Do you ever wonder how a car becomes popular? One reason could be that it breaks some world record. If the rest is good—the exterior, the interior, the handling, the drive, etc.—then that car becomes a popular car; however, should there be a fault somewhere, the car becomes unpopular over time and, if it has grave faults, immediately.
It would've been easy to fill this list with all the base models. A car enthusiast could argue that the base models of all cars are terrible. In other words, it sacrifices too much just to appeal to all. Yeah, that could be an argument, but I think that’s stretching it. I would reason out, instead, that such a thinking entails looking from a car enthusiast’s perspective of the need to have everything with a touch of uniqueness and not a commoner who’d just like something strongly reliable.
For instance, take Toyota Camry or Honda Accord. It’d be rather difficult to say these cars suck. What’s the reasoning? Likely nothing, as not much is wrong with those cars currently. Sure, they don’t have anything extremely exciting going for them, but they're a good, standard car. Some might not like this or that feature about the car, but the car is, nonetheless, a good car, as considered by the majority.
The cars presented in this article were terrible in some large respect, all the while selling well.
20 2017 Fiat 500L
Look, I get it. These cars have their purpose. When the traffic is so bad such that bicycling becomes a better option, a car seems like a chore. That’s why some automakers decided to make something like the Fiat 500L, and Europe seems to be having a decent blast, as 63K units were sold in 2017. I can’t be negative about the shape of these cars also. The small exterior is the exact reason why these cars are made—to save space. So it’s not much that auto manufacturers can do in terms of making it look attractive—despite the fact that “L” was supposed to mean a larger version of the Fiat, meaning some room for creativity. What’s puzzling is the poor safety and fuel economy. They can be made top-notch for sure, but haven’t.
19 2006 Hummer H2
When Doug DeMuro did a review of the Hummer H2, he called it the most “embarrassing vehicle a human could drive on the road.” Maybe he was right. The problem with the H2 was that it looked like a Hummer, but didn’t perform like a Hummer.
It’s like a car that looks like a Lambo but drives like a Camry—pretty shocking.
To give you an example, the H1 had a central tire inflation system that allowed the H1 to deflate the tires, depending on the road condition. Well, it had a cover over the mechanical aspect of that system for protection on the tires. H2 also has the cover. But it doesn’t’ have the on-spot deflation ability. Nonetheless, there were 71K units of the H2 sold in 2006.
18 2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
These cars were pretty famous, although not too famous like some of the others you’ll see on the list below. Production of these bad boys ran from 1970-1988 and then from 1995-2007. I wanted to talk more specifically about the sixth generation of this lineup, meaning model years 1999-2005. These cars were not ill-looking before the sixth generation, but I don’t know what happened in 2000, as the design became totally unappealing. More importantly, the car’s powertrain was weak, making the car a little heavy to drive. The only reasons these cars were made was to get Chevy connected with NASCAR. Besides that, it was a car that was terrible. While Chevy discontinued the model after 2007, the sixth generation still sold about 380K cars. (The sixth generation was “refreshed” in 2006, so those numbers aren't included here.)
17 1981 Oldsmobile Diesel Engine
I think this was a decent idea from Oldsmobile, but it turned out to be a fiasco just a few years later. Oldsmobile had been doing pretty well and did even better by making some of its lineups available in only diesel. At one point, they controlled 60% of the US diesel passenger cars, and with a peak in sales of the diesel Oldsmobile as a whole in 1918—310K units—things were going smoothly. But suddenly, the news of diesel being contaminated emerged, along with the news that the car was unreliable.
Just because people started finding out about these bad things after 1981 doesn’t mean that the previous diesel cars weren't having issues—they were being made of the same diesel and element; it's just that people didn’t notice earlier because of the craze.
16 1996-2000 Chrysler Breeze
Cars like the Breeze weren’t doing too hot in the market but were doing good enough to be placed on this list. I think Motor Trend has a lot to do with how a car is perceived, as those cars that win its yearly award gain traction.
The Breeze was known as one of the “Cloud Cars,” so-called because of the reference to meteorology.
It wasn’t alone, as there were a few variants in that category—maybe the words “cirrus” and “stratus” will refresh your memory. The Breeze was the most popular amongst the three, selling over 230K units over four years of its production run. There was nothing to these cars though—they were your cheap cars that looked the part inside and outside, so that’s why they’re included here.
