25 of the Worst Cars Ever Tested By Consumer Reports
Consumer Reports’ road testing is one of the most thorough and punishing automotive tests in the world. Its in-depth and impartial methods separate the serious contenders from the also-rans, and gives an unvarnished view of a car’s real-world performance. Because of this, the magazine has the unique position of being able to make or break a new car in a way that no other publication has. On top of the report card-like rating system, everything from the quality of interior trim to a car’s handling in emergency situations can be summed up in their five-point rating system ranging from excellent to poor.
On rare occasions, cars fall below even the lowest poor rating, earning a harsh and foreboding “Not Acceptable” rating. And as the last few decades have shown, that’s when all hell breaks loose. During the 1980s and 1990s, automakers began rushing SUVs to the market to satisfy the growing demand. Consumer Reports soon had its hands full warning the public about the increased risk of rollovers, and fending off lawsuits from irate automakers who felt the magazine’s tests were unfairly biased against SUVs. But CR issued its fair share of “Not Acceptable” ratings long before the SUV dominated American roads, and history has largely absolved the magazine, as it’s now conventional wisdom that older full-size SUVS are a bigger rollover risk than their smaller counterparts. From microcars to hulking SUVs, here are 25 cars that Consumer Reports never wanted to see on the road.
1. Suzuki Samurai
With its diminutive size and cute looks, the Samurai may look like a pretender, but for years it’s been considered one of the most rugged and durable small 4x4s in the world — and it was absolutely savaged by Consumer Reports. Introduced in 1985, the Samurai was a smaller and cheaper alternative to the Jeep CJ-7 and Wrangler models, and was a considerable sales success until a 1988 Consumer Reports test deemed it dangerously unsafe for American roads. The report was unusual in its strong language, and publicly called for Suzuki to recall all 150,000 Samurais and immediately replace them with a safer model. A damning investigation later found that the magazine altered their tests to increase the possibility of a rollover, and in 1996, Suzuki sued Consumer Reports for the damage the report did to the brand’s sales and reputation. The lawsuit dragged on for years before it was settled out of court in 2004. Suzuki never fully recovered from the ordeal, and pulled out of the American auto market in 2012.
2. Isuzu Trooper
Like the Suzuki incident, Consumer Reports was taken to court over their questionable rollover testing on the Isuzu Trooper (and the identical Acura SLX, pictured here). After receiving “Not Acceptable” ratings in the magazine’s rollover tests, Puerto Rico’s Isuzu distributor sued the magazine alleging a sharp decline in sales after the trucks were deemed unsafe. When the case went to trial in 2000, a jury found that the magazine’s staff “had made several false statements in an article and at a news conference in which it branded the Isuzu Trooper sport utility vehicle unsafe.” The lawsuit was a major embarrassment for the magazine, and it was one of the last times the American public heard from Isuzu. The company stopped selling passenger vehicles in the U.S. in 2008.
3. 2001 Mitsubishi Montero
When Mitsubishi released its new Montero SUV in 2000, it stressed the truck’s size and safety, but Consumer Reports’ tests found otherwise. The magazine liked the Montero at first, but found that at taking turns over 37 miles per hour, the truck had a dangerously high rollover risk. The magazine issued one of their dreaded “Not Acceptable” ratings, though by then the magazine’s reputation had become so tarnished after the Suzuki and Isuzu lawsuits that Mitsubishi publicly cast doubt on Consumer Reports’ testing methods. Still, the Montero was far from a success, and it was pulled from the American market in 2006. While Consumer Reports’ thorough and impartial tests have made the magazine a must-have since its inception in 1936, it made it through a trying time in the 1990s and has emerged stronger and more trusted than ever. Run by the Consumers Union, the magazine still refuses to sell ad space to avoid any outside influence, pays for all the products it tests, and forbids manufacturers from using a positive review in advertisements. Because of this, after nearly 80 years, the magazine’s New Car Buyer’s Guide is essential for millions of car buyers.
