As we near the twilight of human-driven cars and the dawn of full autonomy, we are overwhelmed with seemingly endless good cars that blah blah blah. Whatever. The real news is how many bad cars, old and new, are still out there. And we all found a way to drive some real shitheaps this year.
The best cars and trucks we drove in 2016 was a sweet mix of the exciting and the trustworthy, from vehicles old and new.
Much the same here, except these cars were bad, not good. We let the staff define what “bad” meant to them, from disappointing new cars to old ones that always sucked (and still do) to cars that got us into some deeply regrettable situations. Bad is a relative thing, but you would do well to avoid stepping in the same shit we did.
2016 Buick Cascada
The Cascada blows. I meant to review it and never got around to it, mainly because I hated it so much and stopped caring. It doesn’t look good, it isn’t fast or even quick, it’s got enough body roll to last you into fiscal 2018, and the interior—look at this!—is a joke, and your wallet is the punchline if you buy into this plastic-filled mess that makes a mid-2000s Ford feel like a Rolls-Royce by comparison. Basically, the Cascada drives like the shitty four-year-old Opel it is.
The next round of Opels, presumably which will come here as Buicks, are gorgeous and look to be quite impressive. And most of General Motors’ cars of late have been excellent. The Cascada isn’t up to that standard.
You want a review? It’s bad, don’t buy it. —Patrick George
The problem with the Dodge Caliber isn’t that it wasn’t reliable, the problem is that it was, because if we’re honest with ourselves, this world would be a better place if Dodge Calibers—particularly the early models like the one I drove— were all in a junkyard. I say this because the Caliber is the physical embodiment of recession-era Detroit; it’s a car filled with more cheap components than you’d find at a Harbor Freight.
Interior bits were made of terribly hard plastic, the continuously variable transmission made a ridiculously loud drone and sapped all the power the little 2.0-liter inline-four could muster, and the thing wasn’t even all too practical.
The one I drove, had four bad control arms, a slipping serpentine belt, and a slew of other issues that made the three hour drive from Dallas to Austin a nightmare. —David Tracy
I can’t say 1995 Honda Accords, in general, are terrible cars. But what I can say is that the ‘95 Accord I bought was a huge piece of shit. I don’t blame the Honda corporation, I blame whoever owned this thing and didn’t take proper care of it before me.
I only owned the thing for a few months, and I had to replace two upper control arms, both sets of tie rod ends (inner and outer), the clutch master and slave cylinder, the thermostat, the water pump, the valve cover gasket, and a bunch of other things I’ve tried hard to suppress from my memory.
The 2.2-liter VTEC inline-four was a smooth engine, and the five speed shifted beautifully (well, except for fifth gear, which liked to grind), but I couldn’t appreciate what was probably a decent car at one point, because by the time the thing got to my hands, it was a total pile of junk. - David Tracy
For 45 minutes, the Smart ForTwo Cabriolet was a glorious experience behind the wheel of a tiny car that could turn on a dime and fit into nearly any parking space. It was city driving as I had never experienced it before. In my review of the car I said as much. But then it all went to shit after the fun wore off.
Once the novelty’s gone, you’re left with a cheap-feeling and under-powered car the seems like it’s trying to rattle itself to pieces at idle. The car won’t downshift unless you put a gun to its head. The Smart ForTwo is marketed as a city car, but potholes annihilate its bad suspension, it has poor acceleration and very little storage space. So what is it for?
Advertisements, it seems. My personal experience with Smart ForTwos has been seeing them plastered with ads for florists, caterers and laundry services. You know, not actual consumers. - Kristen Lee
I really can’t remember a modern car I’ve had recently that’s pissed me off as much as this thing. It’s one of those rare cars that somehow does it all, if “it” is referring to the ability to suck, audibly and voraciously.
It’s heavy as a dumpster full of sewage and not quite as attractive. It’s cramped on the inside, too big on the outside, has a center stack infotainment UI that seems engineered to produce divorces, and is as much fun to drive as a Black Death-era corpse disposal wagon.
Oh, and Lexus wants 100,000 of your dollars for this thing.
Sure, maybe it’s highly capable off road, but if you take it over a curb you’re likely to amass thousands of dollars of damage to the low-hanging plastic crap all over the car, and nobody who buys one of these will do that, ever.
