We all have things in life that we secretly love but are really not cool in any shape or form. Music (Phil Collins), films (Top Gun), food (Heinz salad cream).
The subject of cars is no exception. We’ve asked everyone in the Autocar team for their favourite car that they’re not really shouting about - but we have just forced them to.
BMW X6 (2008)
I am already ducking under the parapet with this one. But I once saw a nearly new one on a dark night in gun-metal grey, xenons ablaze, and I thought it actually looked quite nice. Shortly after, I threw a 282-bhp xDrive35d around the famously tricky hill route at the Millbrook test track.
I was amazed at how this tall, heavy car defied the laws of physics, as the traction control flickered furiously, computers working overtime to translate the power and my over-ambitious driving to the road’s surface. TOM EVANS
Vauxhall Cavalier Mk3 (1988)
If there was ever evidence that sending a car racing can drastically increase its appeal even decades after production ends, it’s this – the Mk3 Vauxhall Cavalier. Close to 30 years on from its inception, it should not be a car I crave to own. Yet watching videos of British Touring Car Championship legend John Cleland two-wheeling his white and yellow Cavalier through the chicane at Thruxton always has me scrolling frantically through the classifieds.
£750 (US$1000) will land me with a rusty-arched example, which I could drop on its behind on gold wheels and live the 1990s touring car dream. The temptation is strong. SAM SHEEHAN
Volkswagen 'New' Beetle (1998)
The New Beetle had very big shoes to fill, but history hasn’t been kind to it. Many regarded it as overpriced, lumpy handling and gimmicky, and an insult to the original - the archetypal, 21million-unit ‘people’s car’.
Styling was cartoonish, but with 1.8T, 2.3-litre V5 and mad RSI-badged 3.2-litre V6 engines in the range, it wasn’t necessarily all show and no go. It sparked a whole cohort of retro-styled fashion wagons, with varying degrees of handling sparkle. Is it a classic yet? No. Will it? Probably not. But to me, it’s as charmingly cheesy, and cheesily charming as they come. JIMI BECKWITH
Chrysler PT Cruiser (1998)
Memorably voted as “the worst car of the past 20 years” by Top Gear in 2013, there are few who will lament the passing of the PT Cruiser - certainly not as many who lament its appalling credentials as a car, be it for its dynamic shortcomings or dodgy three-star safety rating. But, while there is scarcely a shred of logic that points to a reason to like the PT Cruiser, there is something about those Plymouth-esque, pseudo 1930s, hot rod-inspired looks that still make it supremely desirable. To me, at least. JIM HOLDER - EDITORIAL DIRECTOR
Cadillac Brougham Fleetwood (1979)
In this iteration, the luxury Fleetwood version of the Brougham sedan was 5618mm long (221in - today’s long-wheelbase Mercedes-Benz S-Class measures 5462 (215in)) and 1940mm (76in) wide, which is absurd. So it wouldn’t fit on my driveway, by a long shot. I also love the fact that it was available with a 7.0-litre V8 that produced only 178bhp, which is utterly, utterly hilarious. And that’s paired to a three-speed automatic gearbox, which I’m sure wasn’t slushy or lethargic whatsoever.
0.60mph took 11.6sec and official combined economy was 12.8mpg. And just look at the exterior styling - not to mention the interior’s veneered wood and quilted armchair glory. KRIS CULMER
Nissan GT-R (2017)
This might seem an odd one to some, but there appears to be significant polarisation of opinions on the R35. Mostly due to the electronic ‘interference’ found while driving, people certainly like to voice their opinions on it. Haven’t yet had a chance to drive one (I am only 18), but rides I most certainly have; they’re very quick. There’s just something about the ease at which it can put near 600bhp to the ground, combined with the surprising practicality and history of the GTR - I love ‘em. SAM JENKINS
VW Passat TDi estate (2003)
A diesel Passat estate is possibly the most tedious and functional car there is. It has precisely zero personality. But that’s why they’re so good. VW was smart enough to realise the Passat was a workhorse and so made no attempt to imbue with false charm or charisma. It just went ahead and built a strictly practical car, which is what makes the Passat is so brilliantly effective. It’s big, comfy, quick enough, the boot can swallow a lifetime of junk and, with roof bars fitted, it’ll even carry a two-stroke race kart. Great thing, and yes this one is mine, all mine. DAN PROSSER
Kia Soul (2014)
When I first drew the keys to a Kia Soul in the regular holiday fun that is the game of hire car lottery, I thought I’d lost. A small, boxy mini SUV, it promised ‘quirk’ and ‘character’, rather than driving fun or luxurious comfort. It turns out I was onto a big winner. That quirk made the Soul charming, and it was also surprisingly fun to drive and inherently practical. I’d never dream of buying one, yet I doubt I’d ever complain about owning one. The next time I hired a car on holiday, the Avis lady offered me a choice of car: I picked the Soul. And didn’t regret it. JAMES ATTWOOD
Land Rover Discovery Mk1 V8 (1989)
My secret lust for a Land Rover Discovery Mk1 V8 emanates from an abiding love of all "bent-eights" and one very specific recent experience. A year ago I drove a Disco Mk1 V8 for about 150 miles on a "Discoverys through the ages" story we did for the launch of the latest model. Already 25 years old, it was fabulous. The commanding seating, amazingly thin screen pillars, surprisingly modern cabin design and ultra-low rate suspensions all made it seem very special.
