As we approach the end of the decade, it's time to look back. To start, say hello to Bad: Unless you hate yourself, hate your money, or simply enjoy life too much, here's ten cars you shouldn't be driving.
In building this list — the first of what we're calling Jalopnik's "Best10" week — we considered a host of factors. A car couldn't just be bad, nor could it simply be a sales flop. It had to be horrible to drive, yes, but it also had to have failed at its appointed task. Depreciation was considered. There was much gray area. We conferred amongst ourselves, consulted our readers, and racked our brains. Take a look, but be warned — some of this stuff ain't pretty.
Years Produced: 2007 – Present
Current Base Price: $19,350
Current Engines: 2.0-liter I4, 158 HP; 2.4-liter I4, 172 HP
Why It Makes The List: Arguably the single greatest affront to Jeep's storied heritage. Doesn't offer standard four-wheel drive, or anything else traditionally Jeepish. Feels as tawdry as it looks. Twinned with the Jeep Patriot. Famously came about due to the split opinions of a pre-production focus group — women liked the Compass and men liked the Patriot, so Chrysler simply pulled the trigger on both.
Like the Patriot, the Compass is built on Chrysler's small/mid-size sedan platform, which means that it shares underpinnings with the depressing Dodge Caliber and Chrysler Sebring. (A handful of Mitsubishis, including the current Lancer and Outlander, are also based on this platform. It's surprising, because they're actually, uh, good.) Due to be discontinued in 2012.
Drives Like: Remember that Oprah episode where she gave away a bunch of Pontiac G6s? Remember how depressed you felt when you heard about it? Think about that feeling, then eat an entire container of pistachio Häagen-Dazs while watching the Mandy Moore flick A Walk To Remember. You have now driven a Jeep Compass.
Best Quality: The lack of a "Trail Rated" badge on the front fenders. Honesty is good.
Years Produced: 2007 - Present
Current Base Price: $20,860
Current Engines: 2.4-liter I4, 173 HP; 2.7-liter V6, 185 HP; 3.5-liter V6, 235 HP
Why It Makes The List: Hailed at its launch as the cornerstone of Chrysler's post-300 renaissance; ended up a thorough disappointment and the closest thing to an Aztec-like styling catastrophe seen in years. The Sebring's spec sheet is impressive — it sports things like standard side-curtain air bags, a six-speed automatic, and an available hard-drive-equipped stereo — but it can't overcome the car's substantial faults. The steering is numb. The suspension is noisy, the interior a jumble of harsh plastic. And while the four-cylinder is relatively smooth, the 3.5-liter V6 is rougher than a jailhouse shiv in a three-day prison riot.
The Sebring is also offered as a Karmann-engineered hardtop convertible, a car that Jeremy Clarkson once decried as the worst car in the entire world. (Good thing no one listens to him.)
Drives Like: The fleet special that it is.
Best Quality: The Sebring, along with its Dodge Avenger twin, earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's "Top Safety Pick" rating. This is the highest honor that the IIHS can bestow. In other words, you may be unhappy, but at least you won't be dead.
Years Produced: 2005 - Present
Current Base Price: $15,995
Current Engine: 2.0-liter I-4, 143 hp
Why It Makes The List: You'll notice that we've only included the '05-and-up Focus in this list. There's a reason for that: When Ford's most successful "world" car debuted in 1999, it was actually pretty good. Wait, no, strike that — it was really good. A set of bumpers and some suspension tuning was all that separated the U.S. Focus from the rest-of-the-world model, and we were better off for it; the first generation of Ford's iconic small car was fuel-friendly, a snappy handler, and a damn good imitation of a European hot hatch.
Naturally, things went downhill from there. Weight-adding features were piled on, steering feel and suspension went lame, and the once-edgy styling was given a Debbie Downer makeover. In 2007, rather than bring the killer second-gen European Focus here, Ford decided to reskin and plump out the first-gen car. Huge injustice; sad — and uncompetitive — car. (Naturally, because this is America, it continued to sell well.)
Drives Like: Joan Rivers.
Best Quality: Clutch and throttle calibration are quite nice. (Really!)
