America has built some of the most iconic vehicles ever created. The Ford Mustang, the Dodge Charger, and the Chevy Camaro are widely known due to their timeless styling and huge engines. It also helps that such cars have starred in a lot of movies, with the car sometimes becoming more memorable than the actors. Given these cars’ popularity, it’s no surprise that automakers have been selling new retro muscle cars that closely resemble the original model. But it’s not just the styling that American companies are replicating. New models like the Corvette ZR1, the Shelby GT350 R, and the Dodge Demon are truly some of the most impressive performance machines on the road today.
However, it took quite a while for American car companies to return to their glory days. While the bland malaise-era cars from the ‘70s and the ‘80s are often considered to be some of the worst cars ever made, such vehicles were forced to conform to new, difficult regulations. However, by the ‘90s and the 2000s, these companies had no excuse for some of the junk they were pumping out. The automakers had plenty of time to overcome those regulations and had foreign competition building vastly superior vehicles in every segment. Even though there were good American cars during this time, there were a lot of duds, too. These 23 American cars are some of the worst vehicles money can buy. Avoid them at all costs.
23 Chevrolet Cavalier
In the ‘70s, a gas shortage swept the US, forcing many to trade in their large, thirsty land yachts for small, efficient cars. However, domestic automakers didn’t have much practice in building such vehicles. As a result, many of their offerings were laughably crude in comparison to what Honda and Toyota were selling at the time, and it took American companies a long time to catch up. While the Cavalier was a gigantic improvement over the older economical Chevys, that isn’t saying much.
Even though the model could compete in the ‘80s, it was a sorry excuse for a compact car by late ‘90s.
Despite this fact, the Cavalier lived on until 2005. Its design was especially lazy and outdated by then. Embarrassingly, it was offered with a three-speed automatic until 2001. Anyone who bought a Cavalier by then only had themselves to blame.
22 Chrysler PT Cruiser
In the late-‘90s, Chrysler was doing pretty well for itself. It had a series of profitable family cars, popular minivans, and a couple sports cars that were making headlines. Even if these weren’t the best cars on the market, they were in the right price range for most American consumers. After entering the new millennium, Chrysler started selling the PT Cruiser, which would turn into the brand’s most maligned model.
Shockingly, the model was popular when it was new, and many considered it to be a stylish ride.
It was even a precursor to modern crossovers, as it was tall and classified as a truck. However, it didn’t take long for people to see its flaws. And they had plenty of time to find these flaws, as the model lasted an entire decade before mercifully being pulled from the market.
21 Dodge Neon
While Chevy was continuing to build the outdated Cavalier, Dodge’s alternative was the Neon. When this model was introduced in 1995, it was an entirely new car that was sporting a unique, modern design and a cheap price tag. Even though the original model wasn’t particularly special, the second-generation Neon was even less notable. Its styling stood out less, and it had an even worse interior. Although some may have good memories of the SRT-4 model, it was the exception to the Neon’s otherwise unlikeable lineup.
Just like the Cavalier, the Neon could be had with a three-speed transmission until 2001.
Making it all worse was how unsafe the Neon was, as it was found to have one of the highest rates of driver fatalities. Unless it’s a clean SRT-4, just ignore the Neon.
20 Chevrolet Impala
For many years, the Chevy Impala was a large family sedan that was offered in an SS trim that transformed it into a spacious, practical muscle car. Slowly, these models were phased out, and the car became just another boring sedan. However, it still had a V8 spinning its rear wheels. After a while, the model was largely discontinued and effectively replaced with the Lumina, which was about as bland as a front-wheel-drive, midsize sedan could be. Possibly in an attempt to boost sales through a recognizable name, the Lumina was redesigned and renamed "Impala" for the 2000s. Unfortunately, the new name didn’t bring any familiar styling cues or driving characteristics. Similar to many other popular brand names, the Impala’s was brought back from the dead only to be slapped on something terrible. Even the SS model of this generation wasn’t anything special.
19 Oldsmobile Alero
While many may remember Pontiac and Saturn disappearing nearly a decade ago, fewer will remember Oldsmobile leaving GM’s lineup back in 2004. The brand’s history is largely built from muscle cars and land yachts, with some models being more memorable than others. However, by the ‘70s, the company was mostly just selling anonymous mid-level luxury cars that were all too similar to other GM cars. Towards the end of the brand’s existence, it managed to pump out the Aurora as its last memorable model.
The Alero was clearly following the Aurora’s styling but was on a smaller platform and was offered with some terrible powertrain options.
