The Cult of Cars, Racing and Everything That Moves You.
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The Biggest Letdowns We Drove in 2018

Photo: Santiago Garcia
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You often hear people say “there aren’t really bad cars any more” because even cheap cars from basic brands are generally decent and safe in 2018. That’s true, to an extent. But that doesn’t mean all cars are good, either. And we found plenty to bag on this year anyway.

In previous years we did a list of worst cars we drove to supplement our best list. But we’re taking a slightly different tack this year. We didn’t test as many truly abysmal vehicles in 2018 as we have in the past, and perhaps even more damning than the generic “bad” is just “disappointing.”

Additionally, some of the cars—as you’ll see below—were in fact just plain bad. A couple belonged to David Tracy, which is understandable and fair.

Here are the cars that didn’t live up to their true potential or otherwise came up way short from what we expected of them.

Do better in 2019, cars!

David Tracy’s 1995 Jeep Cherokee

Once you finally get the door open, which takes a good heave because this car is so badly bent that none of the latches line up, you’re greeted by an interior I would describe as nothing less than “the Rolls-Royce of raccoon lairs.”

As you settle into a nest of discarded packaging that once contained car parts and fast food, a strong draft of air from outside is rammed up your pant leg from rust holes in the floor.

Freshly invigorated, you’ll probably want to put the gas pedal down, if only to end the wretched experience of driving David Tracy’s Jeep Cherokee as quickly as possible. Tough luck, friend. The Jeep does not accelerate at any pace but its own; the engine only wails with the futility of a plastic picnic knife at a gun fight. You’ll move when the Jeep is good and ready. You’ll freeze your ass off and you will like it.

-Andrew P. Collins

2018 Subaru BRZ tS

The BRZ, 86 and FR-S are all great driver’s cars. For Subaru’s expensive special edition, the company decided to futz with what was already perfect about its lightweight two-seat rear-drive sports car and ensure that it was only enjoyable in one very specific scenario: hard driving on tight roads.

The $33,000 BRZ tS is outrageously fun to fling from turn to turn and absolutely miserable to do anything else in. It exists in an unfortunate valley between “affordable enthusiast car” and “ hardcore enthusiast car” that just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

We’re reluctant to call this thing “bad” because we think there should be way more not-expensive rear-drive coupes out there, but the fact is that the BRZ tS isn’t the BRZ STI we all really wanted. I’m sure they’re a blast for a very specific kind of buyer, though.

-Andrew P. Collins

2018 Toyota Prius C

Prior to getting my hands on the joyous Honda Insight, I was handed the keys to this vibrant, but otherwise in every way dull hybrid, the Toyota Prius C. I spent a lot of time in this car, driving from NYC to Baltimore and back over the summer, so I can confidently say this was the worst car I drove this year.

If you are going to make a more compact version of your best selling hybrid Toyota, and give me way less space, at least give me much better mileage. Power was also painfully weak, as merging onto the New Jersey Turnpike became an absolute terror; just trying to reach 65 on an on-ramp is strenuous for such a new car. And on top of all of this (and more I don’t have the time, space, or energy to name), there wasn’t even a good sound system.

-Erica Lourd

2019 Toyota Sequoia TRD Sport

The 2019 Toyota Sequoia should not be in the worst cars of 2018, but rather in the worst tanks of 2018. It was overly huge, impossible to maneuver, and the tech on it almost seems like it is a generation behind. I’m not sure who is really buying this thing, it seems like it’s geared for Arnold Schwarzenegger if he were a soccer mom. Maybe for the soccer dad?

We drove around the LA highways and byways for a week and thought it worked admirably as a huge truck. It was capable of shuttling three people and some video equipment in, but it was a huge pain. Normally, I think that when you are driving a big vehicle you should feel safe in it. That was really not the case with this thing that felt like it could barely fit into a lane. It was not a pleasurable driving week.

It did have a roll-down rear window in it though, that was cool. Perhaps I should have gone looking for a Canyonero instead.

-Adam Milt

2018 Infiniti QX80

Putting this on the naughty list, for me, requires reckoning with some automotive journalist privilege a bit. I traveled to Texas for Thanksgiving, asked for a car, got a car, for free. I paid for gas—that was it. I can get a car anytime I want for just about anything I want. It’s insane, and a great perk!

But hey, I’m also required to say whether I liked the car I got or not, and Infiniti’s big QX80 came up way short for me. In grand Nissan fashion, this thing has been around since 2010 now, and it feels every bit of its age. (It’s also a barely rebadged Armada.)

As one of the last few real body-on-frame SUVs out there it should be cool, but it’s dated, underpowered, feels bulky on the road and isn’t up to par with any of its competitors in terms of tech. Worst of all, the one I drove cost more than $90,000. I can’t fathom a world where I’d take this over a nice Suburban, an Escalade or, ideally, some kind of Land Rover.

One day this thing will be dope when it depreciates into the $20,000 range, but for now, I cannot recommend you spend all that money on a new QX80.

-Patrick George

2018 Ford EcoSport Titanium

It’s not all that often that you encounter a car so uninspiring and undesirable that it makes you question the validity of its entire category, but the Ford EcoSport does just that. I mean, it’s not terrible, as such, but the fact that it’s a crossover or CUV or whatever the hell you want to call them instead of, say, a normal wagon, just makes you very, very aware of how idiotic the whole current crossover fixation is.