15 2010 Toyota Prius
Someone said that the Prius looks like a fish—a big fat fish. While I can’t quite imagine what he was thinking of when he said that—and I don’t doubt him at all, considering the diversity of the ocean—I do think the Toyota could do a lot to improve the exterior. I get that it’s a compact car meant to save on fuel and keep the efficiency going. And I think that over time, it tried to improve but never reached the threshold level of a liberal car enthusiast. The interior is just cheap and plastic-like, and the cabin looks shady at best. If you look out the rear-view mirror, it’s difficult to look at the rear traffic because of how the rear is structured; the spoiler cuts right through the already-limited view. Despite all these, it still sold well, nearing 141K units in 2010.
14 1970 AMC Gremlin
This car dominated the market from 1970-1978. I mean dominated. Every high schooler would aspire to have this car, as it attained a classic status. In fact, the ‘70s was the decade of the “pet rocks, shag carpets, platform shoes, and the AMC Gremlin.” With that kind of sentiment, it’s not too difficult to imagine that it was a teenager’s first car and filled up the parking lots of schools.
Throughout its eight years of production, an astounding 671K units were sold. That’s a decently high number.
However, when you look back at it, you realize the car not only looked disproportionate with its curvy yet sharp back but also drove like that. Over time, opinions solidified, and the conclusion was that the car didn’t drive well.
13 1974 Ford Pinto
I guess 1974 was the year that was going to see some challenges in the car industry. In production from 1971-1980, it did very well in terms of sales, with 544K units being sold in 1974—I guess the European engine was highly praised in this car. That’s pretty good for a car that had several things wrong with it even at that time and then after production. So, what was wrong with it? The suspension was poor and the drum brakes were outright called deficient—not bad or poor but deficient. The car was a risky business, though—and not in the sense that driving on the road is always risky. Apparently, Ford had designed and placed the fuel tank in such a position so as to increase its risk of bursting into flames in the event of a fire. That’s what you were driving.
12 1971-77 Chevy Vega
This car was a beast in terms of sales. During the seven years that it was produced, the car sold a whopping two million units. Its popularity was astounding. It was available in hatchback, notchback, wagon, and even panel-delivery body styles had various engine and transmission options. It also won the 1971 Motor Trend Car of the Year award and, more importantly, won the heart of Americans. It looks like a good car but actually didn’t have much in it. Just after a few years, the bad qualities began surfacing.
There were issues with engineering, reliability, safety, exterior quality, and engine prowess.
Unfortunately, Ralph Nader sent a letter to the car maker due to safety issues. Fault-finding didn’t stop with production; people had long lists of complaints even after.
11 1999 VW New Beetle
With the goal of wanting to look like the original Beetle, VW designed the exterior of the New Beetle after the original Beetle. With the engine located in the front, it was driven by the front wheels; the cargo was in the rear. If you looked at the original Beetle, you realize such cars broke several records for novelty. Although the New Beetle hasn’t achieved that status, it was still a popular car at inception; 83K units were sold in 1999, and on top of that, it won Motor Trend's Import Car of the Year award that year. But boy, did people have trouble with this car. Some of these cars were being manufactured in Mexico, so not surprisingly, the design and the quality control weren't up to expectations.
10 1982-1987 Renault Alliance
These cars were procured under a very tense situation. The late ‘70s was a very tough time for US auto manufacturers. First, there was the oil crisis in 1973 and then the energy crisis in 1979. And then, there was the competition from the Asian imports. So, American car manufacturers were under water. AMC was denied loans by the US department for another lineup, so it turned to the European nations, and the French-based car manufacturer, Renault, agreed to sell its Alliance lineup in the US under AMC. The car won many awards and titles. There was a commenter working in the legal field at that time who shares his experience thoroughly on Jalopnik, but I think it’s sufficient to say here that the car was the definition of the lemon law.
9 Any Model Year Of The Chevrolet Malibu
The Malibu has been in production from 1964 until now, with nearly a 20-year gap in between, starting in the 1980s. The cars have been rather popular in terms of sales throughout the production run—just 2016 saw 227K units being sold. In fact, when the 2008 model year came out, a few media outlets informed other manufacturers—including Toyota—to be aware because it might “overtake” their sales. I don’t think that ever happened, although it did well.
At the end of the day, though, this car wasn’t liked by people after they moved out of the honeymoon phase. So, those produced from 1997-2003 weren’t liked by people a few years after that generation finished production and people are starting to not like the 2016 model year. I think Road and Track said the car is for Americans who hate driving yet buy only American.
8 2000 Ford Excursion
There are two ways that we need to look at the Excursion. First, these cars ruined the image of an SUV. I don’t know if Ford drew its inspiration from the Hummer, but when the Excursion came out in 1999, it was the biggest, heaviest, and longest SUV you could find on this Earth. This whole debacle continued until 2005. While sales were mostly low, for some reason, the year 2000 saw more than 50K units being sold.
This is the car that gave people the wrong idea of what an SUV should be.
