25 Cars With Funny Names: What's in a Badge?
Our favorite examples of automotive marketing departments gone maniacal.
Naming cars is an extraordinarily complex science. It's also one into which automakers pour barrels-full of dollars that seemingly could have been spent on silly things like steering and suspension. It may be easy to dismiss the efforts of the marketing moniker mavens as futile frippery—until you consider how badly it went for these 25 cars.
When we first saw the Buzzard at the 2019 Geneva Auto Show, we wanted one just for the name. ("Lunchtime. Let's take the Buzzard!") The Buzzard is the European-bound seven-seat version of another amusingly-named Tata SUV, the Harrier. Despite the strange monikers, both Buzzard and Harrier are rather good-looking vehicles inside and out. In the home market of India, the Buzzard gets a name that is, quite literally, much more serious: Gravitas. Meanwhile, when the Harrier goes to Europe—where it might remind folks of something else—it will be called Buzzard Sport.
We are sticklers for proper use of apostrophes, and the That's appeals to our inner grammar police. This That's was one of Honda's home-market kei cars, manufactured from 2004 to 2006, and it saddens us that we can no longer march into a Honda dealership in Tokyo and say, "I'll buy that That's! That's the That's I want!" On the up side, Honda's present-day boxy micro-wagon goes by the equally entertaining (and shoutingly capitalized) name N-BOX SLASH, which also sounds like it should be the name of Microsoft's next-gen gaming console.
Lest you think all ridiculous car names come from abroad, let's not forget the time Ford chose to name a sports car after something with which you might be, er … examined, perhaps by doctors or perhaps by aliens. Ford built a series of four concept cars between 1979 and 1984 that used this questionable name, and in 1989 it introduced the production version, a rather competent Mazda-based coupe that very nearly replaced the Mustang. After two generations, the Probe went away, and we're not really surprised the name never came back.
This silly-looking sedan with the equally silly name was actually a rather clever car. Though it looked like a sedan in profile, it was actually a hatchback. Pretty neat trick, if a bit pointless. I worked for a British car magazine in the early 1990s, and when one of these came around for testing, it was only natural we nicknamed it the Clap. (You can imagine the conversations around the office. "Have you got the Clap?" "No, I gave the Clap to Graham yesterday. ") The Applause was produced from 1989 until 2000, when it was replaced by a Toyota Camry clone called the Altis.
Kia Bongo III
Visit South Korea and you'll see streets choked with these useful little utility trucks, as well as its near twin with the more sensible moniker, the Hyundai Porter. The Bongo III, despite its Roman numeral, is actually the fourth-generation model; previous versions were known as the Bongo Frontier and the Bongo Wide. The name comes from the Mazda van on which it was originally based, which is also called Bongo and includes derivatives such as the Bongo Brawny and Bongo Friendee.
Mitsubishi Toppo BJ
Toppo BJ was the name of Mitsubishi's kei-class microvan. BJ, of course, stands for Big Joy … why, what did you think it stood for? Mitsubishi showrooms have been host to many fantastic nameplates over the years, including Minica Lettuce, Town Box, Town Bee, Mirage Dingo, Grunder, and Space Star.
How many cars have you encountered that are (almost) named after ultra-low-calorie vegetables? The Celerio is a super-mini car designed primarily for India and Thailand. It's also sold in Pakistan under the name Cultus, which is nearly as funny. We can't help but wonder if driving the Celerio burns fewer calories than other cars. Other great names Suzuki has given us: Every Plus, Super Carry, Mighty Boy, XBee, and Fun. Oh, and who can forget the Kizashi? Gesundheit.
No surprise that the company that gave us the Clap—er, the Applause—also gave us a car called the Naked. This micro-mini featured exposed hinges and bolts on its exterior, and we can only imagine the problems with parts theft in any country other than largely crime-free Japan. Daihatsu, like Suzuki, is a gold mine of silly names: It also has produced cars called Move Latte, Wake, Coo, Fellow Max and Rugger—and, of course, the Charade.
