Mellifluous Motors: Car Names That Are Music to Your Ears


The amorphous and ever-changing nature of car names is hard to keep up with, especially as alphanumerics and made-up words like “Bentayga” have begun to take over. But of those nameplates that still rely on actual words, certain overarching themes have emerged over the course of automotive history. Cars with animal names (Jaguar, Mustang, Beetle) and location-based names (Monte Carlo, Santa Fe, Sedona) are among the most popular motifs, but we dug through the index to find several cars that took inspiration from a slightly more offbeat topic: music. Some you may have heard of, and others you probably haven’t; we included official definitions for each musical term from Webster's Dictionary, just for reference. As they say, if music be the food of love, click on (or something like that).Musical definition: “Fast; faster than allegretto but not so fast as presto”--In music, allegro suggests a much more sprightly tone than this 1970s Britain-built hatchback was ever able to deliver. Designed by Mini mastermind Sir Alec Issigonis but built by struggling British Leyland, the Allegro quickly developed a subpar reputation, thanks to shoddy build quality and poor reliability. Needless to say, it didn’t live up to its big sales expectations. After British Leyland skidded toward bankruptcy in 1975, the company went through a major restructuring, but the Allegro continued into the early 1980s with a few updates along the way. Not many Allegros remain on roads in the U.K., with one recent report claiming that only 195 are still registered there.Musical definition: “A master in any art, especially a great composer, conductor, or teacher of music”--The Maestro was not the masterful vehicle its name might suggest, being built by the ailing British Leyland company as it struggled to stay afloat. It did seem like a step up from its predecessor the Austin Allegro, however, not that that unreliable and poorly built hatchback set a particularly high bar. Though improved, the Maestro still struggled to compete with contemporaries such as the Ford Escort and Vauxhall Astra, and it didn’t sell nearly as well as those competitors. The Austin brand was discontinued later in the 1980s, as British Leyland was renamed the Rover Group, although the Maestro itself continued on until the early 1990s.Musical definition: “A demand by the audience, shown by continued applause, for the repetition of a piece of music, etc., or for another appearance of the performer or performers; the piece of music performed in answer to such a demand”--You may not think of Buick as a trendsetter, but GM’s premium brand was early to the subcompact-crossover wave that’s now seemingly growing bigger every day. The Encore arrived in 2013 and promptly began flying off dealer lots. Despite relatively potato-like styling and middling performance, the Encore is now the best-selling Buick by far. So it’s safe to say that there will be an, ahem, encore performance of this popular little crossover when it comes time for a redesign.Musical definition: “The speed at which a musical composition is, or is supposed to be, performed; it is indicated by such notations as allegro, andante, etc., or by reference to metronome timing”--These days Ford likes to group its mainstream nameplates together—hence F cars like the Fiesta, Focus, and Fusion and E SUVs like the Escape, Edge, and Explorer. But the Tempo name precedes nearly all of those now familiar nameplates other than Fiesta, having first been applied to a front-wheel-drive compact starting in 1984. Intended to compete with cars such as the Chevrolet Cavalier, the Tempo sedans and coupes fit in between the Escort and LTD in Ford’s 1980s lineup. The Tempo name continued on until the mid-1990s, at which point it and its Mercury Topaz twin were replaced by the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique.Musical definition: “A musical composition of a romantic or narrative nature, especially for piano”--Along with the Prelude and the Quint (called the Quintet in Europe), the Ballade was among several musically named cars sold through a special, more upscale range of Honda dealerships in Japan called Honda Verno. Initially introduced in 1980 as a higher-trim version of the mainstream Civic compact car with a different front end, the Ballade name was also used in Japan for the CR-X sports car, which was called the Honda Ballade Sports CR-X in its home market. When it came time to replace the Ballade later in the 1980s, Honda stuck with the musical motif, introducing the Honda Concerto, also found on this list.Musical definition: “A) The unit of musical rhythm; B) the accent or stress in the rhythm of verse or music; C) the gesture of the hand, baton, etc.,  used to mark this”--The Beat, a diminutive mid-engined roadster sold in Japan in the 1990s, made the Mazda MX-5 Miata look like a monster truck by comparison. As part of Japan’s miniature kei-car class that sets restrictions on exterior dimensions and engine displacement, the Beat used an 0.66-liter three-cylinder engine putting out 63 horsepower—it doesn’t sound like much, but the Beat weighed only 1675 pounds. Honda has revived the mini-roadster ideal recently with a new Japan-market sports car in the same vein as the Beat, but its name, S660, doesn’t quite evoke the same sorts of harmonious feelings.Musical definition: “A musical composition for one or more solo instruments and an orchestra, usually in three symphonic movements”--Developed in partnership with British company Rover, the Concerto was a variant of the Honda Civic built and sold in both Japan and Europe. Perhaps Honda thought that the uppity-sounding name would appeal to the more refined tastes of European buyers, and the Concerto shared plenty with the Rover 200 of the same era—both cars were built at a plant in the U.K. Even so, the Concerto name did not last long, as it disappeared after Honda and Rover’s partnership disbanded in 1994 when Rover was bought by BMW.Musical definition: “A kind of music, originally improvised but now also arranged, characterized by syncopation, rubato, usually heavily accented rhythms, dissonances, individualized melodic variations, and unusual tonal effects on the trumpet, trombone, clarinet, saxophone, etc.”