It gulped gas like a thirsty camel in the Sahara—except its internal combustion was way, way faster than that of a camel. It was a terrible car. The second way of looking at this is that car manufacturers realized what an SUV was supposed to be and stayed away from anything like this.
7 2006 Nissan 350Z
This was a difficult car to include. The sales aren't necessarily that big—only nearly 25K units in 2006—to say that the car is famous. But despite the numbers, I think we can all concur that this car is popular. That has a lot to do with the enticing design of the car; young buyers will find it hard to resist. So, what makes it a terrible car? A couple of reasons.
If you drive this car, you might actually accelerate the process of developing tinnitus—that’s how loud the cabin is. There’s no respite, only damaging noise.
And then the blind spots. All sports cars have blind spots, but maybe this one was special because its blind spots were notoriously large. All that probably led to it having one of the highest death rates from a car from 2005-2008.
6 1996-2000 Ford Explorer
These cars were horrifically popular. Sales of these were in the range of the salary of a good, small, successful business owner—around 400K units. There were no significant signs of sales dwindling at all, and even if you take the little dip in 1997 to mean something, you're forced to reason that 383K units sold that year is still fairly large. “And what was the problem?” you might ask. Well, safety. There was this whole deal where the treads of the tires were separating, which caused the cars to roll over more frequently than would be expected normally. This destroyed the corporate relationship between Ford and the tire supply company, killed numbers of people, and cost the two companies a fortune. Yet, the sales blossomed like a tree in the spring.
5 1971-73 Mustang
I think this was a nightmare for fans. Imagine this. America has produced one of the most reliable, cheap, and good-looking pony cars. People are crazy about it. Car manufacturers don’t need to do anything to promote the car. With sales figures in the upper border of half a million per year, who would? You’re living the dream. All of a sudden, you lose it all, and now think, maybe it was just a dream. The car is fatter—by 800 lbs—and you’re afraid to call it a pony car anymore. The interior and the exterior looked strange, too. Despite all this, Ford still sold at least 125K units of the Mustang each year during the period of 1971-73. I guess some people still enjoyed the name Mustang, regardless of what the Mustang looked like.
4 1974 Mustang
I think this car was just caught up in the craze that the Mustang was. Things had been going well for Mustang since the first generation—well, I guess minus the last couple of years as explained in the previous entry—but just like up there, things weren’t too bad; Mustang still sold 180K-plus units in 1975 (the numbers from 1974 were higher than expected because people were trying to see what the new generation brought). In other words, the Mustang was still popular, though not anywhere near the popularity of the early first generation. So, why is this listed here? Because the second-generation Mustangs were terrible. They were smaller, based on the platform of the Ford Pinto—another despised car—and had the power of a regular car.
3 1979 Chevy Corvette
I wonder if people 50 years from now will look at our current Corvettes and think of what I think of the 1979 Corvette: “It looks good.” Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps they might not like the current Corvette. Anyways, besides the look, the car had nothing to offer.
Unlike the previous few years, the one in 1979 had engine options limited to two, and one of them was flat-out insulting at 195 HP.
The other one was a bit better at 225 horses but still seemed unable to fulfill the demands of the Corvette buyers. Surprisingly enough, the car did very well. It even led to more sales in 1979—53K units—compared to the previous year without there being anything special.
2 2001 Chrysler PT
It’s kind of unpredictable how things take a turn in the “lives” of inanimate objects. This one is bewildering to me. If you look at it now, you know why you don’t like the car. The exterior was apt for failure, and the interior wasn’t mind-boggling either. So, you begin to wonder why Motor Trend awarded the Chrysler PT its "car of the year" award. Was there something that they saw but we didn’t? Was it the novelty that they liked? Were they open to any type of novelty? Who knows, but the Chrysler PT was selling well, with 144K units finding driveways in just 2001. Sales continued at that high level, weakened by 2007, and eventually became nonexistent by 2010. You're just left wondering how such an unappealing retro-looking car made it in the first place.
1 1980 Chevrolet Citation
Available in a notchback, a hatchback, and another hatchback (different number of doors), this car stirred the soul of consumers by giving them one of the allegedly best cars of that time; over 800K units were sold in just the first year. It even won the Motor Trend Car of the Year award in 1980.
But the reality is that people suffered from the disintegration of transmissions, the poor suspension system, and the punishing brakes. This is what one of the readers of Jalopnik had to say about this car: “My grandfather bought one of those new in 1980, trading in his Dodge Aspen; the car went down-the-road crooked from new; I swear, the wheels were not square with each other.” Even if you take that to be an exaggeration, that’s pretty faulty for a car that sold 811K units within the first year of its arrival.