4. 2010 Lexus GX 460
By 2010, Consumer Reports had learned its lesson about crying wolf too quickly, and did everything right when Lexus’s full-size GX 460 displayed a tendency to roll over. After discovering the issue on its test truck, the magazine bought a second one and ran a series of fully-documented tests on both SUVs. The findings were the same, and the magazine issued a carefully worded “Safety Risk: Don’t Buy” statement. It wasn’t as alarmist as the old “Not Acceptable” rating, but it urged consumers to avoid the model until Toyota fixed the issue. Instead of taking legal action, Toyota took the toned down warning to heart and immediately recalled the big SUVs for a stability control adjustment. After the issue was fixed, the magazine retested the Lexus, and found it to be safe.
5. Smart ForTwo
The Smart ForTwo did not do as well in America as Mercedes-Benz had hoped it would. Its 38 miles per gallon rating may have been something to brag about when it was introduced in Europe in 1998, but 19 years later, it’s middle of the pack for economy cars. Along with polarizing styling, a dated interior, limited storage space, and a transmission with a reputation for being one of the worst in the world, there’s not much to love about the little Smart. Consumer Reports says: “This tiny two-seater is good on gas and a snap to park. After that, the positives pretty much run out.” An all-new ForTwo arrived in 2016, and it’s better in every way. We’ll see if that’s enough to make American buyers forget about the car’s disappointing first act.
6. 1978 Dodge Omni
Believe it or not, the Dodge Omni (and the identical Plymouth Horizon) is one of the most important American cars ever built. Chrysler was in bankruptcy protection when it released the Omni, and its sales success almost single-handedly brought the company back from the brink. In 1978, the Omni looked like the future for American cars. It was the first American front-wheel drive hatchback, the first with a transverse mounted engine, and the first with a semi-independent rear suspension. Despite its sales success (and winning Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award), the Omni’s terrible build quality, atrocious safety record, and dangerously vague steering earned it a Consumer Reports “Not Acceptable” rating. Time magazine followed suit by launching their own investigation and confirmed Consumer Reports findings. Despite the red flags, Americans bought the little hatchbacks in droves. All told, Chrysler built nearly 3 million of the cars between 1977 and 1990. Good luck finding many left on the roads today.
7. Subaru 360
After successfully importing Fuji mopeds from Japan in the 1960s, businessman Malcolm Bricklin realized that he could cheaply import Fuji’s Subaru 360 cars to America because their size and weight exempted them from U.S. automotive safety standards. The flyweight Subaru weighed only 900 pounds, and at under 10 feet long, it made the Volkswagen Beetle look like a Lincoln Continental. Consumer Reports called it “the most unsafe car in America,” and gave the car its dreaded “Not Acceptable” rating. The 360 was an unmitigated failure in the U.S., with one dealership offering six cars for $2,000 just to get rid of them all. Still, it was just enough to give Subaru a foothold in the American market, where 50 years later the company is enjoying record sales numbers.
8. 2003 Nissan Murano
When it was introduced in 2003, the Nissan Murano was a considerable success for Nissan. Its striking looks were a centerpiece of the company’s new design direction, and its compact size and upscale interior made it a strong sales success. The Murano was even nominated for the North American Truck of the Year Award — but that didn’t stop Consumer Reports from raising the red flag. During testing, it found that in hard cornering, the steering would stiffen, making the Murano difficult to control. Despite the popularity of the Murano, the magazine refused to recommend the SUV until the issue was corrected. In a rare case of automotive humility, Nissan corrected the issue, and Consumer Reports positively reviewed the 2005 model, giving it a high recommendation.
9. 1968 AMC Ambassador SST
In 1968, independent automaker AMC was on the verge of having a major hit on its hands with the handsome new Ambassador sedan. Even before it went into production, the flagship car made news by being the first American car to ever offer standard air conditioning, and company brass rushed the car into production in order to keep up with expected demand. Unfortunately, it was not to be: The earliest cars off the line were poorly engineered and terribly built. An early-production model earned Consumer Reports’ dreaded “Not Acceptable” rating when a poorly installed fuel filler neck spilled gasoline out of the car during heavy brake testing. Even after the kinks were worked out, the Ambassador’s reputation was permanently tarnished, and AMC limped along another 20 years until it was bought by Chrysler in 1988.
