Careful! These 10 Cars Look Nice, but They’re Made Cheap

Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG | Mercedes-Benz

Try as they might, automakers aren’t always able to deliver the goods at the end of the day. Even though a car may look good, it doesn’t always mean that it will be well-built. Whether they’re getting slapped with recalls, aren’t measuring up in the safety department, or are just poorly constructed, cheap cars are a live landmine that must be dodged if you reallywant to outsmart the local dealership. Otherwise, get used to spending a lot more time and money there.

Over the years there have been numerous automobiles that have hit the highway and were destined for failure right from the start. Remember the Chevy Citation, first-generation Audi A4 Allroad, or Daihatsu Charade? Maybe it’s best you didn’t. While particular trim lines will occasionally do a bit better than others, once a car gets labeled “cheap,” it typically tarnishes the nameplate forever.

Now, it appears a new breed of bad has been born. A recent flurry of activity on Consumer Reports’ site has just crushed the growing misconception that all contemporary cars are made to last. While modern amenities, overall quality, and safety features are outstanding compared to what Americans were tolerated in the 1980s and 1990s, plenty of crappy cars are still out there today.

The following is a list of ten automobiles that are deceptively sharp looking, but have a few reasons why they don’t have the quality to back up all that curb appeal. Some of them will likely surprise, while others might not. So brace yourselves, because here comes “The Cheap Sheet.”

10. Mitsubishi Mirage ES

2017 Mitsubishi Mirage ES | Thunder Bay Mitsubishi via Facebook

The Mirage ES tops out at $17,000, averages 37 miles per gallon, and has been restyled for the 2017 model year, which should make it a great entry-level commuter car. But critics slam the Mirage, calling it out for being “perhaps the worst-handling new car on sale,” warning that drivers will hate how much road noise emanates within the cabin.

All those aesthetic updates can’t hide the fact that it’s still being powered by an anemic, rough-idling three-cylinder engine that delivers laughable acceleration. Being so small, you could assume that this subcompact handles nicely, but think again. Despite having a fairly roomy cabin, critics and consumers alike find it to be “drab, cheap, and insubstantial,” leaving shoppers with little reason to buy one when a base Honda Fit costs about the same. 

9. Fiat 500L

2016 Fiat 500L Pop | Fiat

Year after year the Fiat 500L continues to be labeled as one of the worst cars being sold in America. The bubbly compact may respond reasonably well on twisty roads and sports a spacious interior, but that’s about where the fun stops. Road-test scores give the 500L low points for its stiff ride, flat seats, and uncomfortable driving position.

A quick look at owner satisfaction surveys show that most people soon regret buying this Italian atrocity, and having one of the worst reliability scores among all new cars only compounds the equation. But perhaps the most alarming fact is probably that the 500L received a “Poor” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) during small-overlap crash testing.

8. Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Mitsubishi i-MiEV | Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV is one of the cheapest, smallest all-electric cars on the market today, but we think you’d be better off spending the extra dough and looking elsewhere. Critics refer to this miniature machine as, “underdeveloped, slow, clumsy, and stiff riding,” and being so small, the i-MiEV has the crumple zone of a beer can.

It’s cabin is about as base-looking as it feels, and it takes 6 to 7 hours to juice one up with a 240-volt, Level 2 charger, while a full 21 hours is required if you only have a 110-volt plug. Although the EPA gave the i-MiEV a 62 mile rating, critics often find this electric jelly bean often averages well below that mark.

7. Chrysler 200

2016 Chrysler 200 Limited | Chrysler

Critics have been slamming the poor 200 ever since it hit dealers, and the latest and final version is accused of offering a vague driving feel that seems like it’s straight out of the 1980s. Testing finds that the 200’s base four-cylinder engine struggles to inspire, and that its automatic gearbox remains both uncooperative and plagued with recalls.

The backseat is cramped in leg, head, and hip room, design cues hamper visibility, and poor suspension tuning creates a sedan that’s neither agile nor comfortable to drive. In the midsize sedan class, Consumer Reports gave the 200 the lowest overall score, lowest road-test score, as well as the lowest predicted reliability rating.

