From an automotive standpoint, we’ve got it pretty good right now. With each passing year, every segment seems to be getting safer, faster, more fuel efficient, and cars are better built now than ever before. If the disaster that was the late aughts taught automakers anything, it’s that the car buying public is completely fed up after decades of terrible products, and they aren’t going to take it anymore. Automakers may have changed in order to survive, but today, both manufacturers and consumers alike are reaping the benefits from one of the most progressive eras in automotive history.
Compared to today’s environment, 10 years ago may as well have been the dark ages. Automakers were slow to change, unwilling to adapt to customer needs, indifferent to quality, and as recent recall scandals have taught us, criminally negligent with safety features. The market was flooded with bad cars, and most of us were stuck driving them.
So what is it exactly that makes a car bad? Sometimes hideous styling says it all. Other times it takes a few laps around the block (or a sprint down the highway) to realize you have a lemon on your hands. Whatever the reason, there were enough inexplicably bad specimens rolling off assembly lines in the aughts to rival the worst Malaise-era offenders of the 1970s.
While dozens of cars easily could’ve made this list, here are ten crappers we found to be particularly offensive right from the get-go, all of which were released upon the public within the past decade or so, with the majority of them (thankfully) already facing retirement.
10. Jaguar X-Type
The X-Type wasn’t a terrible car per se, but for any enthusiast who’s afraid of their favorite brand being diluted by corporate ownership, it was the ultimate nightmare. In a nutshell, the X-Type wasn’t a Jaguar. Beneath the feline hood ornament and sumptuous interior lurked a Ford Mondeo, which we experienced in an earlier incarnation as the dreaded Ford Contour.
Debuting in 2001, the X-Type was a shocking departure from the slick Jaguar of yore, and a slap in the face to the brand faithful. Mercifully, it was discontinued in 2009 – just as the brand introduced its fantastic XJ sedan and launched one of the greatest automotive comebacks in recent memory.
9. Chevrolet Aveo
Remember Daewoo? The Korean automaker that sold dirt-cheap compacts in the late 1990s, and then disappeared after they went bankrupt? Apparently GM swept in to save the day, and bought the company back in 2001 and in 2003, introduced a cheaply rebadged Daewoo Kalos in the US as a Chevy. Proving that it has a strong sense of irony, Chevrolet named the car Aveo, which means “desire” in Latin.
It was good on gas, sat five, and could be had new for under $10,000, but that’s about all the good you could say about it. First-generation Aveos are already disappearing from the roads, and if you see a survivor on the street, view it as proof of just how far Korean automakers have come in under 15 years.
8. Jeep Compass
If you’d like to know how far Jeep has come, look no further than the now-defunct Jeep Compass, a terrible vehicle that shows how far from the plot Jeep was a few years ago. Even when it was new, the Compass looked like it had been T-boned by the ugly stick, with its “styling” suggesting a bad hit and run came shortly thereafter.
Inside, Edmunds questioned the vehicle’s “cut-rate interior,” saying it was “defined by a sea of hard, low-quality plastic.” Reviewers lamented that it wasn’t off-road-ready by any stretch of the imagination, and wondered why anyone at Chrysler thought the Compass should wear a Jeep badge. This was a car that wasn’t attractive enough to stand out in the suburbs, and couldn’t handle a wet field even if you put all-terrain tires on it. The new car promises to be considerably better.
7. Chrysler Sebring
Top Speed may have summed it up best when it described the Chrysler Sebring as being “built like a turd,” but former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson took it even further when he hailed the convertible as “almost certainly the worst car in the entire world.”
The loathing of the Sebring has been universal almost since its debut, as it represents the worst of what the auto industry has to offer. It was unremarkable in almost every way – except for the bizarre scalloping on its hood, as everything else about it remained completely forgettable: engine, drivetrain, interior – everything. Adding insult to injury, the Sebring was also notorious for being poorly made and horrible to drive.
