To the untrained eye, a majority of cars look the same. As for people that aren’t really into cars it’s difficult to tell one from another usually uttering ‘they all look the same to me.’
The thing is, a lot of cars are the same, well, underneath at least. As manufacturers have been playing the platform sharing game for decades. Some have been a bit lazy about it creating an odd looking twin of a more popular model (Mazda 121 anyone?), while others have gone all out to hide what hides beneath a supposed new model.
Why do carmakers do this?
For one straightforward reason, the cost. As developing a new car from the ground up costs an absolute fortune. However, if you already have the underpinnings and drivetrain to start with it is far cheaper to produce a new model in the knowledge that everything underneath can be re-engineered for a fraction of the price of starting from scratch.
Here we run through cars that are more related than you would think.
The Subaru Outback and Legacy twins are a polar opposite of siblings. The Legacy is the sporty athletic type, with the Outback being the rugged outdoors sleeping on a mountain type.
Originally the Outback was an additional trim level until the third generation Legacy spawned it as a model in its own right in the mid-1990s. Featuring a lifted ride height, rugged exterior body cladding the Outback has always been something of a niche alternative to an SUV. Both cars share near-identical underpinnings, engines, headlights, bodywork and interior trim.
Standout models over the years include the 3.0-litre H6 and 2.5-litre H4 turbo engines. Both were also available in the Legacy, with the larger unit being automatic only. The downside of being a twin though was weight with the Outback getting some 200kg more of it over its sportier brother.
If jealousy between siblings is normal, then the Outback had good reason with its Legacy brother getting a wealth of options over its mountain goat brother. The 3rd gen Legacy got a twin-turbo engine option and a Spec B 3.0-litre H6 with a six-speed manual gearbox. You could also get a saloon version (Outback saloons were also built in small numbers) alongside the estate.
With less weight to haul around the Legacy was always going to be faster in every way than the heavier Outback. In 3.0-litre H6 spec, the manual-equipped Legacy outpaced its off-road brother by nearly two seconds with the Outback trying to make up this gap with later models getting a 3.6-litre H6 engine pushing out 256bhp.
If you think that the Ford Fiesta and Mazda 121 twins of the mid-1990s were clones of each other, then you’d be spot on.
In what’s referred to as ‘badge engineering,’ Ford and Mazda simply decided to produce a version of the same car with a slightly different face. They were even built on the same production line with the Fiesta winning in the sales race in an automotive version of spot the difference.
Ford owned Mazda at the time, and despite the lunacy of effectively competing with themselves, it does make some kind of sense to sell a cheaper and not as nice version of your own car.
Despite not being as high quality, and not getting the floral cloth interior trim or the four-spoke alloys of the Fiesta the slower selling Mazda 121 managed to beat the Ford supermini in one critical way – customer satisfaction.
Even though the little 121 was comprehensively outsold by the more popular Fiesta, the JD Power survey of the time praised the Mazda variant for being far more reliable with more satisfied owners.
Another Ford product that is well known to have shared underpinnings is the third-generation Mondeo – which if you peeled back the bodywork you would find a Jaguar X-Type hiding underneath.
The Mondeo and Jaguar X-Type were both based on the Ford CD132 platform, which with a blue oval attached to it gave the world the V6 powered ST models which even spawned a fast TDCi version.
The trouble was that it wasn’t really the best Mondeo being all a bit squidgy and not that engaging to drive. Not exactly a great start for what should have been an excellent basis for an affordable and growling Jaguar.
Codenamed the X400, the Jaguar X-Type is one of those cars that you remember Jag making when they were churning out a large amount of drivel on wheels. OK, so I’m being a little unfair as Ian Callum designed the estate version, which actually wasn’t that bad looking on a dark misty night in the North East of England.
The design of the X-Type was widely unpopular with the Jaguar purists who howled with derision at the Mondeo connection, the lack of a V8 and the front-wheel or four-wheel drive chassis that was basically a Ford dressed up in a charity shop bought tweed suit.
I mean, who wouldn’t want a cheap Jaguar, with ill-thought styling, no V8, with no rear-wheel drive that’s basically a Ford Mondeo underneath? No seriously.
Skoda Fabia vRS
The Volkswagen Group decided to create small hot hatches in triplet form giving birth to the Fabia vRS, it’s Spanish cousin the SEAT Ibiza Cupra and its very efficiently German adopted brother the VW Polo GTI.
