Let’s start here by saying that controversial doesn’t necessarily mean bad. And so when admiring some of the beauties below we urge you to not spit out your tea in disgust, but instead admire their makers’ self-belief in bringing such unlikely creations to the market – for better or for worse.
As ever we welcome cases to be made for or against any of our chosen cars, as well as suggestions for your own personal favourites when it comes to whipping up four-wheeled controversy. One thing’s for sure: without cars such as these, life on the roads would be a lot less interesting.
Suzuki Ignis (2016-present)
Suzuki is something of an expert when it comes to building SUVs, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when it applied the pumped-up styling and raised ride formula to the city car class. Being Suzuki this is no mere design exercise either, because you can in fact have a modern-day Ignis with four-wheel drive to complete the go-anywhere illusion.
Being small and light means running costs are as tiny as, well, an Ignis, and yet because its body is relatively tall interior space is surprisingly generous. Throw in lots of equipment and sparky engines, including one with an SHVS mild hybrid system to provide an extra shot of power at low revs, and the Ignis is actually a really good little car… so long as you’re prepared to give it a chance.
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BMW 5 Series GT (2009-2017)
In fairness to BMW, the idea behind the 5 Series GT is sound, that being to combine SUV ride height with estate car space and the styling of a coupe, making it a crossover in the truest sense. It does a pretty good job in a lot of ways too, but the obvious downside is that stylistically those three classes of car do not really gel.
What’s also odd is that this car is in fact not based on the 5 Series at all, but on the larger 7 Series. That explains why it’s so roomy, not to mention why the drive is more relaxed cruiser than sporting saloon, but whether that’s enough to make up for the odd rear end is another matter entirely.
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Fiat Multipla (1998-2010)
You’ve got to hand it to Fiat; it took some guts to bring a car as weird as the Multipla to market. Admittedly, the people carrier segment in which it competed has never been awash with oil paintings, but even so the Fiat’s massive windows, strange bulges and drooping nose marked it out as something truly unique.
Mind you, regardless of what you thought of the exterior, it was far harder to criticise what the Multipla offered on the inside, which was a car to satisfy the most demanding of families. That is not only because it has six proper seats, but for the fact those seats are arranged across two rows rather than three, with person number six sitting between the driver and front passenger. What this in turn means is that the boot remains massive even when you’ve got the full complement of people on board. A clever car, then, if not an attractive one.
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Porsche 718 (2016-present)
Can one of the world’s greatest driver’s cars, not to mention one as pretty as the 718 Cayman or Boxster, really be described as controversial? When Porsche abandons its legendary flat-six engine configuration and replaces it with something that has only two-thirds the cylinder count the answer can only be yes.
That’s precisely what happened when the 718 was launched as the fourth generation of Boxster and Cayman in 2016, complete with new flat-four turbocharged engines. The reason for doing so – improved fuel economy and emissions – was laudable, and the execution typically impressive (this is Porsche after all), with both cars being not only greener but also quicker and even sharper to drive than before. And yet without the six-cylinder soundtrack some find the 718 Boxster and Cayman easy to admire, but impossible to love.
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Aston Martin Cygnet (2011-2013)
Wouldn’t it be great to say you owned an Aston Martin? To drink in those admiring glances from friends and family as you popped the key on the table, demonstrating that style and sophistication are no strangers to you. What though when they later discover that the key operates not some V8-powered beauty, but a rebadged Toyota iQ city car with a 1.3-litre engine?
Well, at least they couldn’t say it wasn’t an interesting choice, because even today used Cygnets can still command upwards of £30,000, such is their rarity. You’d also have a story to tell, about how the Cygnet was introduced as an unusual attempt by Aston to lower its average fleet emissions, all the while combining the iQ’s innovative design with fine British craftsmanship. Whether they’d be begging to be taken for a spin, however, is another matter entirely.
The One We Have Learnt to Love: McLaren Senna (2018)
The internet was not universally kind to the McLaren Senna when the wraps were first pulled off. For an 800 horsepower hypercar from one of the automotive world’s most interesting brands that’s quite a surprise, but critics couldn’t help but wonder if the Senna’s severe styling was evidence of McLaren’s obsession for speed at all costs being taken too far.
This, however, is a car that needs to be seen in the carbon to be understood, preferably at speed so you can witness how the brutal bodywork and that enormous rear wing not only make sense, but have a beauty all of their own. If there ever was a car to emerge from a controversial start to finally receive the recognition it deserves, the Senna is surely it.
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