What's the Worst Example of Automotive Badge Engineering?

A name swap alone is never enough to hide the badge-engineered roots of a vehicle shared by two different brands.

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Image: Aston Martin

Like plenty of things invented in the 20th century, badge engineering was awful but I kind of miss it. Car companies — typically American, but not exclusively so, as the image above indicates — would take a vehicle from their arsenal, make minor visual tweaks, and sell it under a completely different make and model. Sometimes that would result in more premium features, like leather seating, for example. Other times it would be the exact same damn car. In either case, nobody was ever really fooled. Today, we’re polling the room for the worst badge-engineered cars in the history of the industry.

There are a couple ways you could answer this question. Maybe you’ll choose a car that was bad already, whose badness was multiplied as it was marketed under multiple brands. Or you could pick a car that was really just mediocre, but sold in far too many incarnations, flooding the zone for no deserved reason. For the latter example, I’m thinking of the Chevrolet Uplander/Buick Terraza/Pontiac Montana/Saturn Relay crew. The same bar of soap, four times, sold concurrently in the same market.

For my choice, though, I’ve gone with a car that wasn’t necessarily bad, just wrong. The only reason Aston Martin ever bought up a bunch of Toyota iQs and turned them into Cygnets was to slip right under the European Union’s average fleet emissions rules. That’s sad on its own, but even if you’re not aware of the Cygnet’s reason for existing, seeing one sort of sullies the brand. And it seems everyone felt that way, because Aston only sold 150 examples of the damn thing over two years — the company had hoped to move 4,000 units annually. Apparently, Aston did build one with a V8, though. That’s badge engineering done right, friends.

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Enough from me. What, in your eyes, is the most egregious poster child of this industry marketing phenomenon? Tell us right down there in the comments.