Years Produced: 2002 – Present
Current Base Price: $12,685
Current Engine: 1.6-liter I-4, 106 hp
Why It Makes The List: The Aveo is GM's much-pimped AnyCar, the vehicle that it sells in more countries — and in more guises — than anything else. It began life as a Daewoo Kalos, but it's currently marketed under five different GM brands and eleven different badges.
Like most American car manufacturers, the General has a long history of farming out subcompact engineering and production to Asia. Some of these deals have worked out well (hello, Geo Metro); some, like the Aveo, have not. It comes down to quality: Every Aveo that we've driven has had serious build issues. Parts fall off. Seats come apart. Electrical problems are everywhere. Our experience is not unique. Dealer techs and fleet mechanics hate Aveos, and rental companies avoid them like the plague.
Drives Like: A Daewoo Kalos, a Holden Barina, a Pontiac G3, a . . . ahh, hell, let's just come out and say it: It's old-school Korea, and it's built down to a price. You do the math. (We also would have accepted "Rheostat steering and the high-speed stability of a dead raccoon.")
Best Quality: If you have a job, you can afford it. Even if you don't, you can probably still afford it.
Years Produced: 2008 – Present
Current Base Price: $11,990
Current Engine: 1.0-liter I3, 70 HP
Why It Makes The List: As 106-inch-long cars go, the Smart is pretty damn good. Nothing this size and shape should drive as well as the Fortwo does. Here's the problem: Every other car on the planet is bigger. Ride quality, handling, and safety are all easy to engineer when you're working with a platform larger than a liquor cabinet. (For reference, the Smart is smaller than the average liquor cabinet.)
Yes, we're impressed that the ForTwo almost passes for a real car. Yes, it's meant for a purpose, and no one with a brain expects it to ride like a Lexus or handle like a Lotus. But questions keep popping up: If a 1960s Mini can be fun to drive and deliver killer mileage, why can't a Smart? Why is its combined fuel economy only slightly better than that of the much larger — and way more comfortable — Honda Fit? And why is the convertible almost $17,000?
As a science experiment, it's a success. As a real car, it resembles a science experiment.
Drives Like: The world's fastest German golf cart.
Best Quality: Can be easily parked in Manhattan.
(Photo Credit: Jiazi / Flickr)
Years Produced: 2003 – 2009
Base Price: $26,045 (2009)
Engine: 3.8-liter V6, 264 HP (2009)
Why It Makes The List: Imagine a half-size Lincoln Continental with indifferent body control; an outdated, iron-block V-6; mish-mash styling; and a 4100-pound — that's two tons — curb weight. This was the Kia Amanti. Try not to look directly at it.
To be fair, the Amanti was a huge leap forward for Kia. It was Korea's first U.S-market attempt at a full-size sedan, and it was the first Kia to offer Toyota-like interior quality. But these were the only pluses. The Amanti looked like the love child of a Jaguar S-type and a horny waffle iron. Its heavy V-6 was neither strong nor efficient. Its door handles rubbed the pavement in hard cornering. If that weren't enough, it was also slow — the 0-60-mph run took almost nine seconds on early cars — and surprisingly expensive.
May I present the Kia Amanti: An ugly mish-mash of styling cues with a soggy, marshmallowy ride that makes my LeSabre seem athletic. Indeed, the Amanti is a weird Korean interpretation of a Buick — roomy, plush, smooth, bland, and conservative. It's also devoid of charm and character. All this for the price of a loaded Accord EX (or a real Buick LeSabre, for that matter). I'm amazed these things sold at all.
So are we, dude. So are we.
Pontiac Bonneville (Ninth Gen)
Years Produced: 2000–2005
Base Price: $27,965 (2005)
Engines: 3.8-liter V6, 205 HP; 4.6-liter V8, 275 HP (2005)
Why It Makes The List: Poor Pontiac. What was once the General's most interesting division is now consigned to the history books, and this tarted-up old warhorse helped to drive it to its grave.