Add a woofly V8 and the appeal was complete — despite the usual deterrents: rust, lousy fuel consumption and the ravages of a big mileage. You can get a decent one for £2500 (US$3000) but I'm not looking, honest. STEVE CROPLEY - EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Fiat 500C (2009)
Don’t laugh. Yes, it’s shoddy to drive and too cutesy to look at, but once you’ve driven a 500C with the pram roof down in the sunshine along the Amalfi Coast with Italy’s answer to Radio 2 coming through the speakers swooning out ‘50s classics, you feel 90% of the way to be driving a classic Alfa Spider. God I’m cool, I kept telling myself, everyone who saw me driving along nodding and waving in agreement. Oh, they weren’t those kind of waves? MARK TISSHAW - EDITOR
Fiat Punto Cabrio (1994)
On a hiking jaunt recently, I came upon a car which I instantly loved. It was convertible, it was red, it was banged-up and it was awesome. Which car could it be, I hear you ask. Yes, reader. it was a Fiat Punto Cabrio 1.6-litre 90ELX. From circa 1996, it was parked up next to a little shack in the Pyrenees. It illustrated a carefree life of fun and freedom in the sun, however rubbish it might be to drive. Old-school Italian charm at its best. RACHEL BURGESS
Buick Roadmaster Station Wagon (1990)
Always been fascinated by the ‘woody’, the American family utility based on a sedan with a body fashioned from varnished lumber.. For my guilty pleasure I’d add the last of the genre, the 1990s Buick Roadmaster Wagon, into an American road trip. Just the right kind of machine to steer westwards on a sun-drenched meander across the States. Of course the Roadmaster is characterised by nostalgia rather than exquisite cabinetry, the look delivered with plastic cladding, while its full-size sedan platform failed spectacularly to catch the SUV zeitgeist unleashed by the Ford Explorer.
After just six years in production, GM’s last woody wagon was pensioned-off in favour of Blazers and Tahoes, Yukons and Suburbans. Yet inside the soft-riding, 18ft long land yacht are armchairs that cosset, space to spread out, and a huge trunk to store a couple of dozen stetsons. Choose a later model and the right-pedal deploys 260bhp of burble from a 5.7-litre Chevy LT1 V8, a de-tuned Corvette lump. And when the Interstate finally stops at the Pacific, the back window gets kicked out to make room for a long board. I’ll take mine with extra cheese. On the side, please. JULIAN RENDELL
Volvo 360 (1976)
There's no such thing as a guilty pleasure when it comes to cars. Even worst-class driving beats first-class public transport. Take the Volvo 360, for example. It was, by all accounts, a bit of a shed. It was a small, unrewarding Volvo, whose DAF-related origins apparently made it less well built than 'proper' Swedish Volvos. But at 18 I hadn't driven much other than sheds before, so the 2.0-litre family car I learnt to drive in felt positively brisk, refined, and comfortable. Which, compared to my mountain bike, it was. Besides, more of today's small cars should have a longitudinal engine, a transaxle gearbox and rear drive, shouldn't they? No guilt here, then. MATT PRIOR - EDITOR-AT-LARGE
Leyland Princess (1975)
After the catastrophic misdemeanour of the Austin Allegro - the crime went public on May 17, 1973 - British Leyland’s next front-wheel drive machine of allegedly advanced engineering was the clumsily named 18-22 Series. But rather unexpectedly, March 26 1975 turned out be much better day for British Leyland. Apart from startling the Western world with its modishly on-the-money wedge styling, the 18-22 turned out to be a far better developed machine than the Allegro, its mix of space, comfort, refinement and actual sophistication producing a real rival to the Ford Granada, Vauxhall Victor and Peugeot 504. Road tests put it quite close to the Citroen CX for ability.
All of this was great news for a teenager hoping to work for the company, and even better when having become an Austin apprentice, the adolescent in question got the chance to drive these things when running errands for middle managers. By then the wedge had been renamed Princess, and the long waiting list achieved after launch had been eliminated by the emergence of failing driveshafts and shearing rear suspension mountings, neither fault for which there was initially a cure. Never mind. I still reckon the Princess to be one of the more extraordinary automotive products of the ‘70s, and own one as a consequence. RICHARD BREMNER
Tata Nano (2008)
Battling Mumbai’s traffic in the world’s cheapest car is a truly exhilarating experience for a number of reasons. The initial thrill is from the very real possibility of death (it got zero stars from NCAP, and India’s roads don’t have particularly encouraging safety records), and from an automotive viewpoint it’s equally fascinating to sample what a new £1000 (US$1300) car feels like.
I’m not going to persuade you that it is actually a good car. It really isn’t. It has the build quality of a cereal box and offers the same levels of driving engagement as a cucumber, but no other cars deliver quite the same eye-opening helter skelter cultural driving experience as the India-only Nano, and for that reason I will always love it. DOUG REVOLTA
DeLorean DMC12 (1981)
It has nothing to do with a Bob Zemeckis film franchise. I wouldn’t even say I love the DeLorean so perhaps I should disqualify myself on those grounds alone. But I have driven one and it left me aching for what might have been. Yes it was too heavy and that Douvrin Renault engine woefully underpowered, but there was a lot of Lotus Esprit and other Colin Chapman engineering in there, and with the twin turbo motor already in development it would have had the power to exploit its already excellent chassis. Yet now all that public money, engineering talent and hard work will be remembered only for a drugs bust and three rather slight films. ANDREW FRANKEL
Bristol 412 (1975)
Cubist period Bristol is also the cheapest. Zagato’s challenging styling is certainly divisive, but 412 still a bespoke gentleman’s carriage with rather more handbuiltness than a contemporary Roller, or just about anything else. Until relatively recently it was available at secondhand hatchback prices, but remains affordable. ‘Targa’ roof from ’76, just adds to the whole wonderful absurdity of it all. However, it makes for a classy run to the woodshop for some 4 x 2 a real possibility. Massive thirst for fuel means that you really should LPG the brute, but only if you can face that face. JAMES RUPPERT - USED CAR GURU