There was a choice of weak four-cylinder motors and the Chevy 3.4-liter V6 that’s infamous for blowing intake gaskets. And despite how it was meant to be a mid-level luxury car, there was nothing luxurious about the interior.
18 Cadillac Seville
During the ‘70s, luxury buyers had decided that they weren’t interested in buying luxury land yachts anymore but instead sportier and more luxurious Mercedes. In an attempt to retain customers, Cadillac introduced the new, smaller Seville for the 1976 model year. This Seville was a huge success, with many customers willing to spend the ridiculous asking price for this car. However, the Seville only managed to last one generation before being completely ruined. The popular sedan was replaced with the widely despised bustle-back model. Trying to win back customers again, Cadillac then redesigned the Seville to look more normal, but that resulted in the car becoming too bland. However, the final Sevilles were the worst. Besides being fairly ugly, it was powered by the Northstar V8, a horribly unreliable and overly complicated motor that’s prone to bursting head gaskets. There were better alternatives to the Seville, including other Cadillacs.
17 Chevrolet Trailblazer
When Chevrolet realized that SUVs were going to be the next big hit, it doubled down on its Blazer model, keeping that ancient truck going for more years than it should've. While it wasn’t terrible, it was far too outdated to really be competitive in the market. Its four-door model was largely replaced by the all-new Trailblazer.
Sporting a considerably larger body and three rows of seating, this SUV was far more practical for families than the old five-seater Blazers.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good family hauler, as the Trailblazer was body-on-frame, making it more difficult to drive than its car-based crossover competition while providing far less interior space. This design also made the Trailblazer heavier than its competition, resulting in poor fuel economy in comparison to more practical alternatives like the Honda Pilot and the Toyota Highlander.
16 Ford Focus
Ford has been making headlines recently with some of its performance models, such as the Shelby GT350 R, the F-150 Raptor, and the Focus RS. The Focus has had some attention from car enthusiasts recently, as the RS is one of the best hot hatchbacks on the market today, with its 350-horsepower motor and all-wheel-drive system.
While the performance Focus models are certainly popular and enticing cars, the Focus is shockingly unreliable.
In 2017, Consumer Reports listed it as one of the 10 least reliable cars of the year, with the notable problems having to do with the drive system and the transmission. Worse still, even incredible Focus RS is having some teething issues. Several RS cars have had head-gasket failures, and many believe that Ford installed a gasket designed for a different car. While a fix has been released, this is rather telling of the Focus’s quality.
15 Lincoln Continental
Lincoln has been struggling for years now. Besides the brand not being particularly fashionable anymore, much of its lineup is confusingly named and clearly based on standard Ford products. The new Continental was meant to change that, with its new look, high level of luxury, and recognizable nameplate. While that model isn’t too popular, it's really good at being a soft American luxury car. The previous Continental, however, was a terrible car. Really, it wasn’t much more than a luxury trim version of the Ford Taurus with an underwhelming V8 under the hood. It was also styled like a blander Town Car, which is impressive in its own way. Worse still, it had four-wheel air suspension that would frequently leak and would result in the car lowering itself to the pavement overnight.
14 Saturn Vue
While there are many dead car brands that car enthusiasts lament, there probably aren’t many who lost sleep over the passing of Saturn. Ironically, the brand was meant to be futuristic, with an exclusive dealership network and a unique grill-less design. Even though the company did fail, it did have at least one example of predicting the future. The Vue was basically a modern crossover that was released about 10 years before that type of car took off. And much like the crossovers of today, the Vue was terribly boring to drive. Its standard model had a four-cylinder engine hooked up to a dreadful CVT. Not only was this transmission just as lifeless as other CVTs, it also failed frequently. If you must buy one, make sure to buy a V6-powered model, as it uses a far more stout Honda powertrain.
13 Jeep Liberty
If you were to picture a Jeep that wasn’t a Wrangler, the XJ Cherokee is likely what would come to mind. It has an iconic boxy shape that's still widely recognized to this day. The XJ Cherokee remains popular due to its styling and incredible off-road capabilities. If there's one problem with it, it’s that XJ’s are difficult to find in clean condition.
For whatever reason, Jeep decided that this near-perfect SUV needed to be replaced with the mediocre Liberty.
While the Liberty was a decent car in its first iteration, the second-generation model was terrible. Its new boxy looks blended in with the rest of Jeep’s lineup and resulted in a huge weight gain. Worse still, most of its production was during the darkest years of pre-bailout Chrysler, meaning these cars aren’t as dependable as the old XJ either.