You’d be making a smarter decision if you spent your money on a $10,000 hoagie and $60,000 on almost any other car. - Jason Torchinsky
Yes, the Mini-Comtesse is a terrible car. It’s barely a car, really, but that’s sort of the point: this is the most basic, distilled-down idea of motoring possible. This is rock-bottom driving. Driving for people who simply have no other option, for any number of legal or other reasons.
The Mini-Comtesse looks like and it built like a Porta-Potty, and performs nearly as well as one. It’s a tiny, flimsy, ridiculous half-sketch of a car, 3 horsepower and five wheels (two of which are really tiny), a lawn chair in a shitty motorized coffin.
Of course, I kind of love it all the same, because my brain problems are real and non-trivial. - Jason Torchinsky
I bought it from under an oak tree in Sacramento and after a week of engine-out wrenching, I set off to drive it across the country. It is beautiful. It is beloved. It is currently dead in Little Rock waiting for a new motor after it dropped a valve within sight of the Tennessee border. Also the seats suck.
Worse than this car: my decision making skills. —Raphael Orlove
Cheap racing: sounds good on paper, doesn’t always work out so great in real life.
When NSF Racing announced that they wanted to pass their 1949 Nash around from team to team for 2016, I was in. This car was a total weirdo—a Statesman Airflyte body that had been dropped onto a C3 Corvette chassis. The big bathtub didn’t handle too badly if you just remembered that it was a top-heavy old beast of a thing and drove accordingly.
Unfortunately, it died on track as I was trying to pull it off and out of harm’s way. Two cars ran into it as corner workers threw a yellow warning flag upstream. The Nash was hit hard enough to completely obliterate its rear end and got flipped onto its roof in the process, giving me a concussion that kept me out of normal activity for several months after the crash.
Seriously, screw everything about this year. Even the beginning was complete garbage. - Stef Schrader
The 124 Spider elicits a “But... why?” every time I see one. Now, the original 124 Spider from the ‘60s is among my favorite cars I’ve ever driven: a raw and buzzy little pod of unmuted cheap roadster excellence. The new one—egads. It’s such a botched attempt to dress up the Mazda MX-5 it’s based on, through no fault of the MX-5.
Under the curvaceous sheetmetal, the Fiat is a hot mess, complete with Mazda’s annoying tombstone-screen dashboard and steering so peculiarly numb that I felt the car turn more through weight transfer than I did through the steering wheel itself. At least it’s pretty on the outside and comes with a manual, I guess. It’s just not worthy of the 124 Spider name. - Stef Schrader
I go back and forth on the idea of a 707 horsepower Jeep Wrangler. On one hand it’s hilarious and ridiculous and essentially everything we love about extreme machines. On the other it’s just plain silly. Silly like killing ants with a sledgehammer, except if the sledgehammer was being wielded by a three-year-old.
I know, I know, the Wrangler Trailcat was just a concept made for amusement purposes only. But being allowed to drive it, with the stipulation of “don’t take it above idle speed,” was so much more heartbreaking than just seeing it on a pedestal and hearing it breathe fire.
Of course the six-speed manual lifted out of an old Dodge Dakota would not have survived the Hellcat engine’s full fury, and those tires might have eaten the Jeep’s fenders were the suspension allowed to compress.
I love that Jeep has the sense of humor to let something like this off its drawing boards and into some semblance of reality, but the Trailcat is one hero I wish I hadn’t met in person. – Andrew Collins
2016 Dodge Durango
This, in a single picture, sums up everything wrong with the Dodge Durango. It’s a minor issue, sure, one that you might not even see upon first getting in the enormous car. But once you see it, it glares at you. You glare at it. You gradually grow to hate it, and it grows to hate you. You and this single design piece, living discordantly in hell.
As you can see, the top half and the bottom half of the central stack/transmission tunnel do not align properly. They split crookedly in the middle, disjointed and sad. It’s the sort of thing anyone with a ruler might notice, but not so the engineers at Dodge. It nags at you, making you constantly wonder what else in this vehicle was not designed properly. If they can’t get that right, what else did they get wrong? The suspension? The brakes? The engine? The very air that you’re breathing right at this very moment?
This one little thing brings to bear a crushing sense of doubt upon the driver. And that’s the Durango, overall. Small little flaws that all add up into a disjointed whole that make you fear for those around you. But it’s got TVs in the headrest, so that’s nice. - Michael Ballaban