The Bonneville can be summed up in one word: cladding. Later models did without an excess of tacky, add-on bodywork, but early cars wore enough of the stuff to armor a small tank. The styling excess only served to cover up a resounding lack of chassis charm: The Bonnie's front-wheel-drive platform was heavy and painfully outdated, its steering slower and more numb than an elephant on Percoset. Interiors were dark, kitschy, and made the average La-Z-Boy look understuffed. Late cars lost the tacky and gained an optional transverse Northstar V8, but it was a case of too little, too much wheelspin, too late.
Drives Like: 1995, but with more understeer.
Best Quality: Makes you really appreciate the awesomeness that is the G8.
Years Produced: 2006 – Present
Current Base Price: $17,090
Current Engines: 2.0-liter I4, 158 HP; 2.4-liter I4, 172 HP
Why It Makes The List: Ahh, the Dodge Caliber: It's less refined, less attractive, and less interesting than the Dodge Neon, the much-flawed car that it replaced. It sits at the bottom of its segment with a bullet, offering affordable (optional) all-wheel-drive and not much else. It's a thoroughly depressing, indifferently built car, the kind of vehicle that Detroit needs to quit building, and quit building now.
Random Relevant Facts: Built on the same platform as the Sebring. Is smaller and cheaper than the Sebring, but can suffer from inferior fuel mileage if you aren't careful with powertrain options. In SRT4 guise, embodies the phrase "homicidal torque steer." Cramped inside, but surprisingly large and difficult to park. Acceleration on base models can only be described as laborious.
Random Depressing Fact: Car and Driver got more skidpad grip out of the Honda Ridgeline. (Look it up.)
Possible Corporate Mea Culpa Department: According to a reliable source, a Dodge engineer muttered the following at the launch of the Caliber SRT4: "Man, we did all we could. I mean, come on-it's a Caliber."
Drives Like: A Sebring with all the Expensive yanked out.
Best Quality: Makes the Neon look good.
Chrysler PT Cruiser
Years Produced: 2000 – Present
Current Base Price: $18,995
Current Engine: 2.4-liter I4, 230 HP
Why It Makes The List: The PT Cruiser is a perfect example of a good car dragged into failure by years of corporate indifference. When it was launched, it was hailed as unique achievement and a high-water mark in modern vehicle design: The PT drove like a more refined and better-built version of the Dodge Neon that it was based upon, and it offered an interesting, unabashedly retro shape.
Ten years later, following little attention from Chrysler, the PT Cruiser just seems like a stale joke. Updates have been few and far between, and Auburn Hills seems content to cruise along on autopilot, taking advantage of the PT's gullible, blue-haired customer base and paid-for tooling. An optional (and laggy) turbocharged four-cylinder and a convertible model — the latter was a jelly-floored combination of cowl shake and wind noise — just added insult to injury.
Drives Like: Post-jump-the-shark Happy Days with a bit of bad acid flashback. (Or, you know, a late Neon with more body roll and steering only a grandmother could love.)
Best Quality: A decade ago, it was actually halfway decent.
Years Produced: 2003 – Present
Current Base Price: $63,090
Current Engine: 6.2-liter V8, 393 HP
Why It Makes The List: Say hello to the Sierra Club's Antichrist: The H2 is the younger brother of AM General's massive Hummer H1. GM birthed this overfed monstrosity in an effort to bring the H1's street cred and off-road talent to America's middle class.
The pros: The H2 costs less than half of what its larger brother costs, weighs some 750 pounds less, and provides much of the same feel and off-road talent. It has a whopping sixteen inches of ground clearance. It's better on pavement than the H1 is, though that's not saying much. Your neighbor thinks you can kick his ass.
The cons: Slower than dirt. Packaging constraints prevented the use of a diesel engine, so fuel mileage is stuck in the stone age. (Due to the H2's gross weight rating, GM isn't required to have the EPA test its fuel economy. We've seen as little as 8 mpg in the city.) The interior is cramped, chintzy, and claustrophobic. Frame and mechanicals are largely last-gen Chevy Tahoe/GMC Yukon bits, only they carry more weight and complain more often. Disastrously out of touch. Your neighbor kind of wants to kick your ass.
Drives Like: An indifferent, thirsty mobile gun bunker with the words "TINY GENITALS" painted on its hood.
Best Quality: Actually has real off-road chops.