The American automotive market has long been dominated by enormous pickup trucks, beastly muscle cars, and massive SUVs. But every now and then, especially when gas prices and emissions restrictions ratchet up, a crop of compact commuter cars emerge from Detroit hoping to capitalize on the moment.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world better comprehends the appeal of hot hatches and city cars, which offer supreme fuel economy and just enough daily utility for city dwellers. Today, as most American manufacturers cancel their smallest models, the crossover can be thought of as the newest iteration of the compact car, since the format is basically just a smaller minivan with a bit more ground clearance.
But hopefully, automakers will soon realize that bland crossovers aren't the ticket for sales success, as evidenced by these 15 weird compact cars that everyone forgets even existed.
15. AMC Gremlin
AMC is a forgotten car manufacturer that only people who grew up in the 1960s and 70s will remember, though they probably remember the Javelin muscle car and little else. But AMC also built other models, one of the weirdest of which is the Gremlin. This tiny commuter had some of the worst visibility possible out of the rear, which actually might have inspired today's Volvo XC40, by the looks of it.
14. Geo Metro
via Regans Wedding Cars
The Geo Metro is one of the most forgettable cars of all time, unless it's being used as the punchline for a bad joke. But one of the best jokes it was ever a part of was when Car and Driver took four guys out to the parking lot to lift the rear end of this tiny little compact. Just imagine trying to pilot one around among today's massive pickup trucks and SUVs!
13. Chevy Citation X-11
via Hemmings Motor News
Chevrolet got into the economy commuter game with the Citation, which is largely regarded as one of the worst cars ever made. Even appending an "X-11" surname onto the Citation, like it was some sort of sweet, experimental spacecraft, wasn't enough to make this car memorable. And anyone who does remember it definitely wants to forget ASAP.
12. AMC Pacer
via Mecum Auctions
AMC built another strange compact car besides the Gremlin. That massive glass rear canopy certainly solved the visibility problems that the Gremlin suffered from, though the Pacer's name belied its actual inability to keep pace with anything on the road. These were cheap, underpowered, disappointing cars that directly contributed to AMC's decline.
11. Saturn Ion
It's a solid bet that few people alive today will remember Saturn as a great car company. GM's experiment to explore whether a new brand could spark engagement across a saturated industry by selling terrible, cheap cars with exciting names like Ion didn't fare well, and just about every Saturn, including the Ion and its strange third door, has since been forgotten.
10. BMW Isetta
via Le blog du mono
Anyone who remembers the BMW Isetta should be commended, though everything about the Isetta was certainly memorable. The problem is that so few of them actually ever made it to the streets of America, where a tiny, chain-driven two-seater with a front-hinging door that included the steering wheel must have seemed terrifying among all the land barges on the road.
9. Fiat 127
Everyone will remember the Fiat 500—the original and the new version that's just been canceled in the United States—forever as a stylish little car that was perfect for city dwellers. But fewer will remember the Fiat 127, an unfortunate model with a hatchback design that seems more Russian than Italian.
8. Ford Aspire
Ford has built a few hatchbacks, as well as compact sedans and coupes, that have lasted for a long time. The Fiesta and Focus, specifically, became mainstays of the automotive industry, and not just in America. But who remembers the Ford Aspire, one of the cheapest and blandest cars ever built? No one—and no one wants to.
7. Daewoo Lanos
Daewoo decided to attempt an emergence onto the American automotive market with some very strange cars. Where Lexus managed to draw consumers with luxury, style, and over-engineered sedans, Daewoo went the route of shipping the cheapest models possible to these shores. The Lanos, the smallest of the lot, is a completely forgotten example of why this strategy didn't work in the slightest.
6. Renault Fuego
While Renault may be a huge name in the automotive industry for the rest of the world, the company has not shipped many cars to the United States. One that did make it to these shores that certainly didn't help with Renault's reputation here was the Fuego, a cheap and compact commuter that looked exactly like a cheap and compact commuter.
5. Renault Le Car
Fancy restaurants often try to sound fancier by using French on their menus. But when Renault decided to ship a version of the Renault 5 to the United States and call it "Le Car" like it was something special, absolutely no one was fooled. While the Renault 5 Turbo and its awesome rally variants was great, Le Car was a base-spec model without the power necessary for American drivers to feel impressed.
via Hot Rod Hotline
Is the Amphicar a compact car that could double as an underpowered boat? Or is it a compact boat that can double as an underpowered car? Whichever way it goes, this little piece of oddness will only be remembered as a joke, since it does neither job well and doesn't look very good doing them, either.
3. Shelby GLHS
via Mecum Auctions
The Shelby name carries serious gravitas in the automotive industry, ever since a chicken farmer from Texas teamed up with Ford to take down the biggest name in European motorsport. And yet, way after the early Cobras, GT40s, and Mustangs, Carroll Shelby put his name on some pretty odd products, including the front-wheel-drive Omni hatchback.
2. Nash Metropolitan
The Nash Metropolitan is a compact car that no one remembers today outside of nursing homes, though perhaps it deserves a little more recognition. This little thing was everything a compact car should be: stylish, economical, and unique. And yet, these are rarely ever seen at car meetups because they're not particularly sporty, which might be their only flaw.
1. Suzuki X-90
Not all compact cars are hatchbacks, tiny sedans, and coupes. One of the strangest attempts at building a compact came from the likes of Suzuki, which should have had a leg up on the competition given Japan's kei-car class. But the X-90 was a tiny SUV that American consumers just weren't ready to buy when it hit these shores in 1995, even if it was available with four-wheel drive.
Sources: Autotrader, Drive Tribe, BMW, and Wikipedia.