10. 2007-2012 Dodge Nitro
Introduced just before crossover vehicles caught on in a big way, the Dodge Nitro was the answer to a question nobody asked. Suffering from an appalling design and build quality, the Nitro represented everything that was bad about pre-bankruptcy Chrysler. In its video review of the Dodge, Consumer Reports was brutally honest about the terrible Nitro, concluding that its cramped interior, sluggish engine, and cheap feel made it “a chore” to drive. When asked to say something nice about the car, the reviewer was unable to name a single redeeming feature. Despite coming in aggressively named trim levels like “Heat,” “Detonator,” and “Shock,” most consumers saw the Nitro for the penalty box it was and took their business elsewhere.
11. 1975 Zagato Zele/Elcar 2000
Zagato is known for building some of the most unique and desirable cars in the world, usually in partnership with companies like Alfa Romeo and Aston Martin. But in the 1970s, it struck out on its own with one of the first electric production cars, the fiberglass Zagato Zele (sold in the U.S. as the Elcar 2000). In October 1975, CR’s testing found that the Zele’s claimed 20 mile range dropped down to 10 miles in weather below 40 degrees. With a recharge time of about 8 hours and no real safety features, the watchdog group decided not to recommend this early EV.
12. 1986 Yugo GV
The idea to import the Zastava Koral (known here as the Yugo) and sell it as the cheapest car in America came from Malcolm Bricklin — the same man who gave us the aforementioned Subaru 360. And like that car, the Yugo was laughably small, terribly built, and woefully unsafe. Consumer Reports picked this econobox apart, calling it “a barely assembled bag of nuts and bolts” in its review. It wasn’t far off; even in the era of cheap, no-nonsense economy cars, the Yugo became a national punchline.
13. 2015 Tesla Model S
It’s now a part of Tesla lore that the Model S wrecked Consumer Reports’ decades-old testing metric, scoring 103 points out of 100 in late 2015. But Tesla quickly fell from grace. Scores of owners reported reliability problems to CR in the following months, which led to it reversing its rating and tagging the EV with a dreaded “Not Recommended” tag. In the years since, the Model S has gotten back into the watchdog group’s good graces, but its historic first impression and subsequent fall from grace will forever be a part of the Model S story.
14. 2014 Honda Fit
Since it was introduced in the U.S. in 2007, the Honda Fit has been one of the most reliable, economical, and fun-to-drive subcompacts on the market, and Consumer Reports has been among its champions. That’s why it made news when the 2014 model was dropped from its “Recommended” list. After an abysmal crash test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (which, to be fair, all but one other car in its class also failed), CR responded by pulling its support for the smallest Honda. By 2015, the Fit had been completely redesigned, and was once again in the consumer group’s good graces.
15. 1980 Chevrolet Citation
General Motors entered the 1980s with the front-wheel drive, compact X-Body platform, led by the Chevrolet Citation. At first, the car was a hit, selling over 800,000 units in its first year and winning Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award. But Consumer Reports was among the first outlets to sound the alarm over the car’s horrible build quality and dangerous engineering flaws. After just a year on the market, the Citation (and the other X-Body models) became sales poison. By 1985, the half-baked compact was history.
16. Mitsubishi Mirage
If it had been released 20 years ago, the Mitsubishi Mirage would have been a middle-of-the-pack econobox. But it was released in the U.S. in 2014, and stands out for its tinny build quality, buzzy three-cylinder engine, and cheap-feeling interior. If you’re looking for bargain basement transportation, the Mirage is fine, but that’s about the only good thing you can say about it. Authorities like Car & Driver, Road and Track, and Motor Trend have all consistently panned the Mirage. It’s also made Consumer Reports’ “Worst Of” list every year since it hit the market.
17. 1967 Renault 10
It’s nearly forgotten now, but back in the 1960s, the rear-engined, air-cooled Renault 10 was one of the most popular imports in the U.S. In a bizarre comparison between the Renault, BMW 1600, Porsche 912, and Opel Kadett in its August 1967 issue, the French compact made an impression for all the wrong reasons. Superior competition aside, the Renault was penalized for fade-prone brakes, unpredictable handling, excessive tire squeal, and difficult entry and exit.