12 Chevrolet Malibu
There was once a time when the Malibu nameplate was intended to be a nice family sedan with an optional SS package that turned it into an incredible muscle car. However, as the years went on, the Malibu was slowly transformed into a small, sad family sedan with no style or performance. The worst year for the Malibu would have to be the fifth generation that spanned from 1997 to 2005.
Its styling is so forgettable, it makes an old Toyota Corolla look like a Lamborghini.
It could be powered by either a four-cylinder or a V6, but neither were particularly powerful. Really, this car was meant to fill rental-car lots, as evidenced by the fact that it continued to be produced for fleet sales two years after it was replaced for consumers. This rental-only model was laughably named the "Chevrolet Classic."
11 Chrysler Sebring
Sometimes, it’s difficult to remember that Chrysler was originally a luxury brand. While the 300 can be considered a mid-tier luxury sedan, the brand’s only other offering is the Pacifica minivan. However, both of these models are practically Mercedes S-Classes in comparison to some of their older models, particularly the Sebring. While the Sebring wasn’t a terrible car in its earliest incarnations, it wasn’t anything special either. Then, it was redesigned for the 2007 model year, where it became an ugly, poorly designed, and horribly unreliable vehicle. While its hood and its grille were meant to be stately and elegant, they were slapped onto the misshapen Sebring sedan. It could be optioned either with an underpowered four-cylinder or a V6 that had the reputation for being one of Chrysler’s worst motors. The closest thing the Sebring has to a redeemable feature was its spacious convertible option.
10 Pontiac G5
In 2005, Chevrolet released a new compact model known as the Cobalt, which was designed to replace the Cavalier. Despite having a similar shape to the Cavalier, the Cobalt rode on a brand-new platform that was considerably more refined. While it still wasn’t a particularly special car, it was a huge improvement over the model it replaced; not that that’s saying much. The real star of the Cobalt’s lineup was the SS variant that was offered with a supercharged or a turbocharged four-cylinder, depending on the year. This version was surprisingly competent, as it was quick and had a sharp chassis. The Pontiac G5 is just a rebadged Cobalt. In fact, it may be the laziest example of badge engineering, as you can still see the outline of the Cobalt’s grille. On top of that, the G5 lacked an SS equivalent, despite Pontiac being advertised as a performance brand.
9 Chevrolet Aveo
Chevrolet has a long history of building terrible budget compact cars. There was the aforementioned Cavalier, the Citation, and the Vega that started this trend. There was also the famous Geo Metro, which became a Chevy in its later years. The most recent example of the awful small Chevy is the Aveo.
Based on a Daewoo platform, this little car was only available with a few terrible four-cylinder motors, as to be expected.
If one was looking for a smooth riding, roomy, and fun-to-drive vehicle, they would have to look elsewhere. The only thing that the Aveo had in its favor was its ridiculously low price. But even then, there were better alternatives on the market. Be thankful that the new Chevy Spark and the Sonic have replaced the Aveo.
8 Dodge Caliber
The Neon was a popular car that wasn’t particularly good but at least had a few redeeming qualities, especially when configured in its SRT-4 variant. After the Neon was discontinued, Dodge needed a new cheap car to take its place. Instead of making a new compact sedan, the new Caliber was a tall hatchback that was considerably larger than the Neon. The Caliber’s styling closely followed the other cars in the Dodge lineup, just squished down to this ‘compact’ car.
Mechanically, the Caliber was powered by Chrysler’s awful corporate four-cylinder motor and a CVT.
These transmissions were terribly frail in comparison to the manuals. Worse still, the Caliber’s interior was egregiously cheap and plastic-y. Even its SRT-4 variant was a weak offering, as the Caliber was heavier and had a taller center of gravity than the Neon it replaced had.
7 Pontiac Sunfire
It’s a bit of a shame that Pontiac was dropped from GM’s lineup. It offered a number of more interesting and sportier alternatives to Chevy during its time. Unfortunately, in the later years, the brand simply sold Chevy models with only a Pontiac badge slapped on instead. Based on the Cavalier, the Sunfire was a slightly performance-oriented compact car, as it had a more aggressive and aerodynamic nose and an optional overhead cam motor that wasn’t offered in the Chevy. However, by the later years, the Sunfire’s differences from the Cavalier was limited to the new front fascia. Surprisingly, the first generation’s largest difference from the Cavalier was its convertible option. Given how simple these cars are, it probably had the structural rigidity of a wet noodle.
