Not all cars that drive beautifully are beautiful, as proven by these five models
Beauty, as the old saying goes, is only skin deep. Then again, as another old saying goes, first impressions count. History will show there’s no shortage of cars that look great and drive equally beautifully. Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches will no doubt make up a huge part of that list.
History will also show that the car world has no shortage of cars that make extremely poor first impressions, and crafting a list like that would be only too easy. But you should also know by now we never do things the easy way. So, we decided to come up with some cars that utterly and absolutely redeem themselves once you get behind the wheel, despite them having looks only their designers could love.
Alfa Romeo 4C
If you aren’t yet turned off by the Alfa Romeo 4C’s insectile face and headlights that seem too small and are set too high up; or the interior that almost completely devoid of storage space (it doesn’t even get a glove box) and creaky plastic panels, then you’ll discover that it’s one of the most underrated drivers’ cars of the past decade.
Excluding fluids and a driver, the Alfa Romeo 4C weighs just 895kg and most of its weight is balanced rearward, with 62 percent sitting over the rear axle. With no power assistance in the steering to corrupt feedback and with that rear-biased weight distribution, the Alfa Romeo 4C is an absolute riot.
Adding to that is its incredibly charismatic 1.75-litre turbocharged motor. It makes all the right noises, chuffing and whistling away as you drive, much like an old school rally car. Of course, it’s not a car that suffers fools gladly, which makes it all the more satisfying when you get it just right.
BMW Z3 Coupe
If you’re thinking that a roof doesn’t look quite right on the BMW Z3 Coupe and it looks, well, rather tacked-on, you’d be right. According to folklore, in the search for (much) more torsional rigidity, but stymied by management wanting a cost-effective solution to what was essentially an extremely niche vehicle, engineers at M Division simply stuck a roof onto an existing BMW Z3 roadster.
Save for the roof, every body panel was shared with the roadster, which saved on costs…and also looks. The results certainly weren’t pretty, with contemporary reviews deriding its looks and giving rise to its nickname (which has now stuck): the clown shoe. With its long nose, short tail and upright glasshouse, the BMW Z3 Coupe certainly did not have the sleek fastback profile of its successor, the BMW Z4 Coupe. However, two decades after its debut, it’s become a cult classic, as prices for the storming BMW Z3 M Coupe has been heading northwards in recent years.
Even though the current Jaguar XJ looks far better than its frumpy, deliberately retro-styled predecessor, that’s not saying a whole lot. Its front-end styling isn’t ugly by any means, but even nine years after its launch in 2010, we’re still not sure about its slitty, vertical rear light cluster, that supposedly resembles a cat’s claws.
But if you’re the sort of busy executive that cares more about what a car drives like and appreciates limousines that think they’re sports cars, then the Jaguar XJ is a hard act to beat. Despite measuring over 5m long, it weighs just over 1.9-tonnes, even in long wheelbase guise with a honking great V8 under the bonnet.
Thanks to its aluminium chassis, Jaguar’s penchant for a ride that blissfully marries comfort and control and deft steering, the Jaguar XJ is lithe and most importantly, is entertaining as hell to drive. Mostly down to how its agility beggars belief.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI TME
A contemporary review once described the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI TME‘s ludicrous double-decker rear wing as more befitting an aeroplane. It also called its interior about as interesting as sitting in rubbish bin, owing to the amount of hard, black and shiny plastics on offer.
This special edition, to celebrate Finnish rally driver Tommi Makinen’s fourth consecutive world championship win in 1999, also added white wheels and a prominent racing stripe down its flanks, which are, at best, debatable styling touches.
Still, there was no debating the way it drove. A zippy two-litre turbocharged motor with 280hp and all-wheel-drive ensured the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI TME went like stink and with uncanny levels of grip. Its performance easily rivalled contemporary sports cars, even if it didn’t really look the part.
Subaru Impreza 22B STI
There’s only so many things you can say about a car that’s painted bright blue (WR Blue Mica, if you must know) and with gold wheels. And if you ask most people, there’s a high chance it won’t be very complimentary things. But if you ask enthusiasts, especially about this particular blue car with its striking gold wheels, they’ll be frothing at the mouth. Just 400 were made in 1998 to celebrate the carmaker’s 40th birthday and boy, what a present it was.
Its two-litre engine was enlarged to 2.2-litres and it had a widebody fitted to it. Its lively chassis and all-wheel-drive with a variable centre differential made the Subaru Impreza 22B STI a real gem to drive. You’ll just have to excuse the fact that it looks like a boy racer’s wet dream come true. Perhaps the astronomical prices the Subaru Impreza 22B STI is able to command these days will soothe that somewhat.