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Top 10 misfit cars

Sometimes, not all products live up to their parent brand's high expectations.
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Whether it’s toothpaste, tuna or Toyotas, marketing experts agree a strong product brand is one that creates a consistent image and implies honest attributes about the products being sold.

But sometimes, not all products live up to their parent brand’s high expectations.

Misfits, orphans, bastards – call them what you like – here’s an alphabetical top 10 of vehicles that seem to have wandered into the wrong showroom by mistake. They need a new badge:

Aston Martin Cygnet

Sexy. Fast. Sleek. British. Double-oh-seven – just some of the positive brand attributes one would conjure up when you say Aston Martin.

All of which makes the recently announced dowdy, slow and stubby Toyota iQ-based Cygnet one of the worst branding decisions since New Coke.

Even with a lame attempt to add Aston design pastiches to the Toyota commuter city car, the Cygnet looks like a DBS that’s been sandwiched by a pair of London double-decker buses.

And with a snail-like 0-to-100 km/h pace of 14.1 seconds, Bond – James Bond – won’t be chasing down evil villains any time this century if behind the wheel of the world’s slowest Aston.

Chevrolet Corvette

‘Vette fans: back away from the pitchforks and torches.

I am all too aware that the Corvette is one of GM’s most competitive products, considered a pillar of the Chevrolet brand.

But Chevy’s “affordable performance” brand values are so “Old GM.”

In the “New GM,” Chevy will stand for fuel efficiency (Volt!), commuter cars (Spark!) and crossovers (Equinox and Orlando!) Definitely not a fire-breathing, V8 sports car.

But let’s not throw out the brand baby with the bath water.

In essence, the Corvette needs to fall under the GM brand that is being positioned to take on the likes of performance luxury brands BMW, Mercedes and Audi.

And before you hit the “send” button, the new Camaro needs to be a Pontiac.

Jeep Compass

Based on their origins as vehicles once used by American troops in World War Two, the Jeep brand traditionally stood for best-in-class off-road prowess.

So how in the name of the Rubicon Trail did the non-“Trail Rated” Compass soft-roader come to be? As a representative of the Jeep brand, it’s way off the mark.

What does it stand for? “Best in Class” urban grocery-getter?

Granted, the reason most people buy Jeeps (or Hummers and Land Rovers) is because they see people that actually do use them off-road and want to mimic the lifestyle.

But the Dodge Caliber-in-Jeep-drag Compass exudes brand cynicism at its worst.

While its Patriot platform-mate is no better off-road, at least it’s styled like a Jeep wagon. But from the outside, the only thing “Jeep” about the Compass is its grille.

Kia Amanti

A brand best known for selling cheaper Hyundais, with new products like the Soul and Forte and Koup, Kia has rapidly gained an independent image that’s actually – dare we say – hip.

Then there’s the Italian-sounding, Korean-made rear-drive Amanti luxury sedan, launched in 2003.

Amidst the fresher product, the Amanti – a mish-mash of Jaguar and Mercedes design elements decorating a circa 1976 Buick-like driving experience – stands out like the kid who didn’t get new shoes on the first day of school. It’s a car that’s about as cool as your parent’s U2 CD collection.

Thankfully, the old school Amanti’s days are numbered.

It will soon be replaced by the much more modern and sporty Kia KND-5, which is based on the next generation Hyundai Azera platform.

Lexus IS-F

I like burning rubber a much as the next yahoo. But the IS-F is one confused Lexus.

Throwing away a couple of decades of building a brand based on luxury and refinement – at the expense of dialed-to-your-nervous system driving qualities – the hot-rod IS is anything but the above. But it also can’t compete with the likes of BMW’s M3 or Mercedes’ C 63 AMG as a driver’s car.

Its artificially electric assisted steering is too numb. Its driver’s instrumentation is too small. And its suspension setup can’t handle on-track antics, or deliver a comfortable highway ride.

Mercedes-Benz B Class

In North America, the Mercedes brand stands for power, prestige, classic styling and an Old World stubbornness to rear wheel drive.

Unfortunately, its entry-level compact B Class reflects none of these long-standing `Benz brand tenets.

Introduced as the smaller five-door offering to the larger R Class Grand Tourer, the B inherited the same goggle-eyed and one-box styling.

As a larger offering to the ForTwo, the B should have been marketed under the Smart brand.

It shares the same sandwich floor technology as the ForTwo. It’s the only front-drive car in Mercedes’ North American lineup. And it’s woefully underpowered.

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche has one of the strongest brands in the auto world, built up over a half-century of 23,000 race victories in nearly every category of motor racing at the highest level, from Monte Carlo to Daytona to the 24 Hour race at Le Mans.

Trials, triumphs, innovations and developments that have translated directly into its road cars and, to you and me, what makes a Porsche a Porsche.

Then in 2003, with the introduction of the big, slow and heavy Cayenne SUV, it spoiled the brand soup.

The Cayenne shares its platform with more brand appropriate Volkswagen Touareg. But going against its heritage, its uglier, looking like a quick Photoshop attempt at grafting Porsche design elements onto a very non-Porsche bulk.

Cayenne owners can fool themselves that they’re driving a Porsche. But they aren’t.

And, yes, I know it’s been a sales success (last year, almost half of Porsche Canada’s sales were Cayennes), but there’s no accounting for bad taste.

Saab 9-7X

Here’s just one example why Saab became such a tarnished brand on GM’s watch.

Hatched in an era when The General basically gave up on its Swedish premium brand, welcome to the 9-7X – a re-badged mid-size, body-on-frame, GM SUV with a V8, the first American-built Saab.

The brand was built on sporty cars: compact, front-drive hatchbacks powered by high-tech turbocharged four-bangers.

So stumbling upon a 9-7X when it was introduced in 2005 was akin to finding La-Z-Boy recliners suddenly being sold at Ikea.

While GM shutdown its Ohio plant that built the 9-7X, GMC Envoy, and Chevrolet Trailblazer last December, the GM Canada website still has 9-7Xs available.

Don’t hurry, they’re not going fast.

Saturn Sky

As a brand built on low-end customers looking for basic transportation and the unique dent-free body panels (you Saturn S-Series owners know who you are) no one really asked for a Saturn two-seat roadster.

But typical of GM’s product planning, the Sky came to be built to help amortize the costs for developing the Pontiac Solstice.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s no Mazda MX-5 in regards to handling or steering feel. But the Sky is a nice enough car for a Sunday drive.

It’s just not a Saturn.

Imagine if GM has spent its Sky money on a decent compact family of Saturns – the type of cars that would have all those abandoned Saturn faithful flocking back to showrooms?

Volkswagen Routan

Remember the Volkswagen Microbus Concept from the 2001 Detroit show?

A critically acclaimed modern redo of the 1960s icon, it was scheduled for production. But then VW got cold feet and canned the project in early 2005. Instead, VW instead announced that Chrysler would build minivans for the German automaker.

Say what?

So let’s review: VW – a brand built on German engineering, high-quality interiors and autobahn-bred road manners – is now trying to shill an American-designed minivan?

Is anyone buying this brand bastardization?

Apparently not.

Only arriving in dealer showrooms last September, the Routan’s sales have been so dismal, through the first seven months of this year, they make up less than one-half of a per cent of VW sales in Canada.

These days, you really can’t fool some of the people some of the time …

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