6. Lexus HS 250h
From the side, the Lexus HS 250h looks like a bloated Toyota Corolla with massive doors, and once drivers got behind the wheel, they realized there wasn’t anything premium, upmarket, or very Lexus-like about it either. With 187 horsepower and mediocre fuel economy – especially for being a hybrid – it certainly wasn’t worth the $40,000 that Lexus was asking for it.
Fortunately, buyers who wanted a hybrid from the automaker typically made the wise choice and opted for the CT 200h instead, which at the time cost $8,000 less than the HS 250h. Two years after its launch, Lexus had only sold 2,864 units of this vehicle in the U.S., prompting the end of its production run after 2011.
5. Chevy HHR
It’s hard to believe it now, but there was a time where Chrysler’s PT Cruiser was an incredibly popular car. Unfortunately for Chevy, it’s PT Cruiser fighter came about five years too late, when the retro hearse race was pretty much on its last leg. If the HHR is remembered for anything (and that’s a big if), it’s that it was one of the most recalled vehicles in history.
Despite its brief (2005 to 2011) production run, the HHR was flagged in recall notices about 6.2 million times. And even though fewer than a million HHR models were ever sold in the U.S., it made up for a lack of quantity with a lack of quality. Once nominated by Jalopnik for being the “ultimate Rent-a-Wreck,” the HHR has taken a beating from auto journalists, bloggers, and drivers ever since the moment it appeared.
4. Hummer H2
In terms of bloated excess, there never was much competition for the Hummer H2, a vehicle that ambushed street corners when parallel parking. Much like how the 1959 Cadillac used its big fins to define the 1950s, so too will the H2 be remembered as a symbol of automotive excess in America during the early 2000s. Jalopnik said it best when they said that the Hummer H2 drove like “An indifferent, thirsty mobile gun bunker with the words ‘TINY GENITALS’ painted on its hood.”
3. Smart ForTwo
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the Hummer sat the Smart ForTwo. While both Fiat and Mini have shown how well tiny cars can turn out in the hands of the right automaker, Smart managed to get it all wrong right off the bat. On top of having looks that are polarizing at best, and fuel economy that’s surprisingly poor for its size (36 combined miles per gallon – 14 worse than a Prius), nearly every Smart ForTwo road test proves that it had awful handling and a crappy transmission.
To top it off, a CarInsurance.com survey showed that participants named it the most cringe-worthy car on the road today. The people have spoken: there really is no other automobile out there that was more embarrassing to be seen in. Rumor has it that a new ForTwo is on the way in 2016, and we just pray that they’ve got it right this time.
2. Ford Excursion
At one point, bean counters at Ford must have gotten together in the break room, and came away with grand plans for the SUV market. Their goal was to corner a market that wanted a vehicle that cost around $45,000 ($63,000 today), came with four-wheel drive, was 19-feet in length, sat nine, and had a 44 gallon fuel tank because 12 mile per gallon gains were cool back then.
Hell, the Excursion was shocking even back in the day, as the Sierra Club commonly referred to it as “The Valdez,” and even went as far giving it a tag line that read: “Have you driven a tanker lately?”
1. Pontiac Aztek
It took nearly 50 years for the auto industry to top the Edsel in terms of colossal public failures, but then the Aztek came along, and it did all that and then some. The Pontiac Aztek wasn’t just some bad car that appeared in the early 2000s; it’s the undisputed heavyweight champion of auto disasters. It was a scene of shock and horror when the Aztek first rolled out at the 2000 Detroit Auto Show. There was also this bizarre music festival going on around the vehicle during the unveiling, which only made matters worse, as apparently GM thought rainbow wigs, clown pants, cowboy hats, and signs would make a sale.
There’s no way of knowing just how much of a role the Aztek played in GM’s near-death experience within the past decade, but in retrospect, it was a sign of a company – and the industry as a whole – teetering over the abyss.
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