The European car industry has had its ups and downs, just like the North American car industry. Not every car that a company makes it going to be a winner. That much is fact. Sometimes the problems are various: poor handling, poor performance, poor styling, poor pricing… there are plenty of reasons why a car fails to take off.
But sometimes there’s something more that plagues a car’s success. Sometimes the initial build idea is just wrong—as in the car should have never been built in the first place. Europe has many car companies, most of them smaller companies that are trying to compete with bigger ones like Ford, Chevy, Toyota, Dodge, Nissan, and more. Those bigger companies have bigger budgets to spend on their designs, so it’s a two-way bummer: it’s hard to build a car with a lesser budget than a bigger company, and it’s even harder to market said car when you’re dealing with the distribution and marketing platforms of these huge conglomerates.
Some of the cars on this list have redeeming qualities, but those are always offset by the negative factors marring them. Some of the cars you might even be shocked to see on this list—or angry (possibly because you owned one)—but we try to take an objective approach toward naming these cars.
Here are the 20 worst European cars ever made.
20 Smart Fortwo
The Smart Fortwo is a teeny tiny 2-seater hatchback that was manufactured by Daimler AG, aka Mercedes-Benz. It's sold well, over 1.7 million cars by the end of 2015 through three generations, but the first two generation cars (MkI from 1998 to 2007 and MkII from 2007 to 2014) left a lot to be desired. The car was first marketed as “Smart City-Coupe,” and it ran on a turbocharged, three-cylinder 0.6-liter petrol engine, with a 0.8-liter diesel alternative.
Even though the car was introduced into New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in 2002, and was also the only car still in production to be included in the museum, it didn’t sell as well as Mercedes would have liked in America.
Its 38 miles per gallon rating was good when it was first introduced in 1998, but nowadays that’s nothing to brag about. It was also criticized for its distinctive, polarizing styling, its dated interior, limited storage space, and a transmission that has been called one of the worst in the world. As Consumer Reports put it, “This tiny two-seater is good on gas and a snap to park. After that, the positives pretty much run out.” Luckily the MkIII third-generation model is better in every way.
19 Zagato Zele 2000
The Zagato Zele 2000 sounds like it should be a spaceship, but really it looks like a Lego car or something. It’s an electric microcar with a fiberglass body that was manufactured by the Italian design company Zagato. The car had a short life, from just 1974 to 1976, and was a clean break (and not a good one) from Zagato’s former prominent designs, which were known for being beautiful and high-performance oriented. This “car” had a small engine, a low top speed, and it just looked weird. It had strange 4-position speed selector and a 2-position foot pedal that gave it six forward speeds and two reverse speeds, as well as a range of just 20 to 50 miles.
Perhaps Zagato should have partnered with Alfa Romeo or Aston Martin again, like they usually did, and this mistake could have been avoided. The Zele 2000 was one of the first electric cars in the ‘70s, but it barely went anywhere. In fact, Consumer Reports came to the conclusion that the Zele’s claimed 20 mile range dropped to just 10 miles in weather below 40 degrees. It also had a recharge time of about eight hours, and had no safety features to speak of.
18 Renault 10
The Renault 10 was a rear-engined, rear-wheel drive family car that was produced by the French company Renault between 1962 and 1971. The 10 was a better version than the car before it, the Renault 8, and then the Renault 12 after it. The Renault 10 was a lengthened version of the 8, but it was still a small car. It didn’t look too terrible, and was pretty good for small European roads. The 10 also had a larger front luggage compartment, an increase from 240 to 315 liters.
Unfortunately the 10 found itself unable to compete with the successful Peugeot 204, which was introduced the same year this car was (1965). The car ran on a 956 cc I4 engine, producing only 49 horsepower, which was actually an upgrade from the earlier car.
It was also compared, strangely enough, with a BMW 1600, Porsche 912, and Open Kadett in a French magazine in 1967, which was an unfair comparison. The Renault 10 couldn’t compete, of course, and was dinged for its fade-prone brakes, unpredictable handling, excessive tire squeal, and difficult entry and exit. Needless to say, even though this was a popular import into the United States during the ‘60s, by the time the ‘70s rolled around, people had had enough.
17 Mercedes-Benz CLA
The Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is not a terrible car. Mercedes-Benz doesn’t really have any terrible cars, but if you’re comparing them, this one comes up wanting. It was launched in 2013 at the North American International Auto Show, and was Mercedes’ first ever front-wheel drive three-box saloon car. It first went on sale in Europe in April 2013, followed quickly by the United States, and it reached 100,000 cumulative sales in its first year, which is a pretty good run. In fact, Mercedes called it their “best launch in 20 years.”