We couldn't figure out why anyone would call a car Kancil, so we tried translating the name from Perodua's native Malay into English. Turns out it means "Mouse-deer", and we're not sure that's any better. When it was introduced in 1994, the Kancil was the least-expensive car in Malaysia, a title it also held in Britain, where the car was known as the Nippa—because, hey, better to sound vaguely like a body part one generally keeps hidden than vaguely like a dreaded disease. If you want one, too bad—Perodua kancilled it in 2009. It's since been replaced by the Perodua Alza, which is not to be confused with the Perodua Bezza.
We can only imagine the uncomfortable conversations that took place as Kia's U.S. team had to explain to its South Korean masters why the K9 name wasn't going to fly in English-speaking countries. We know, however, that the conversation must have taken place, since the car is known here as the K900. South Korea seems to be inordinately fond of alphanumeric names; back home, the Forte is known as the K3, the Optima as the K5, and the Cadenza as the K7.
Effa Ideal II
The Effa Ideal II is the Uruguayan-market version of a car developed by Jiangxi Changhe Suzuki Automobile Company, a joint venture between Chinese automaker Changhe and Japanese Suzuki—and if you can follow all that, you're brighter than we are. All we know is that the name of this city car is brilliant, as is that of the stillborn electric version, The NICE Ze-O. Effa Motors also makes cars called the Picape Start and the JMC Boarding. We just wish it made a car called the You.
We're not sure what possessed Suzuki to use this rather funny name on this rather funny-looking car. Perhaps it was intended to be a subconscious order, which the owners probably needed, because driving an Esteem served primarily as a constant reminder of how dire one's circumstances were. The Esteem name was exclusive to the North American market, but the car's monikers in other markets—Baleno and Cultus Crescent—weren't much better.
The Nissan Fuga should look familiar—it was sold here as the Infiniti M-Series, which was later renamed Q70. We loved the Infiniti version and we're sure the Nissan Fuga is every bit as good, but the name sounds like something we'd shout after dropping something heavy on our toes, or perhaps a cheer for a favorite sports team. "Fu-GA! Fu-GA!" Catchy, isn't it?
South Korean automaker SaangYong is known for creating some of the ugliest cars on the face of the planet. Sadly, that phase seems to have ended, though the styling of the Tivoli certainly shows some residual silliness. But their names are still delightfully funny, including the Korando, Rexton, Musso, Rodius—and of course the Tivoli. This moniker has some history, having adorned several towns and public gardens, a brewery in Denver, an amusement park in Copenhagen, and, if memory serves, a dairy in New York—which urged its customers to "Spell it backwards!" Tivoli makes us chuckle, but the name of its safety suite—"Deep Control"—is downright disturbing.
The name of Ford's failed mid-range brand is not funny in and of itself, but the irony is palpable. The car was named after Edsel Ford, who by all accounts was hounded into an early grave by his father, Henry. Edsel was responsible for some of Ford's greatest achievements, including the Lincoln Zephyr and Continental, and the Mercury brand, but the fate of the car that bore his name was a final posthumous ignominy for one of the industry's bright (if often overshadowed) lights. That's not funny, but the potential names that Ford paid poet Marianne Moore to come up with were: Anticipator, Utopian Turtletop, Varsity Stroke, Mongoose Civique, and Resilient Bullet. Incidentally, three of the Edsel model names have been reused—Citatiion, Pacer and, most recently, Corsair—and two have made history for reasons of their own.
The Dodge Ram pickups and vans were part of the American automotive scene for so long that it's easy to forget what an utterly ridiculous name they carried. Seriously, who but the most aggressive among us wants to drive something called a Ram? More specifically, who wants to drive in front of or next to something called a Ram? You have to wonder if that's a name or a statement of intent. Our vote goes to the latter, especially in light of the evidence: an instruction to "Dodge" written right on the front.
Vellfire. Man, do we love saying that. It's like a threat that won't offend religious people. "You will suffer in eternal VELLFIRE!" Or perhaps it's a style of ultra-hot chicken wing? (Best served with a Suzuki Celerio!) This is the sporty version of Toyota's Japanese-market minivan; the standard version is known, almost as comically, as the Alphard. Previously, Toyota had a lower-spec minivan called the Noah—the perfect way to transport your family in a rainstorm—and a small delivery van called the Deliboy.