--You may know it as the Honda Fit, but in many overseas markets, this space-efficient small hatchback goes by a slightly hipper—if less descriptive—moniker. The Fit was first introduced in Japan way back in 2001, but it didn’t arrive in the U.S. until the 2007 model year. We awarded both the first- and second-generation Fit a 10Best award every year from 2007 through 2013. Now in its third generation, the newest Fit/Jazz is a bit less fun to drive than its predecessors, but it still packs the same incredibly spacious interior enabled by the unconventional placement of its fuel tank under the front seats.Musical definition: “An introductory instrumental composition, such as the first movement of a suite or the overture to an opera”--Given that this sports coupe disappeared from Honda’s lineup back in 2002, it doesn’t seem that there will be a Fugue to accompany this Prelude any time soon. Nonetheless, the Prelude was a sweet piece while it lasted, and it lasted a while: through more than 20 years and five generations in the United States. Always a bit more expensive and high-performance-oriented than the Accord coupe, Honda’s similarly sized two-doors ended up stepping on each other’s toes too much later in the Prelude’s life, and sales correspondingly suffered. The fifth generation of the Prelude ended up being the last, after which the car disappeared not just from our market but from Honda’s global lineup altogether.Musical definition: “A composition for five voices or five instruments”--Like the Ballade earlier on this list, the Quintet was essentially a high-trim model of the Civic compact. This four-door hatchback was offered in the early 1980s in Europe and a few other markets, including Honda’s home market of Japan; there, it was simply called the Quint and was sold at Honda’s upscale Verno dealerships along with the Prelude and the Ballade. The Quint only lasted for one generation, as it was replaced by a much more familiar Honda nameplate, the Integra (initially called the Quint Integra in Japan), in 1985.Musical definition: “An instrumental composition for one or two instruments, usually consisting of several movements”--Just as Ludwig van Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas are among his best-known works, the Sonata mid-size sedan is a major part of Hyundai’s history in the United States. It was first introduced here in 1988; the current, seventh-generation Sonata is now a key competitor to top sellers such as the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry. That monumental rise is largely thanks to Hyundai’s commitment to greatly improving each successive generation of Sonata in build quality, comfort, driving dynamics, efficiency, and, more recently, expressive styling.Musical definition: “An elaborate, often improvised musical passage played unaccompanied by the solo instrument in a concerto, usually near the end of the first or the final movement”--Although we wouldn't go so far as to call the Cadenza as virtuosic as the best musical cadenzas, the second generation of this large sedan is certainly one of Kia's more impressive efforts as of late. With a beautifully trimmed interior and a cosseting driving experience, the Cadenza punches above its price class—that being the $ 30,000-to-$ 45,000 range, where there tends to be a fair amount of overlap between mainstream and luxury brands. Sure, the Kia doesn't sell in nearly the numbers of cars like the more familiar Nissan Maxima or Toyota Avalon, but its refinement and design go a long way toward cultivating the upscale image Kia is striving for these days.Musical definition: “Loud, opposed to piano”--Kia has been selling small cars in the United States for decades now, but so far it hasn’t settled on a single nameplate for very long. Its compact sedan started off as the Sephia in the 1990s, then transitioned to the Spectra name, and has been known as the Forte for its most recent two generations. It’s found plenty of success in its current form, although it doesn’t sell in the volumes of stalwarts such as the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. The Forte range of sedans, coupes, and hatchbacks offer competent dynamics and lots of value for money, however, while a performance-oriented Forte Koup SX trim with a turbocharged engine and a manual transmission even verges on fortissimo territory.Musical definition: “A composition or movement, often the last movement of a sonata, having its principal theme stated three or more times in the same key, interposed with subordinate themes”--Back when “mini” minivans actually seemed like a good idea, Kia introduced the Rondo in the United States to go up against the Mazda 5. But its practical interior with seven seats and a low starting price couldn’t