The first CLA-Class cars ran on either a 1.5-liter I4 turbo diesel engine, or a 1.6-liter I4 turbo gasoline engine.
These cars started at $32,000, which would be good for a nice looking, sporty sedan, but for that money the car just wasn’t worth it. It failed to live up to Mercedes’ reputation for quality, luxury, and comfort. It has ended up landing on Consumer Reports’ “Worst Of” list almost every year since its 2012 debut, and that’s saying a lot. If you wanted to make this car worth the cost, you’d need to spend closer to $40,000 to get some extra features and a better engine, and even then there are better options in Mercedes’ repertoire for the same price. You’re better off skipping the CLA altogether.
16 Fiat 500L
The Fiat 500L is a five-door, front-engine, front-wheel drive B-segment car (small minivan) that’s been manufactured in Kragujevac, Serbia since its release at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show. The 500L uses Fiat’s “cab forward” architecture and multi-air variable valve timing engine technology, and it noted for its high roof, wide field of visibility, its interior cargo space called the “Cargo Magic Space,” and little else positive. The car derives its name from Fiat’s earlier 500 models, including the original 1957 Fiat 500 and the current Fiat 500 (introduced in 2007). Unfortunately, both of those cars are better suited for drivers than this one.
The car was built in the same factory as former Yugo cars, and it’s plagued by many of the same problems that Yugo cars had, too. It had a terrible build quality, poor frontal safety ratings, a strange styling, and was unreliable. Even though it was affordable to buy, at $20,995, that still seems too expensive when you realize you’re basically getting a badly put-together box on wheels for 21 grand. The 500L has been a tough sell for Fiat ever since it’s inception, yet it still continues to be manufactured to this day, despite being on Consumer Reports’ “Worst Of” lists almost continually in the 6 years it’s been out.
15 DAF Daffodil
The DAF Daffodil was a small family car that was produced by the Dutch company DAF Trucks NV (or just DAF) from 1961 to 1967. DAF also released the DAF 750 at the same time as the Daffodil, which was basically the same car but with less luxury fittings and less chrome trim on the outside (which might be a good thing, in hindsight). The Daffodil was meant to be an export version of the 750, but it didn’t do too well outside of European markets, probably because its size, and in the ‘60s drivers were all about size in America. (They still are.)
This microcar was the first production model to have a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), which is a bit of technology that pretty much every major automaker has adopted in their cars today. So DAF gets props for that, but the buck stops there. When Consumer Reports got their hands on a Daffodil in 1963, they didn’t praise it for its innovative CVT technology, but rather criticized it for its performance. It won a record from CR, but not the kind you’d like on your mantle: It took 28.9 seconds to reach 0 to 60 mph, making it the slowest accelerating car they’d ever tested.
14 Austin Allegro
The Austin Allegro has the poor distinction of being on the top of most “worst of” lists whenever the car is mentioned. It is a small family car that was produced by the Austin-Morris division of British Leyland from 1973 until 1982. The same car was also built and sold by Innocenti as the Innocenti Regent from 1974 to 1975, so watch out for those too. During its 10-year production life, 642,350 Austin Allegros were built and sold.
When first released, it wasn’t universally panned by critics, but its gear change drew heavy criticism. Its steering wheel, a “quartic,” was described as “comprising four curves joined together by four straight lines, similar to the shape of a television screen.” It gave the driver little space between the steering column and the wheel, and was derided by motoring journalists, even though Austin doubled down and tried to call its ridiculous design “avant-garde and high-tech.” Design flaws plagued the car, concerning its bad build quality and bad reliability. Writer Richard Porter said in his book, Crap Cars, that “the only bit of the Allegro they got even vaguely right was the rust-proofing.” It was second on his list, beaten only by the VW Beetle. Auto Express said of the Allegro: “The poster child for everything bad about British car manufacturing in the seventies. Looked awful and handled dreadfully.”
13 Morris Marina
The Morris Marina was basically the sister car to the Austin Allegro, and as such, was also panned by critics and drivers everywhere. It was even sold as the Austin Marina in some markets. This car was built by the same company as the Allegro, from 1971 to 1980. It was popular throughout its life in Britain—actually third of fourth best-selling from 1973 onward—but that doesn’t mean it was a good car.