Huanghai Landscape F1
The Chinese auto market is largely an enigma to us, but we do know that the country's automakers favor alphanumeric names—consider that the current Huanghai lineup, so far as we can tell, consists of models called the N1, N1S, N2, N2S, and N3. (Where is the N3S? Probably sent away for re-education.) However, when they do use names, they come up with some good ones—past products have included the Steed and the Plutus. We can't imagine where the Landscape's F1 suffix comes from, but hey, racing! This family-sized SUV looks an awful lot like a knock-off of the first-generation Kia Sorento—not that we would ever accuse Chinese automakers of stealing intellectual property.
BYD Song Max
BYD is a Chinese vehicle manufacturer that has already made inroads into the U.S. (though the electric buses it sold to Albuquerque, New Mexico, were the subject of a lawsuit). BYD cars have shown up at a few domestic auto shows, though we are fairly certain the delightfully named Song Max is not slated for our shores. Perhaps we'll get BYD's popular SUV, which is called Tang. Didn't the Apollo astronauts take one into space?
We know General Motors management tends to consist of rather straight-laced conservative types, and perhaps we shouldn't be surprised they might not have known what a hummer is—still, you'd think there would have been at least one employee younger than 30 who could have pointed his or her bosses to the Urban Dictionary. Apparently that still hasn't happened, because the name is coming back as an electric pickup truck, Based on the specs GM has released, well, let's just say it isn't going to suck.
Nissan DAYZ ROOX
Japan's kei-class micro-cars are a delight in every way, including the monikers they carry. The DAYZ is Nissan's current kei car, and its high-roof van-like derivative is the DAYZ ROOX. Oh, yes, we want one—but not just the base model. No, we want the range-topping DAYZ ROOX Highway STAR X … although the DAYZ ROOX Rider is, we must admit, equally tempting. We couldn't ask for anything more, except perhaps for the DAYZ product planner to call the Help Desk and tell them his Caps Lock key is stuck.
We love the idea of a car from a company called Troller, and it has nothing at all to do with our favorite activity on social media. Troller is a Brazilian manufacturer and Pantanal is Portuguese for "wetlands"—appropriate for an off-road pickup truck, but we think it sounds more like a kind of cigar or perhaps a particularly ornate style of trousers. The Pantanal's PT Cruiser-like styling is even sillier than its name, as is its backstory: Troller built just 77 Pantanals between 2006 and 2008. Ford bought Troller in 2007, and a year later had to buy back every single Pantanal due to cracking frames. For more on what Ford and Troller have been up to lately, check out the little TX4 SUV.
No, this is not a Golf with a disintegrating badge. The Gol is a product of Volkswagen do Brasil, an entry-level car that's been a strong seller in Brazil and Argentina since its introduction in 1980. Yes, there was a sporty version, and yes, it was called the Gol GTI. Incidentally, there's a chance you've driven one—the Gol was sold in the US in the late '80s and early 90s as the Volkswagen Fox. Perhaps the trunk lid wasn't big enough to allow for a nameplate of more than three characters.
Kia Granbird Silkroad
Okay, this isn't a car, it's a bus, one that represents the very top of Kia's Granbird lineup. Too fancy? Perhaps you'd be more comfortable with a Granbird Sunshine, a Granbird Blue Sky, a Granbird Parkway, or a Granbird Greenfield. Don't forget to check out the high-capacity competition, which includes the Hyundai Universe Noble and Daewoo's BX212 Royal Hi-Decker, FX120 Cruising Star, and BH120 Royal Economic II.
While we're on a commercial-vehicle kick, we must mention Hyundai. Its medium-duty workhorse is known, amusingly enough, as the Mega Truck, but the one we're after is the heavy-duty Xcient. The name is supposedly a mix of "XC" (Cross country, or a measurement of capacitive resistance? Beats us) and "efficient", though we think it sounds more like a very useful contraction of the word "excellent," which we plan to start sprinkling into our day-to-day speech. Considering that the Xcient can be had with a 12.7-liter diesel engine that delivers 1,844 lb-ft of torque through a ZF 16-speed manual transmission, we kind of want to try one out. Be sure not to confuse the Hyundai Xcient with the Hyundai XCENT, a tiny sedan built and sold in India.