Sitting on the PQ24 platform, the Fabia got a few hand me down parts from the PQ25 platform that underpinned the Polo and the Ibiza. For the most part, though this trio of hot hatches was near-identical underneath all getting a 178bhp 1.4-litre TSI Twincharger petrol engine, with both a turbocharger and a supercharger. Power went to the front wheels via a seven-speed DSG gearbox and an XDS electronic differential.
The Fabia vRS had the boxiest of the body designs with near a near mini SUV height roof-line. You could have one in two-tone paint choices with the black/green combo being the stand-out. There was an estate as well which looked a bit awkward. Sprint times for the vRS hatchback were the slowest of the three with 0-62mph completed in 7.3 seconds with a top speed of 139mph. All of which cost only £15,500.
SEAT Ibiza Cupra
For those that wanted twin-charger power with a bit more flair, the SEAT Ibiza Cupra was the Spanish cousin of the VW Group triplets. Based on the later PQ25 platform, the 178bhp 1.4-litre engine and DSG box combined to slingshot this small hatch to 62mph in 7.2 seconds before hitting 140mph at the top end. The Cupra had a bit more aggressive style about it with a single centre exhaust at the back and a black grille and accents throughout the bodywork.
Unlike the Skoda version, the Cupra was only a three-door costing £15,995. SEAT later produced a special Bocanegra version with yet more Spanish flair and styling tweaks including some unique paint colours.
Volkswagen Polo GTI
The final entry in the VW Group triplets is the most expensive of the trio, the Volkswagen Polo GTI. Basically, a Golf GTI that looked like it had been shrunk on a hot wash the Polo was the most expensive of the three with a mighty £18,245 price tag.
It was also the quickest too, with the 1.4-litre twin-charger powertrain propelling it to 62mph in 6.9 seconds with a top speed of 142mph. Underneath the faux Golf bodywork was the PQ25 platform with an array of GTI specific styling including the traditional plaid seating and red bodywork stripes borrowed from its bigger brother.
In the late 2000s, all three cars were lauded by the motoring press with the differences between them in terms of driving ability and pace being down to how much money you were willing to spend.
BMW 7 Series
Produced at a time when the BMW 7 Series didn’t feature kidney grilles that could be seen from space, the F01-04 model was a return to form for the name after the ‘Banglised’ styling and complexity that was the E65.
Stand out variants were the first breathing 4.4-litre N64 V8 engine, and the 6.0-litre N74 V12 engine – both had twin-turbos, with the former making 443bhp and the latter making 536bhp.
Throughout its six-year life, the 7 Series got several different variants including a long wheelbase (F02), an armoured version (F03) and a hybrid electric model (F04) while also providing the basis for the pinnacle of luxury motoring, the Rolls-Royce Ghost.
According to BMW and Rolls-Royce, the Ghost and 7 Series share about ’20 per cent’ of the same parts with the modified platform underpinning the British luxury barge.
The Ghost is also powered by a modified version of BMW’s N74 twin-turbo V12 engine producing 562bhp – enough to propel its occupants in silence to 62mph in a swift 4.7 seconds.
It also got ‘suicide’ doors, with the rear doors being hinged at the back instead of the front while borrowing tech from the BMW parts bin including a modified version of the iDrive infotainment system controlling the iconic Spirit of Ecstasy bonnet ornament.
Land Rover Freelander
Now for another related pairing that couldn’t be more different, the mud-plugging Land Rover Freelander and the luxury Range Rover Evoque.
Famously, it’s alleged that the Evoque had design input from a Spice Girl with the Freelander getting no such luxury. Yet despite the posh-factor of the Range Rover variant, it shares some 30 per cent of its underpinnings with the much older (try a few decades older) and far more rugged looking Freelander.
Oddly, the Freelander also came in for a bit of stick about not being a proper ‘Landie’ as well. But when you have the original Defender as a much older, and much more capable brother – it was always going to be a tough battle.
Range Rover Evoque
Both the Evoque and Freelander came from the mind of designer Gerry McGovern with the luxury former most at home parked outside of a vegan eatery, and the rugged latter likely found in a muddy field towing a horsebox.
The Evoque managed to lose 100kg over its sibling in a car that wasn’t all that great to drive that was also expensive and derided by many as not being a ‘proper’ Range Rover due to its small dimensions, cramped interior and high price.