A survey conducted by Auto Express in 2006 found that only 745 Marinas of the 807,000 sold in Britain were still on the road—fewer than one for every thousand sold—making it the most-scrapped car sold in Britain over the previous 30 years.
A combination of factors led to its low survival rate: first among them being the Marina’s poor rust-proofing (the one thing the Allegro got right!). Top Gear hated the Marina and had a running gag throughout the series involving the car and dropping a piano on it whenever it was featured. In Richard Porter’s book, Crap Cars, it was ranked fourth worst car of all time. Top Gear presenter James May even jokingly said that at least one Marina should be preserved as a warning to future generations.
12 Rover 100
The Rover 100 was a car produced by, big shocker, British Leyland, and it took over for the Rover Metro (also called the Austin Metro, if that’s any hint to its quality). The Rover 100 version was an upgraded Metro, and was produced between 1994 and 1998, in the middle of the Metro’s larger lifeline of 1980 to 1998. The car had pretty poor mechanics, running on 1.1-liter and 1.4-liter petrol engines, with Hydragas suspension, though a new 1.5-liter Peugeot diesel engine was available too. The exterior was “updated” to try and hide the car’s aging styling, and to meet the increased cooling requirements of the new Peugeot engine.
At the time of the Rover 100’s inception, Rover was desperate for a small car. This car was poorly received right off the bat, and its build quality was critically panned and maligned. It wasn’t even that the 100 was such a terrible car, it’s just that it couldn’t compete with the opposition in crucial areas like acceleration or safety (it scored poorly in EuroNCAP’s crash tests, despite having “improved safety features” from the Metro). It was also the only car to receive a one-star Adult Occupant Rating, while other small cars tested at the same time received two or three stars out of five.
11 FSO Polonez
The FSO Polonez was a Polish vehicle named after the Polish dance, the polonaise. It had a long life, being produced between 1978 and 2002. When it was built in 1978, it was the only East European car built to pass the U.S. crash tests, which is pretty remarkable. So the car was very safe, and was okayed for export worldwide. Unfortunately, the car performed poorly in performance, and Polonez parts were relatively cheap.
Quality started to increase after 1992, and especially after 1995 when Daewoo started to cooperate with FSO. Its low starting price and safety were its two biggest positive features, but the positivity pretty much stopped there.
The Polonez was built as an old Fiat design and was produced in the Soviet Bloc, where cars produced by Yugo and Lada were made. The Polonez was criticized for performing poorly and for lacking any desirability—it wasn’t a great looking car. Its ugly color scheme was another point of contention. After Poland joined the European Union in 2004, demand for the car rapidly decreased and many Polonez’s were replaced by cheaper, tax-free cars from Western Europe. After the truck version of the car was introduced, demand died even quicker, until production ended 24 years after its release.
10 Reliant Robin
The Reliant Robin is a strange, three-wheeled car that was produced by the Reliant Motor Company in Tamworth, England. You’d never see this car in North America, though it’s the second-most popular fiberglass car in history, and Reliant is the second-biggest UK-owned car manufacturer for a time. It was produced between three stages, from 1973 to 1981, from 1989 to 2001, and from 2001 to 2002. This car was basically a terrible idea from the get-go for two reasons: it was three-wheeled and the front wheel was center-mounted, and the front wheel controlled the steering; what a catastrophe!
The car had absolutely frightful stability, and was made almost entirely of plastic. It’s been featured on Top Gear, used by both Richard Hammond and James May in an attempt to modify the car into a space shuttle (which failed). It was then driven by Jeremy Clarkson, who remarked that driving the car was as “dangerous as inviting your mum ‘round for an evening on Chat Roulette,” and that the Robin “wasn’t funny, it was a complete menace.” During the segment, Clarkson rolled the car on its side at least six times. Even the Stig couldn’t finish a lap cleanly because he kept tipping it, until they put trainer wheels on it to stabilize.
9 Rover 800
The Rover 800 Series was an executive car produced by the Austin Rover Group (a subsidiary of British Leyland) between 1986 and 1999. It was co-developed by Honda, which was its only saving grace as it looked like a Honda and not like a complete train wreck. Head gasket failures and reliability problems plagued the car from the get-go. Rover had no idea what the problem was, so they simply replaced the engines, which didn’t fix the problem and led to further reliability problems. Gearbox bearing problems were common because of the large amount of power from the 2-liter turbo engine being poorly handled.