6 Saturn L300
If there was one thing that Saturn had over certain other companies, it was its unique, futuristic styling. Even to this day, Saturns are still easily recognizable with their grille-less front fascia and minimalist exterior. Despite these cars not being all that mechanically futuristic, the appearance worked well for the brand during the ‘90s and the 2000s. However, in Saturn’s infinite wisdom, it decided to completely redesign its L300 sedan. Its shape was rounded out, and it was given a chrome grille, which simply made it look far more generic. Where the old model could instantly be recognized as a Saturn, the new model could be mistaken for just about any other sedan in GM’s lineup. Of course, it didn’t have any interesting engine options, as it was only offered with either a weak four-cylinder or a feeble V6.
5 Dodge Avenger
Despite Dodge being a fairly ordinary company, it hasn’t had much to offer in the mid-size sedan segment. The Charger replaced the smaller Intrepid, and the lame Stratus was getting pretty old by the time it was discontinued in 2006. By that point, Dodge decided to make a new mid-sizer, which was called the "Avenger."
Unlike the Stratus, the new Avenger featured aggressive styling that fell more in line with the Charger’s looks.
However, despite this appearance, a glance at the car’s profile would be enough to tell you that the Avenger was based on the dreadful Sebring. Making it worse was the fact that the Sebring had some intention of being a luxury car, where the Dodge wasn’t. Needless to say, the interior was horrifying.
4 Cadillac Catera
In the late-‘90s, Cadillac again decided that it needed to stop building big, soft land barges and instead make cars that were able to compete with the German brands. Needless to say, Cadillac’s mostly front-wheel-drive, Northstar-powered lineup wasn’t enough to sway buyers from their BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes. As a result, Cadillac decided that they couldn’t beat the Germans on their own. The Catera was based on a rear-wheel-drive German Opel platform. However, there were many poor design choices that made the Catera yet another stain on Cadillac’s record. Under the hood was a 3.0-liter V6 that made a decent (for the time) 200 horsepower. And all of that power was smothered by a lazy four-speed automatic transmission. Worse still, the car quickly proved to be horribly unreliable.
3 Dodge Journey
It’s fair to say that American car companies have greatly improved over the years. Many of their worst cars are in the past and have been replaced with considerably better models. This is most likely due to the American public realizing how bad many of these cars were and preferring to buy vastly superior imported cars instead. However, there’s still one truly awful car from the darkest moments of Dodge still in production.
The Journey is a mid-size, three-row crossover that, frankly, has nothing to offer over its competition.
It’s based on the same platform as the awful Dodge Avenger and the Chrysler Sebring, which should be telling of the Journey’s driving experience. The real sad part of this is that the car’s sales have been growing since 2010, with 2017 being the only year that sales dropped. Some people will do anything to avoid driving a minivan.
2 Lincoln LS
If there’s one brand that hasn’t changed much with regard to popularity, it would be Lincoln. Today, luxury cars are often associated with sporty driving characteristics and tons of technology. Lincoln hasn’t really offered much in that regard, except for in the early 2000s, when it sold a model called the "LS." Based on a Jaguar platform and powered by either a Jaguar V6 or V8, this rear-wheel-drive Lincoln turned out to be a fun-to-drive car. It could even be had with a manual transmission in its early years. This was a huge departure from the rest of the brand’s lineup, and it was actually well received by the automotive community. Unfortunately, the LS got not only Jaguar’s driving characteristics but its reliability as well. It seems as if the failure of the LS scared the company away from building competent sports cars.
1 Jeep Compass
Jeep has made a lot of cars over the years, but none have been as terrible as the Compass. The model entered production during Chrysler’s horrible mismanagement in the late-2000s. It was designed to be a Jeep for road use only and was basically a Dodge Caliber with softer edges and a seven-spoke grille. It also had Chrysler’s terrible 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a dreadful CVT. While the later models were redesigned with a less offensive exterior styling and given an all-wheel-drive system to make it “trail rated,” it remained every bit as terrible as the older model. It’s so poorly designed that it’s one of the most regretted cars purchased by consumers, as discovered by Consumer Reports. Worse still, it wasn’t even the cheapest Jeep, as the mechanically identical Patriot was cheaper, as was the newer, superior Renegade. Literally, any other crossover is better than the old Compass.
Sources: IIHS, Consumer Reports, Car Complaints, FuelEconomy.gov
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