Most of the cars we drive are not made to push motoring standards or to do more than what is asked, but rather they are simply made to be sold. If your car gives up on you after 100,000 miles or 7 years of use, don’t go running to the manufacturer because they’re going to say that’s just how cars work. If you’re someone who expects more than just the bare minimum. Then look no further than these four cars that were overengineered in terms of features, build quality or both!
The beautifully ugly Audi A2
The Audi A2 is still known today as one of the ugliest cars ever made. It’s not quite Fiat Multipla-level ugly but it’s certainly on its way. Especially considering it belongs to a family of otherwise graceful luxury German cars. Call it what you want, this car is actually brilliant in ways you wouldn’t think.
Firstly, the car was incredibly efficient for its time. The A2 featured a drag coefficient of around 0.25 – 0.29 Cd which is roughly the same level of aerodynamic smoothness as today’s supercars. This therefore increased fuel efficiency and performance. The body was mostly aluminium rather than steel, making it lighter and virtually rust proof. The rear seats are completely removable allowing for an amazing amount of storage space. The 1.2L diesel was able to achieve around 90 mpg and very low CO2 emissions of around 81g/km. For a car released in 1999 making it almost 20 years old, this is all very impressive stuff.
One of the more interesting and unique features on it was the pop-out maintenance access. The front “grille” panel isn’t actually a grille at all. It’s a panel which popped out to reveal the oil and screen wash.
Despite all of these things being ahead of their time, the A2 did not sell well at all. Even when they did sell, Audi lost roughly £4,000 with each purchase.
1989 Lexus LS400
Created with unlimited resources and unlimited time, it’s no wonder the LS400 turned out to be such a mechanical marvel. Eiji Toyoda told his employees not to worry about the cost of things and not to worry about time efficiency either because he wanted the first Lexus car to be phenomenal…and it was. It took 6 years, cost roughly $1 billion and only 450 prototypes were made. The result was a near-perfect super saloon ready to compete with the German manufacturers.
Drag was very low at 0.29 Cd thanks to the flush door handles and windows among other things. The LS400 featured electric memory seating, optional air suspension, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, electroluminescent gauges. It also included other impressive gadgetry for its day. On top of all this, the car was basically bulletproof. Not literally of course but there are plenty of reports from owners saying their LS400 has been run way past 300,000 miles without any serious fault and with everything still working. In fact, there’s an LS400 with nearly 1 million miles on the clock owned by a guy called Matt Farah and it runs just fine!
Mitsubishi GTO 3000GT
This Japanese sports car isn’t one that was over-engineered for reliability’s sake, oh no. The features that this thing had were so advanced that they were a detriment. I wouldn’t say they were unnecessary but these features certainly were beyond what was expected for a sports car of this particular price range in this particular time.
It’s the beginning of the 90s and Mitsubishi releases the GTO, a 2+2 seat sports coupe to rival the legendary Nissan Skyline, Toyota Supra, Honda NSX and others. Talk about coming out guns blazing because the 3000GT was packed with AWD, auto adjusting rear and front spoilers, four-wheel steering, electronically controlled suspension, twin turbo, sport/tour exhaust modes and ice cold air conditioning. These are certainly some very impressive functions, however the car was completely over-engineered for its time and the poor reliability was evidence of that.
This super-luxurious saloon was a complete flop in terms of sales but an incredible success in terms of creating a car of the highest quality. Just to put the standards of this car quickly into perspective, one of the design requirements of the Phaeton was that it had to be able to be driven all day at 300 km/h (186 mph) with an exterior temperature of 50°C. Whilst maintaining an interior temperature of 22°C. This was done even though the car was limited to 155 mph. Of course, VW knew that nobody drives cars at 186 mph in 50°C heat all day long yet they still decided to build the Phaetons to that spec. It’s the equivalent of using a guillotine to chop up your vegetables. It’s overkill.
Less than 3,000 models were sold in the US from 2004-2005 which again, tells us that quality doesn’t equal sales.
The Phaeton was designed as a luxury limousine-esque experience. The glass was double glazed to reduce noise, the body panels had a 3mm gap to further insulate noise, the 4 zone climate control was state-of-the-art. The Phaeton was also the first VW to have adaptive radar cruise control, a function that is still fairly uncommon in modern cars. The wiper blades in wash mode would sweep 3 times, pause, then sweep once more to clean leftover fluids. When the wipers are resting, the angle changes by a few millimetres each time to prevent wearing of the blades. There’s a built-in dehumidifier to prevent condensation. The list goes on and on and despite all of these amazing things, sales were abysmal. Perhaps it was the rather bland appearance of the car or the lack of perceived prestige it carried?
Those are just some of the most over-engineered cars of years past, which one would you drive?