lot more risque and sell a lot, whereas the latest Insight was a boring flop.
When it was launched in 1982, the Shogun was one of the more road-orientated SUVs on the market…as in that it could comfortably seat 5/7 passengers and wasn’t totally unrefined. That made it a bit of a rarity, second only to the Range Rover in terms of desirability in some parts.
Fast forward 30ish years and the Shogun is now a bit of a has-been, its main selling points being space, reliability and rugged ability. That’s just fine and dandy, but imagine what the Shogun could have been given proper investment.
Nissan Primera Mk3
Nissan’s Primera has long since passed, replaced with the likes of the Qashqai and X-Trail to secure family buyers, but in its time it was a sharp handling machine, second only to the Ford Mondeo in the entertainment stakes.
The third generation went a bit soft though, at least in terms of driving experience.The interior was draped in technology and the exterior was dramatically styled — just it wasn’t tempting enough to win customers who were drifting over to chunkier styled choices.
Classy superminis are a common feature of UK roads, the likes of the MINI hatchback, Audi A1 and Citroen DS3 are popular as they offer a big-car experience but with small car dimensions and running costs. The Metro was arguably the first of these though, and had the royal seal of approval thanks to Princess Diana.
Admittedly it lingered around for far too long, but on the whole it was one of British Leyland’s last good efforts — certainly the current MINI offers much of the same, just in a retro styled package.
Much like premium superminis, premium hatchbacks are all the rage at the moment. Volvo’s 480 was a sort of cross between a hatchback, coupe and estate car — an odd mix which didn’t win over many buyers, despite cool pop-up headlights/
The recently-departed Volvo C30 was actually very similar to the 480, in terms of design and also the fact nobody knew exactly what it was. Maybe once the Swedish manufacturer gets their act together again, they might try a third time.
If you’ve got any ideas for top 10’s or if there’s anything else you’d like me to tackle, then drop a comment below and I’ll do my best!