Funny, weird, occasionally profound, Superbowl car ads offer some of the day’s biggest highlights. We count down our 10 favorites.
Every February, the Superbowl provides must-see TV even for those Americans who don’t know a punt from a cross pattern. Often, it’s the ads that redeem otherwise lopsided and dull conclusions to the NFL season.
So, what makes a great Superbowl ad? Humor works, pathos also, and big resounding kumbayas are recently in vogue. Here’s our list of the top 10 Superbowl car ads of all time. *
As the star of The Transporter series and Hobbs & Shaw, we’ve seen Jason Statham in plenty of frenetic car chases, but the one from this commercial for the Audi A6 might be the most fun. “The Chase” takes Statham through a film history of car chases starting with a 1970 Mercedes-Benz 300 implausibly being outdriven by a Lincoln Continental. Then to the 1980s and Jason is commandeering a BMW E28 M5, good enough to evade the Trans Am on his tail. Jump to the 90s and Statham’s attempt to watch the premier of Chris Farley’s classic Tommy Boy is endangered by a lifted GMC Yukon swooping around the corner, and the Toyota Camry on hand isn’t looking like a viable option. Finally in the present and Audi A6 is just what Jason needs to get those pesky motorcyclist thugs off his tail. Progress indeed.
To the tune of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes-Benz” this ad starts with a barn find W112 “pagoda top” awakening from its cobwebbed corner and starting off into a field. Next, a museum piece 300SL “gullwing” surreptitious closes its doors behind the night watchman and rolling out under cover of night. The scene is repeated with an SL, a GLK, a C-class belonging to P-Diddy…Diddy…Puff…Mr. Combs, who rushed to his bedroom window in horror (we are led to believe Diddy drives a C-class?! C’mon!), a G-Wagon rushes across the desert. It’s a mass migration of Mercedes, all of them heading toward the airfield to “welcome” the newest 2012 Mercedes. Aside from the needless Diddy cameo, this one is a great look back at many of Mercedes’ most iconic cars.
Boys and girls with soap in their mouths. The inevitable dyspepsia and borderline child abuse aside, it’s clear to the viewer these kids have “dirty” mouths. But what might it be to have these children so flagrantly flaunting verbal decorum? Why it’s the striking silhouette of the Chevy SSR and its brilliantly designed drop top. “Holy ….!” They say. The SSR was indeed a striking vehicle, and the ad provides a good chuckle. But what the ad gets wrong is the expletives usually came from incredulous spouses when they saw what their partners had just spent $40,000 on.
The folks at Ford marketing display decent comedic chops with this set up and punchline. In what looks like North Dakota in February, a state trooper pulls up behind a red convertible Mustang waiting at a greenlight. (Oddly it’s a single light in the middle of nowhere, but suspension of disbelief is a valuable cognitive leap.) The trooper honks and honks until, fed up with waiting, he discovers the driver, with a smile on his face, frozen solid. “You just don’t release a convertible this irresistible in the middle of winter…” the ad tells us. Funny, and not a little macabre.
If you weren’t aware thanks to Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld is a car guy, like multiple generations of Porsches in his collection kind of car guy. So makes sense why, in this ad for Acura’s halo car, Jerry is obsessed with getting his hands on the very first NSX. Indeed, Jerry is so obsessed that he follows they guy from the dealership who happens to have first dibs, pestering him to make a deal. Jerry offers him many enticing trades. A twenty-spot, the rights to the Soup Nazi character, doing stand-up at Thanksgiving, even access to Jerry’s personal network of Manhattan ziplines. The guy almost goes for it when Jay Leno literally swoops in and offers his jet-propelled squirrel suit. Over-the-top premise, lots of gags, and high production value. They add up to a nearly perfect Superbowl ad.
Four bank robbers have their getaway car towed. So they snag a Prius as the logical alternative. “How hard could it be to catch a Prius?” asks the dispatcher. “Actually, this thing’s pretty fast,” replies a patrolman. Not quite, but the ad is titled “The Longest Chase,” not the fastest, and over hither and yon the thieves evade the po-pos in the most epic slow speed chase since O.J. On a side note this ad sees the reunion of three actors from season two of the HBO classic The Wire, James Ransone, Pablo Schreiber, and Chris Bauer.
A pun isn’t high comedy, but it’s as good a place as any to start a Superbowl ad. Luckily, Christopher Walken deftly elevates this ad with his hilarious deadpan delivery. Best line: “What’s that?” asks the man in beige. “It’s the new Kia Optima,” Walken tells him. “It’s like the world’s most exciting pair of socks, but it’s a midsize sedan.” Who knew Walken could wax philosophical about socks and sedans? Kia did, that’s who.
Long, long ago, in a time before excessive sequels and divisive third trilogies, there was a Star Wars themed Passat ad that all Americans could agree was adorable. In the ad, a four-year old in a Darth Vader costume trys vainly to Force choke stuffed animals. Dejected, the little tike/ future Sith lord makes one more attempt on his Dad’s Passat sitting in the driveway. But this time Mini-Vader succeeds, the Passat springs to life. Inside the house we see Dad, key fob in hand, nodding to Mom. Funny joke Dad, but it’ll be less funny when you end up like General Motti.
RAM decided to leave comedy to the other brands and instead lean into their rugged, getting-the-real-work-done image. Radio personality Paul Harvey provides a moving description (hagiography?) of the American farmer set against images of said farmers hard at their work and aided by their trusty RAM trucks. At the time, the use of Harvey’s voice (posthumously) was controversial given his conservative politics and friendships with J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy. But considering their core demographic, I’m sure RAM wasn’t too worried about offending the Prius drivers of the world.
Jeep went meta with this one, asking the viewers how many similar ads they’d seen with gravelly voiceovers extolling the profound ethos of various car companies. Answer, a lot. Excitement, innovation, “overarching human truths” … all a bunch of hooey says Jeep. Meanwhile, on screen we see a Wrangler doing what a Wrangler does. It fords a river and climbs some rocks. “There’s your manifesto,” says the voiceover. Less is more, in 4x4s and in car commercials.
*This list of Superbowl car ads is admittedly biased toward the last few decades as most of the earlier ads we looked at were frankly terrible. Just check out this one for the 1970 Pontiac GTO “The Humbler” for an example.