18. Mercedes-Benz CLA
For around $32,000 , the Mercedes CLA is a good-looking, sporty compact sedan. But for that money, you can do a lot better. And if you want this front-wheel drive Mercedes to feel like, well, a Mercedes, you’ll need to spend closer to $40,000 — and by then, there are better options within the Mercedes lineup. While it’s not a completely terrible car, its failure to live up to the Three-Pointed Star’s reputation for quality, comfort, or luxury has landed it on Consumer Reports’ “Worst Of” list almost every year since its 2012 American debut.
19. 1957 Buick Roadmaster
Today, the Roadmaster is considered to be an icon of midcentury Detroit. But in its 1957 automotive issue, the big Buick left Consumer Reports cold. Pitted against the Packard Clipper, Lincoln Capri, Cadillac 62, and Chrysler Imperial in the “High-Priced Car Group” (price range: $4,054-$5,614), the Roadmaster fell far behind the pack due to its lackluster build quality and too-soft ride. Considering that ’50s luxury cars are already known for their vague, mattress-like ride, that’s saying a lot about the Buick’s handling.
20. Fiat 500L
It’s hard to mention the 500L without mentioning that it’s built in the former Yugo factory. And unfortunately, many of the Yugo’s woes — unreliability, terrible build quality, and frumpy styling have been passed on to Fiat’s modern crossover. Despite its affordability, the 500L has proven to be a tough sell for Fiat, and it’s spent much of its five years on the market making Consumer Reports’ “Worst Of” lists.
21. 1959 Chevrolet Impala
Obvious as it may sound, 1959 was a long time ago. Back then, the Impala was a popular and well-regarded family car. But this was in an era before seat belts, collapsable steering columns, disc brakes (on anything other than exotics), crumple zones, air bags, or any number of safety features we take for granted today. That was hammered home in a big way when Consumer Reports pitted a beautifully restored Impala against a modern Chevy Malibu in 2009. If you’re a lover of classic cars, you might not want to watch the video. At the very least, it shows just how much cars have evolved in the past 50 years.
22. Cadillac Escalade
In many ways, the Escalade is the quintessential Cadillac: Big, V8-powered, and stuffed to the gills with luxury features. On the one hand, that keeps it a strong seller year after year. On the other hand, its hefty price tag ($73,000 and up) puts it up against some serious competition from the likes of Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Lexus, and Range Rover. Due to the Escalade’s lack of refinement and an interior that’s not known to take wear-and-tear well, used examples of the big SUV often make the list of models Consumer Reports advises buyers to steer clear of.
23. 1957 Dodge Royal
When they were released in late 1956, Chrysler’s “Forward Look” cars caused a sensation that sent shockwaves across the automotive industry. They were such a radical departure from anything else on the market that both Ford and GM rushed to restyle their ’58 and ’59 models to keep up. But fallout came quickly for Chrysler. Scrimping on quality control to keep up with demand, the cars proved to be horribly unreliable. Owners complained to Consumer Reports about disastrous water leakage in the interior and trunk, missing bolts, squeaks and rattles, and suspension components that would rust and fail within a matter of months. After it issued its scathing report on the ’57 Chrysler cars, the automaker was saddled with a reputation for unreliability that lingered for decades.
24. Pontiac Aztek
In the 17 years since its debut, the Pontiac Aztek has cemented its place in history as one of the worst cars ever made. With its hideous styling, terribly built interior, and laughably high price, the Aztek not only ranks up with the Edsel as one of the biggest automotive flops, but it’s mentioned alongside the Apple Newton, Crocs, and DDT as one of Time Magazine’s worst inventions ever. In discussing the worst cars of all time, Consumer Reports Autos team confessed that they were so embarrassed to drive the thing on public roads that they did a lot of driving at night. When the time came to sell its test Aztek, it couldn’t find a buyer. As of late 2014, the radioactive Pontiac was still languishing somewhere on CR’s campus.
25. 1963 DAF Daffodil
You might have never heard of the Daffodil, but it’s a true automotive pioneer. Launched in 1961, this Dutch microcar was the first production model to have a Continuously Variable Transmission (or CVT), technology that’s been adopted by virtually every major automaker today. DAF imported a small number of cars to the U.S., and Consumer Reports got its hands on one in 1963. Its CVT didn’t make headlines, but its performance did. CR found that zero to 60 came in a shocking 28.9 seconds, making it the slowest accelerating car it ever tested.