The good, the bad, and the ugly
What makes a car’s essence, its being? Design, features, and performance each contribute to its value and desirability. All that aside, there’s one thing that makes a car, that tells its story, without knowing anything else about it: its name.
In practical terms, a car’s name doesn’t matter. It won’t change how it drives or what it can do. Still, it’s a critical element of how it’s perceived. Name affects a car’s spirit, how we feel about it, and the legend that surrounds it. So what makes a good or bad car name?
The best car names are those that tell its story and hint at its purpose. Evocative words that spark imagination are often successful as car names.
Consider the Jeep Wrangler. The Wrangler is one of the most iconic and recognizable vehicles out there, known for its off-road toughness and capability. Therefore Wrangler is a fitting title; it implies the ability to grab whatever challenge is thrown at it and wrestle it into submission.
Lamborghinis are renowned for their wild performance, and Huracán is among their most successful car names ever. A tempestuous storm is an accurate way to describe its ripping performance, a sharp-edged experience complemented by a screaming V10 exhaust note.
Dodge’s Challenger could hardly have a more fitting name. Positioned to compete against the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro, Challenger is ready to, well, challenge other muscle cars, whether on the drag strip or dealership lots. Dubbing its ultra-powerful variants Hellcat and Demon drive the point home — with over 700 horsepower, they’re cars to be legitimately scared of.
Great car names aren’t always words. Sometimes the suggestive power of alphanumerics work to create positive conclusions. NSX might be an acronym for some term Acura’s marketing team thought up, but it doesn’t really matter. The letters carry their own suggestions of extreme style and sportiness, and help solidify the car’s legendary status.
The worst car names say nothing about the purpose of the vehicle they’re applied to. Names fail when they simply convey data, needlessly confuse, or are just a made up word that tries to sound real.
McLaren’s first mass-produced vehicle was the MP4-12C, a car as excellent as it was poorly named. A complex jumble of characters, MP4-12C doesn’t outwardly relate to anything; only die-hard McLaren geeks might realize its connection to racing cars of old. McLaren eventually caught on and renamed the car to 12C, making it a lot easier to remember and say.
Tesla seemed confused when they named their fourth vehicle Model 3. With the Roadster, Model S, and Model X before it, shouldn’t it have been the Model 4? Regardless, it’s a boring name that doesn’t celebrate any of the car’s great features. It’s about as dry and literal as possible. Imagine meeting someone named “Child 3.” Where might they stack up in their parents’ product hierarchy?
From a design perspective, BMW has been successful in creating sleek “four door coupe” variants of their two door models like the 4- and 6-Series. Arguing whether cars with four doors are still coupes is another topic, but the name they’ve given these vehicles — Gran Coupe — misses the mark. It sounds contrived, a forced way to ask drivers to believe, please just believe, that it’s not a sedan. Mix that in with BMW’s wholly confounding naming structure and titles become excessively long. BMW 440i xDrive Gran Coupe M Sport — yes, that’s an actual car.
Porsche has a history of giving their cars sensible but uninspired number-based names. Titles like 911 or 968 at least relate to product codes that can be traced down a line of predecessors. That’s why it was confusing when they invented the word Macan as a name for their small SUV. According to Porsche, “the name Macan is derived from the Indonesian word for tiger.” That’s an association approximately zero people will make, and instead their hot-selling, hot-driving crossover sounds like something that should be treated with antibiotics.
There’s an intrinsic and immediately recognizable value to each car’s name. Simply by hearing what it’s called, you know if it makes you want to jump in and drive, or feel like it’s another piece of metal you just use to get around. When it comes down to it speed, technology, or equipment matter more to the actual driving experience. But the best car names add the magic it takes to create a true automotive icon.