Despite this criticism, the Evoque could hold its own in the muddy stuff with the ability to traverse water up to 50cm deep, with the best take-off, departure and ramp angles of any compact 4×4 or crossover of the time giving it the ability to tackle steeper gradients.
In an effort to produce a small and affordable city car in the mid-2000s, Toyota, Peugeot and Citroen joined forces to build the Aygo, 107 and C1 triplets in a project dubbed B-Zero.
It was, of course, a massive badge engineering exercise with all three cars built on the same production line in the Czech Republic. With a lofty aim of selling 300,000 a year of the trio, the Aygo, 107, and C1 models came in both a three and five-door variants.
As you’d expect, for being so small got tiny engines with a choice of a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine or a later very rare 1.4-litre four-cylinder diesel engine in certain European markets. Both engines offered modest acceleration of around 14 to 15-odd seconds to 62mph providing you had a strong gust of wind behind you.
Oddly, and in spite of being nearly identical looking, the Aygo was mysteriously the heaviest of the trio weighing in at 890kg in five-door form.
Even stranger was the official kerbweight of the tiny 107 which was an entire 85kg lighter at 805kg which considering all three models were the same car.
Of the trio, the 107 also got more trim levels than some carmakers have in their entire model range with a grand total of thirteen different trim levels including an XL, Sport XS, Sportium and Active models – all of which boasted the same identical performance and similar pricing starting at £7,500.
As expected, the C1 was near-identical to its siblings, albeit with a different face that cost a fiver under seven grand when new. The low asking price didn’t mean the Aygo/107/C1 triplets weren’t clever either, with such cost-saving measures as identical front seats, and lightweight bodywork panels that were cheap to produce.
This trio though will mostly be remembered for being funky city cars, which were nimble and agile to drive around town that was actually somewhat fun. At a shade under 3.5 metres long they made perfect city transportation with tiny running costs.
The most memorable moment though for these triplets though was when Top Gear decided to play football with ten Aygo’s. OK, so most were destroyed in this game of car football but be honest, you really wanted to play a game of football in a tiny city car, didn’t you?
In what has to be an automotive version of family ‘hand me down,’ the SEAT Exeo was a rebadged Audi A4 B7 introduced in 2009. Which in itself would have been OK if Audi was still building the B7 generation A4, but instead they’d introduced the shiny new B8 generation model in the same year.
To be fair to SEAT, they did a good job with the Exeo with several styling revisions that separated it from the A4 on which it was based including a revised interior, and a unique bonnet, front wings, boot lid, doors and door mirrors completing the exterior changes.
The biggest problem with the Exeo though aside from the fact that it was basically an early 2000s Audi A4 underneath was that it didn’t get any of the fast powerplants from its sibling and only a handful of models came with four-wheel drive – leading us to think SEAT missed an opportunity by not making a ‘hot’ version.
By comparison, the Audi A4 got all of the variants a car enthusiast could wish for, with an estate and cabriolet sitting in the range alongside the saloon. Each of these different body shapes could be specced with a thumping 339bhp V8 getting you an S4 badge on the boot.
You could also have a full RS4 (RennSport) version with an even more thumping V8 engine and flared bodywork and a trick centre differential letting the world know you meant business. With the other notable engine that wasn’t shared with the SEAT being the V6 3.0-litre TDI which pushed out some 230bhp in its most potent form.
Saab 92 X
Does this Saab 92 X look all that bit familiar? If you were thinking along the lines of Subaru Impreza WRX with the face of a Saab, then you’d be on the money.
The ‘Saabaru’ as its affectionately known was an early noughties attempt by the Swedish carmaker to gain a foothold in North America. It had the four-cylinder boxer engine which in its most powerful 2.0-litre turbocharged form pushed out 227bhp being badged as an ‘aero’ model.
It was only available as an estate ‘hatch’ model and didn’t prove popular with buyers with only 10,000 cars finding homes before Saab killed it off after a two-year production run.
Subaru Impreza WRX
Being a North American only model, the Saabaru version got a faster steering rack borrowed from the STI model of the time and active head restraints for additional safety – none of which made it to the Impreza WRX model.
Oddly, the Impreza WRX got a bit less power in 2.0-litre boxer turbo trim with only 215bhp of thrust. It also got a slightly slower steering rack and could be bought in saloon as well as the hatchback/estate version. Unlike the 92 X Aero, Subaru obviously built a full-fat STI version with 276bhp as well.
Both cars got very similar bodywork and a very similar interior with only the badging and cosmetic differences setting them apart.