While Honda oversaw build quality and engineering, Austin Rover added suspension tuning and lent their poor styling expertise to the cause. Austin didn’t listen to Honda’s advice about anything, so they ended up producing a car whose doors didn’t fit and whose dashboards faded and curled in hot weather. The car was a sales flop, unsurprisingly, and had to be greatly revised. Honda had their own version of the car, called the Legend, which was a whole lot better because they listened to their engineers. Rover was left with the tally on this one, and it never reached the stardom that some of their former Rover products reached.
8 Citroën C3 Pluriel
The Citroën C3 is a supermini car that’s been produced since 2002, and is still in production today. It’s lived through three generations, the third having been available since January 2017. The car was produced in a five-door hatchback style, a three-door hatchback, and also as a two-door convertible called the C3 Pluriel, which we shall talk about here. The C3 Pluriel was produced between 2003 and 2010 as a convertible with five open top variations.
The car has been panned by critics, which has led to poor sales. Top Gear Magazine called the C3 Pluriel “as useful as a chocolate teapot,” (I’m not British, so I don’t know what that means, but it sounds pretty useless). They also placed it on their list of “The 13 worst cars in the last 20 years.” The car was given a 1 star out of 5 rating by Auto Express, who shunned it for leaking gas and oil, though the review they wrote for the car itself actually wasn’t so bad. Even though it scored 1 out of 5 stars, they still called it a “fun package,” even though they called it a stretch to be considered “five cars in one,” as Citroën claimed.
7 Triumph TR7
The Triumph TR7 was a sports car that was produced by the Triump Motor Company (also part of British Leyland, in case you were wondering), between 1975 and 1981. It was originally produced in Liverpool, then in Coventry, and finally at the Rover Solihull plant. One funny anecdote comes from legendary Italian car designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, who saw the wedge-shaped car, walked around to the other side of it and exclaimed, “My God! They’ve done the same thing on this side as well!”
Giugiaro’s words pretty much summed up how everyone felt about the car upon its release. Its styling was not desirable at all. Also, unlike its TR6 predecessor, the TR7 was only available in hardtop, which didn’t sit well with buyers either.
It also only had four cylinders instead of six, and it got rid of the independent rear suspension to save costs. Basically, in order to save costs, Triumph made everything from the TR6 worse, then released the car as a new model, the TR7. Buyers quickly got wind of the TR7’s failings and it never took off like Triumph would have liked. The car was eventually immortalized as a child’s Dinky Toy and as a Revell construction kit. Let’s leave this car to the kids, because the adults don’t want it.
6 DeLorean DMC-12
We know a lot of Back to the Future fans aren’t going to like this pick, but hear us out. First, the history: the Delorean DMC-12, commonly referred to simply as “The DeLorean,” was a sports car produced by John Dolorean’s company from 1981 to 1983. It was produced for the North American market, but was built in Northern Ireland because of a deal John Delorean had with the Northern Irish government at the time.
It featured gull-wing doors and a new, innovative fiberglass body structure with a steel backbone chassis, as well as external brushed stainless steel body panels. It became known for its appearance in Back to the Future, of course, where it could go through time once the car reached 88 mph. The only problem was, it might have a hard time hitting 88 mph, because even though it looks fast, its V6 shows otherwise. Also, those stainless steel body panels might have looked cool, but they were almost impossible to clean, often making the car look shoddy. It was also plagued by reliability issues. So because of its poor performance, its reliability issues, and its cleanliness issues, the DMC-12 belongs on this list.
5 Rover 25
Rover cars just weren’t that great. There, I said it. This is the third one on this list of 20, and spoilers, there’s still one more to come. The Rover 25 was produced as a facelifted Rover 200, which was produced between 1984 and 2005. The 25 was manufactured between 2000 and 2005. The chassis had been upgraded to give it a sportier handling, and the front-end had been restyled to give it a corporate, executive look. Safety improvements and interior changes were also made, but none of these were enough.
Even though it was often Britain’s top-selling “hot hatch,” by 2004 its interior design was showing its age and dated appearance.
It was given poor ratings by EuroNCAP, a 3 out of 5 stars in “Adult Occupant,” and a 2 out of 5 in “Pedestrian.” NCWR (New Car Whiplash Ratings) also gave it a “Marginal” score in their Geometric rating, and a “Poor” score in Overall. Thatcham’s New Vehicle Security Ratings (NVSR) gave it a 2 out of 5 in “Theft of car” and 1 out of 5 stars in “Theft from car.” As What Car? Put it: “the interior is plain, build quality is iffy, the turbodiesel is unrefined, and safety standards are poor.”
