The unthinkables: manufacturers’ most oddball models

A Ferrari soft-roader? It’ll be a very fast soft-roader, and one that may even introduce the Maranello wail to Dubai’s Big Red, a huge, shifting sand dune that needs traction and torque in spades to be successfully crested. 

But a maker of cars designed to go as fast as possible to point B from point A, a maker that has forever harnessed the benefits of Tarmac-skimming centres of gravity and sylphic frontal areas does not sound like a maker of vehicles featuring neither of these desirables. Still, a Ferrari SUV really is coming and it’s likely to be as far removed from a WW2 Jeep as a smartphone is from a red telephone box. 

It’s also what the market wants and accurately judging that fickle arena of desire has produced a lengthy lineup of cars that, at one time, would have been unthinkable progeny for their creators. Some have been jarring additions to their makers’ ranges. Some have fallen from grace with equally jarring effect. And others, unexpectedly, have become lynchpins for their makers. Here’s a selection of the most notable.

2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan 

What we said then: “Rolls has, like Porsche did with the first  Cayenne, tried to put clear Rolls-Royce cues into the design. Maybe they just don’t translate to an SUV, or maybe we’re just not used to it yet.” 

Bentley’s SUV-previewing EXP 9 F concept produced plenty of acidic froth at its 2012 Geneva debut, but that didn’t stop Crewe from building a tall, bulky vehicle of the kind that it once produced regularly, if without four-wheel drive. It sells, though.

2001 Renault Vel Satis

What we said then: “This quirky exec is interesting and luxurious if not entirely convincing.”

Renault’s aim for something different from your regulation German executive saloon was achieved with total success: the Vel Satis was nothing like a BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class or Audi A6. Scoring that conceptual bulls-eye was about the Vel Satis’s only success, though. This awkward, bustle-backed hatch managed neither to handle like a BMW nor to ride like a Renault.

1991 Nissan Figaro 

What we said then: “The Figaro’s perky turbocharged 1.0-litre engine, convertible roof, generous spec and looks could get the car a cult following.”

From the stagnant pool containing what was then one of the dullest car ranges on earth, Nissan launched the almost absurdly cute Figaro. It was the personification of everything Nissans of the day were not – characterful, colourful, shiny, desirable and fun.