make up for this MPV’s dorky proportions, and sales never really took off. After a brief three-year run from 2007 to 2009, the Rondo disappeared from the lineup. Canadians, however, took to the idea of a smaller van, and a newer version of the Rondo is still part of Kia’s lineup in the Great White North.Musical definition: “Either of a pair of small joined drums, each of different pitch, struck with the fingers”--Other than the diminutive Mazda 5, Mazda has not sold a decently sized van in the U.S. since the MPV disappeared. But the small company’s lineup is far broader in its home market than it is here. In Japan, Mazda makes all manner of commercial vehicles, the Bongo van being among them. It’s been around since the 1960s and has been exported to countries including Australia and under several different nameplates over the years. Only the Mazda vans have spawned such charmingly named variants as the Bongo Friendee and Bongo Brawny, however.Musical definition: “A musical composition for a solo instrument, designed to give practice in some special point of technique, but often performed for its artistic worth”--The Etude is unlikely to garner much ink in the Mazda history books, as it was a short-lived variant of the 323 compact car that was sold only in Japan from 1987 to 1989. But an Etude is such a well-known musical term that we figured it merited inclusion anyway. Plus, it's an interesting variant of what was a rather conventional small car. Offered only as a two-door hatchback, the Etude had an ever so slightly sleeker and sportier profile than the standard 323—sort of like the Honda CR-X of the same time period.Musical definition: “A) A tone of definite pitch, as made by a voice or musical instrument; B) A symbol for a tone, indicating the duration by its form and the pitch by its position on the staff; C) A key of a piano or the like”--The idea of a musical note is one of the most basic, fundamental concepts in learning music. Likewise, the Nissan Note hatchback is a back-to-basics hatchback without too much embellishment or fluff. It’s sold in the United States as part of the subcompact Versa lineup and as just the Note in other markets. One of the cheapest new cars sold in the U.S., the Versa Note won’t light your hair on fire with scorching performance or spoil passengers with luxury accommodations, but it does provide good fuel economy and a spacious interior for the low, low price of just $ 16,345.Musical definition: “The title character in an opera composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1786, called The Marriage of Figaro”--Although the character of Figaro exists outside musical contexts, Mozart's famed opera (based on a French play by Pierre Beaumarchais), along with another of the opera world's best loved classics, The Barber of Seville, are what most people think of when they hear the name. Of course, Nissan very well may have named this Japan-only retro-machine from the 1990s after a more literary reference, but whatever the automotive Figaro’s origins are, it’s a standout. With a rounded, whimsical convertible body style that took inspiration from classic cars like the Fiat 500, the Figaro was part of a lineup of creatively styled limited-edition Nissan vehicles that also included the Be-1, the S-Cargo, and the Pao.Musical definition: “The range of the lowest female voice or the highest male voice”--Suzuki exited the U.S. market a few years ago, but it’s still a global auto manufacturer with a relatively large footprint. The Alto nameplate has been part of this Japanese company’s stable for a while now; today it applies to a few different models sold in various countries. In Japan, the Alto is a hatchback that fits into the tiny kei-car class and comes in a sporty Turbo RS version (pictured above). Maruti, an Indian subsidiary of Suzuki, also produces a few different models that wear the Alto nameplate, although they don’t share much with their Japanese counterparts.Musical definition: “An air or melody in an opera, cantata, or oratorio, especially for solo voice with instrumental accompaniment” --Tata is an Indian car company best known for owning Jaguar Land Rover and producing a low-cost car called the Nano. In India, however, Tata produces a whole range of hatchbacks, sedans, trucks, and SUVs. Among its larger offerings is this crossover with an opera-inspired name: the Aria. Introduced in 2010, the Aria has three rows of seats, but it’s otherwise a far cry from the three-row crossovers we’re used to in America, with its diesel four-cylinder engine and low-rent interior. For now, Tata has no plans to bring its vehicles to the States, and the Aria is only sold in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Spain.Musical definition: “A composition for two voices or two instruments”--The Volvo Duett (stylized with an extra “t” at the end) was essentially the car that got the station-wagon ball rolling for the Swedish company. Introduced in 1953, the Duett was based on the Volvo 445. It was so named because it was meant to signify two cars in one: a practical work vehicle during the week and a luxurious leisure vehicle for trips on the weekend. Although the first Duett had more of a van-shaped silhouette than today’s sleeker wagons, it got the Swedes hooked on its versatile body style; production continued all the way until 1969, by which point two other wagons, the 220 Amazon and the 145, had joined the lineup to continue the Duett’s long-roof legacy.


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