6. Nissan Altima

The Altima SR Midnight Edition | Nissan

Despite being a bit on the roomy side, the Altima sedan receives low marks from critics and consumers alike. Complaints start with the CVT transmission, which hampers driver enjoyment, then spread to issues with spongy handling and overly assisted steering.

Critics complain about the Altima’s superficially soft ride, which supposedly loses its cushy buoyancy when sharp bumps appear. Although reliability has improved to the point where it’s now ranked as “average,” the Altima continues to score poor ratings for its economy-grade interior, driving characteristics, and uneven power delivery.

5. Dodge Journey

Dodge Journey Crossroad | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

When we tested the Journey a while back we found it to be one of the most sub-par offerings in the SUV segment. With a confining interior, steering feedback that borderlines on abysmal, atrocious handling, and a V6 that rewards drivers with the worst fuel economy in its class, you can see why we weren’t a fan of this compact oddball.

Despite having a calm cabin, third-row seating is too tight for adolescents, and all-around visibility is severely limited. Meanwhile, below-average reliability ratings and inferior IIHS small-overlap frontal crash tests damage this Dodge’s reputation even further.

4. Mercedes-Benz CLA

Mercedes-Benz CLA | Mercedes-Benz via Facebook

Buying something from an iconic German luxury brand doesn’t save you from the risk of buying a dud. The CLA fails to offer Mercedes-Benz levels of ride quality, handling, or refinement expected of the brand, and features a cramped cabin. Accessing the interior can be difficult as well, and while the base price is indeed affordable (the low $30k range), buyers need to spend asinine amounts of money to get the CLA to feel like it belongs on the Mercedes-Benz roster.

Despite having strong numbers on paper, critics claim that the CLA feels slow off the line before abruptly snapping to life and jerking you forward. It’s agile in the corners, but critics find the ride to be “punishingly stiff” with an overly noisy ride. We say skip sinking your hard-earned dollars on a chassis that’s doomed from the start and opt for a certified pre-owned E300 sedan instead.

3. Maserati Ghibli

Maserati Ghibli | Maserati

While the Ghibli is plenty of fun thanks to its agile handling characteristics, beefy brakes, and sharp engine note, that’s about where the good times end in this $80,000 land yacht. Big sedans with a cramped backseat are never a good thing, and overall the interior suffers from being loaded with cheap-looking parts that have been sourced from the FCA parts bin.

Despite Ferrari DNA in its 3.0 liter V6, it’s saddled with loads of turbo-lag off the line, and fuel economy is atrocious. The Ghibli’s sporty (read:Firm) suspension grows tiresome quickly too, and climbing in or out requires Olympic-grade agility.

2. Land Rover Discovery Sport

Land Rover Discovery Sport | Land Rover

While we adored the all-new Land Rover Discovery, the smaller Sport version scores poorly when stacked-up against other small SUVs. Consumer Reports chides the Discovery Sport for its “spiky” turbo four-cylinder engine, which fluctuates between providing too little or too much acceleration. It also loses points for its automatic transmission, which critics claim is neither smooth nor responsive.

Although legendary off-road prowess can still be found, on the street ride quality and handling are far from sporty. Inside, you’ll find a bland cabin, an infotainment system that lags considerably, and while reliability points for the British brand are better than ever, only time will tell how this SUV holds up in the long run.

1. Cadillac Escalade

Cadillac Escalade | Cadillac

To quote one Consumer Reports critic: “The Escalade lacks the character of a true luxury SUV.” Apparently the current reincarnation rides too stiffly, refuses to stop or handle as it should, and isn’t comfortable dealing with its own girth.

Interior complaints start with the uncomfortably low height of the second-row seats, then spread to the abysmal legroom found in the third row. From there critics find issue with Cadillac’s Cue infotainment system, which remains frustrating at best, and ding it a reliability rating that’s worst in its class. Along with Consumer Reports, we suggest looking toward loaded SUVs from GMC and Chevy over this one, because the Escalade just doesn’t seem to being cutting the mustard.