4 Jaguar S-Type
Jaguar is usually known for their high-performance and/or luxurious cars, and for their massive depreciating qualities. The S-Type was not really a winner in Jaguar’s lineup, however. It was an executive car that was produced between 2000 and 2008, as a resurrection of the 1963-1968 nameplate S-Type. It was charged by a 4.2-liter supercharged V8 engine, making it the fastest road production saloon car in the world in 2002, so that’s cool.
The S-Type was never Jaguar’s nicest looking model, and the interiors were pretty hideous. They had tried to imitate the classic MK2 but weren’t very successful, and the handling on the car was poor. After initial positive reception, as time went on the comments turned negative.
James May of Top Gear said, “In 15 or 20 years time we’ll look at the S-Type and we’ll think, ‘That’s really awful.'”
Jeremy Clarkson said, “I think the S-type is basically like Beaujolais nouveau—awful when it came out and then just gets steadily worse as time passes.” He also called the car “Jaguar’s weakest hour” and “the weakest Jaguar ever,” and he panned the styling. May said the car summed up everything that was wrong with Jaguar, and that the car annoyed him.
3 Hillman Imp
The Hillman Imp was an ugly, small economy car built by the Rootes Group and their successor, Chrysler Europe, from 1963 to 1976. It was the first British mass-produced car with the engine block and cylinder head cast in aluminum. It was also the first British mass-produced car to have an engine in the back, and the first to use a diaphragm spring clutch. It was a competitor to BMC’s Mini, and had some strange features and designs that never really caught on, like the folding rear bench seat, the automatic choke, and gauges for temperature, voltage, and oil pressure (good ideas, those three).
Though it was considered innovative for its time, reliability problems hampered its success and reputation. The car single-handedly caused the Rootes Group to be taken over by Chrysler Europe in 1967. The company invested too much in the Imp, which was a commercial failure and pressed Rootes with major losses, so much so that Chrysler had to take over. So even if the Imp itself isn’t the worst car (but it’s certainly not that great), the fact that it pretty much caused the demise of the entire Scottish car industry gives it enough weight to be on this list.
2 Alfa Romeo Arna
The Alfa Romeo Arna was a small family car that was produced between 1983 and 1987 by the Italian manufacturer Alfa Romeo Nissan Autoveicoli S.p.A., a company founded as a 50/50 joint partnership between Alfa Romeo and Nissan. The car had independent rear suspension and rear brakes from Nissan, and pretty much the rest of it was from Alfa Romeo.
The Arna exhibited the worst qualities from both its parent companies, with bad mechanicals and indifferent build quality from Alfa Romeo, and a questionable body, frumpy styling, and insipid handling from Nissan.
The car was voted the fifth worst car ever built by Auto Express. It looked dull and had poor handling, which was bad for a sporting brand like Alfa. Its engines and electronics weren’t strong, either. Auto Express believes that had the roles been reversed—had Alfa taken charge of the styling and handling, and Nissan provided the reliable running gear—the car could have been a hit. But as it stood, it was anything but. The Arna was not a threat to established European car makers, and the car torpedoed sales of Alfa Romeo across Europe, until the Italian government put the state-owned Alfa Romeo company up for sale, and the company was snatched up by Fiat, who promptly canned the Arna.
1 Rover CityRover
The Rover CityRover was a supermini car produced by MG Rover between 2003 and 2005. It was a rebadged version of the Indian-developed Tata Indica, which was a very popular car at the time. The CityRover had poor performance for a small car in contemporary road tests, it had poor quality, poor road handling, and was overpriced. As the car only lived for two years, after production ceased in April of 2005, the MG Rover company promptly went bankrupt.
Auto Express named the CityRover the sixth worth car of all time. They said it had few redeeming qualities, and that while the Allegro and Marina were symptomatic of the car industry in Britain during the ‘70s, the CityRover became the poster child for the demise of MG Rover in the ‘00s. The car was produced out of necessity for the company, with limited resources, and it showed. It had a poor, 1.4-liter 85 bhp engine from Peugeot, and a starting price of just under £7,000. Poor quality, modest performance, and bad handling all counted against the CityRover. MG Rover was so concerned with negative publicity, that they refused to lend a CityRover to Top Gear, but then James May went undercover and busted them.
References: AutoExpress.co.uk; CarThrottle.com; CheatSheet.com; Telegraph.co.uk