This is a car that just doesn’t make much sense. The rear side-opening door is an ass-pain, driving it is as engaging as a tour of a long-term records storage facility, the proportions, while kind of cute, are sort of awkward in use, it’s less roomy than it should be, on and on.

I don’t get the point of this thing other than Ford just doesn’t want to sell actual cars here, anymore. If this is what they want to sell instead, well, then my advice is just make your life easier and ignore the EcoSport. You won’t be missing anything, really.

Also, I’m pretty sure I never once pronounced the name like Ford’s PR people wanted me to.

— Jason Torchinsky

Totaled 2003 Kia Rio

You may find this surprising, but a rusted-out 2003 Kia Rio that has been crashed into the rear end of an SUV is actually a really bad car.

If I’m entirely honest, I haven’t spent all that much time actually driving this Kia because it only took about five seconds for it to stop functioning properly after I traded my reliable $1 Oldsmobile for it.

But that short amount of driving I did wasn’t great. The belt squealed. The engine idled rough. And man, that wrecked hood really hurt the visibility. Driving it down the street at a slow speed was scarier than it needed to be; I think one of the tie rod ends is shot, because the steering wheel wobbled like crazy.

But what was worst was just the reminder of how far cars have come in the past 15 years. Today, there really aren’t a lot of truly crappy cars left. But this Kia, with its filthy Playmobil interior—boy, it just feels like part of a bygone era of shittiness. And if I’m honest, I’m not sure whether to love it or hate it for that.

Jason feels similarly:

I drove David’s sad, sad Kia in the worst of all possible conditions: at the end of its useful life, in deep mud, barely self-mobile, and we accidentally pulled half its face off. It was never exactly a compelling car to begin with, and when I got behind the wheel it felt less like a car and more like a mobile way to lugubriously haul around a decade or so of bad decisions, minor but relentless misfortune, and a general sense of mild despair. This Kia has given up long ago but the cruel world just won’t quite let it die yet, which is all that it wants.

We have no intention of giving it what it wants. No one ever did.

— Jason Torchinsky

— David Tracy

2018 BMW 530e

Look at those destroyers there in the background. Powerful, large and in-charge, once masters of their element and full of brave men and women trying to prove something. Those ships are everything the hybrid 2018 BMW 530e is not.

Granted, it’s still a damn 5 Series, so it’s not a bad car. Far from it, in fact. But it’s definitely the worst 5 Series and I’ll tell you why. Auto start-stop, you know, the feature that cuts off your engine at a stop light or in the White Castle drive-thru. On most cars you can turn it off, but on this plug-in hybrid, you can not.

It’s infuriating, particularly when you drain the car of all of its hybrid battery juice—good for an estimated 30 miles of EV range. Once the battery is dead, the car still starts out with the electric motor before switching over the the four-cylinder gas engine. Every time! Sometimes it would start up and just switch immediately, but it was such a laggy and jerky sensation, and felt like such a struggle, it really killed the otherwise pleasant experience of sitting in a new 5 Series.

If I were making a plug-in hybrid 5 Series, I might focus a little harder on using the additional power and torque to have a little fun, but BMW instead went for maximum efficiency.

It’s selling fairly well, so I guess the product planners know better than me.

-Justin Westbrook

2019 Cadillac XT4

The one thing I remember from the press briefing during Cadillac’s 2019 XT4 media drive was the constant and unrelenting use of the word “fun.” The new engine would have “fun” characteristics. The new platform would be “fun” to drive. Unfortunately, the XT4 wasn’t anything more than a very bland compact crossover.

I’ll put it this way: Everything about it was objectively correct. It accelerated like it had an engine. It braked like it had brakes. It handled like it had a suspension system. But nothing about it stood out. Driving it feels like going to work in a fog because you slept poorly the night before and when you get home, you have no memory of what it is you actually did that day.

This is a car that Cadillac desperately needs in its SUV-lacking lineup and I recognize that. I just can’t get excited about it.

-Kristen Lee

VLF Rocket

When you take a pretty good starter package of a 2015 Ford Mustang GT, replaced the body panels with wider, lighter carbon fiber components, tweaked the suspension with a bunch of gripper parts, updated the interior with softer leather, crammed a massive supercharger under the hood to give it over 700 horsepower, and told me the minds of Galpin Auto Sports and Henrik Fisker were the team behind its development, I’d be interested to check it out immediately.

The trouble is that I tested it along the Angeles Crest Highway, gave it a strong test on one of my favorite demanding routes, and revealed that the team behind the VLF Rocket didn’t quite finish the job to my liking. It felt like a project car that didn’t quite get the calibrations and time focused to perfecting the package, and that disappointed me.

Maybe if there weren’t 21-inch wheels screwing around with the suspension geometry, and the coilovers were given softer damping, the handling could have been more compliant and manageable. I also wasn’t convinced the claimed 725 horses were really making their way through the drivetrain.

At $100,000, the price is rather steep, considering you can get a Mustang GT350R for much less. The thought I didn’t initially publish was that I felt like the VLF Rocket needed to go to a fine finishing school, but instead it cut class to smoke Marlboro Reds behind the gym.