I spend a lot of my time here at Hot Cars tearing down a lot of different automakers for putting inferior products out there. And why not? Buying a new car (or even a good certified used one) isn't something to be taken lightly. The damn things are expensive, and you’re not only sinking your savings and monthly paycheck into them; you're also literally putting your life in the hands of those who made the vehicle. It’s not like buying a pair of roller blades and scraping your knees when you wipeout; it’s more like knowing you could end up in debt up to your ears if the thing is a lemon or worse, be in a fiery crash you never saw coming. So yeah, if a car should be avoided or junked, I’m gonna try to let you know.
But there’s always room for some fun as well—am I right or am I right? There are plenty of truly awful cars out there that you’re never gonna buy or hopefully even ride in. Some of the worst offenders come out of the big makers in Asia. Yeah, I know Japan has been pushing quality cars to North America and Western Europe for decades and that Korean companies like Hyundai and Kia have been putting out some fantastic models for quite a while now, too. But there are still plenty of pretenders from the Oriental world (we’re the Occidental world in the West, just in case you care). Let’s have some fun with some of these truly horrible cars and dive deep into the 19 worst Asian cars that will surely fall apart and crumble on you if you ever try to drive them.
I know, I know... I’ve made fun of this guy before. But it’s just so damn easy to do. Suzuki has had some hardcore misses in their years of car manufacturing, but the X-90 might be one of their absolute worst. First of all, it was way too small to be what it was supposed to be. But wait—what was it supposed to be? It was advertised as an SUV, but it looked like a toy Barbie-mobile. Having a cute little T-Top will do that to a car. Then, it had only two doors. SUVs, especially back in the ‘90s, were supposed to be big and tough—the only two-door SUV I would ever want to see from that era would be a Jeep Wrangler, not a powder-puff blue X-90. Finally, take a close look at this car. Can you tell which end is the front and which end is the back? Yeah, neither could I for a little bit. What a strange thing, right? The whole X-90 concept just didn’t click with anybody, and this model disappeared pretty fast.
I like Hyundai; I really do. My lady used to have a sporty little Elantra with all the bells and whistles—until she totaled it in an accident where neither car was going over 20 mph, so on second thought, maybe I shouldn’t like Hyundais… Nah, they’re still cool. Just don’t hit anything larger than a squirrel with one. And no, I’m not advocating running down squirrels in your Elantra, so you can all stop writing your letters to the editor tattling on me. But I digress.
Hyundai has made some serious missteps in their time as well, and the early 2000s Tiburon was one of them.
The late ‘90s Tiburon and the mid-2000s Tiburon were great, but those in between those years weren't quite up to par. Maybe it was the cheap body that featured panels that basically seemed to be stuck to the car with super glue. Or maybe it was the really off-putting lines of the car, which included side “creases” that I believe Hyundai thought would be cool and sexy but were really just distracting—not that the headlamps with the raised eyebrows and bucktooth grille below are anything anyone ever needs to see on a car again. They aren't, in case you were wondering.
This is the car that almost took down Consumer Reports. Here’s the deal—the Samurai was such a bad car with so many safety issues that the Consumer Reports testers got a little ambitious and reported that it was even worse than it really was. This is called falsifying information, folks, and nobody should do it, especially Consumer Reports. It kind of ruins the whole idea of the magazine in the first place. But—and this is a big but—the Samurai really was a terrible car. They didn’t need to embellish anything because this thing would roll over if you blew on it. It also had some truly terrible build quality. As in, maybe it wouldn’t actually rollover if you blew on it; maybe it would just disintegrate into dust. It was a horrifically awful car that, thankfully, has disappeared into legend.
So, we’ve been talking about a whole bunch of bad Asian cars here, and somehow, Mazda has managed to avoid making it onto our list—until now. The 626 was probably the worst car Mazda ever made. Not because of its looks, which were pretty innocuous. Not because of its ride and handling—those were both decent enough. For all of you gearheads out there who like to talk about a car's appointments, the interior was even pretty nice. But wait—there was one tiny little problem. I
t’s called the transmission, and the 626 was a world-beater when it came to bad transmissions.
I don’t even know where to start. Maybe I should start with the random downshifting. Or the awful response time for the upshifting (no one wants to hear your RPMs screaming when your car can’t shift between second and third). How about the clunking and flashing warning signs that would go on interminably? How about the motor mounts that kept shearing off. Yeah, this neutral little car ended up being in a class all by itself.
And here’s yet another crappy Chinese fake car. You have to give credit where credit is due, I suppose, because in a country where multiple companies produce fake Prada and Dolce & Gabbana consumer goods, why not make imitation high-end luxury vehicles as well? The Chinese have brass you-know-whats, if not a whole lot of ethics laws…
Anyway, the BYD S8 is a poorly built, about-to-collapse clone of the Mercedes-Benz CLK.
That’s right—BYD, one of the largest car manufacturers in a country of well over a billion people, just went ahead and built their knockoff Mercedes convertible, and no one cared. In fact, they've been doing it for almost 10 years now, and no one in China has ever said to themselves, “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t steal other companies' products and slap our own label on them." Then again, "BYD" supposedly stands for “Build Your Dreams,” so I guess if your dreams include stealing someone else’s ideas, it’s all good.
Let’s do one last cheap Chinese knockoff, why not? It’s a fun exercise in the fine art of cheating. I’m pretty sure if you think about it for, oh... half a second, you can guess which European automaker “Land Wind” is ripping off…
That’s right, Land Rover Range Rover has the dubious distinction of having their Evoque model absolutely copied from top to bottom by the X7.
In fact, Land Wind was actually the first Chinese carmaker to bring their own mode, the infamous X6l, to Europe. That’s a pretty cool accomplishment when you consider how far behind the Chinese auto industry is to all of the famous European carmakers, but completely mocking up a Land Rover model for their domestic market is a little bit much, perhaps. It goes without saying that the X7 doesn’t have quite the same quality and safety control as its progenitor, the Evoque.
Yeah, I’m getting a little too specific with this one, aren’t I? Most of our entries have been about the entire model of a car, not just one particular year. And don’t get me wrong—Honda has proven again and again that the Accord is a solid car. Very solid. But it wasn’t way back in 1976 when Japanese maker Honda was trying to get in big in the American market. This car didn’t help them too much, though. The ’76 Accord was basically just a rust bucket extraordinaire. The thing was just brutal; as another reviewer put it, “Maybe Honda didn’t think galvanized metal was necessary.” In any case, that early Accord also only had two speeds. That's definitely not a good look for driving on an American interstate or even state highway. Fortunately, Honda worked out the kinks on this model and got themselves some higher-quality steel.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Paseo, an Asian car, offers its owners death by a thousand cuts, an idea that originated in ancient Chinese and Vietnamese torture chambers. It truly was a torture to drive a Paseo, but there was never anything huge that killed one’s hopes for the car. Instead, it was an eternal (and infernal) combination of little things that did it. How about door handles that came off? How about gear knobs that came off? How about electrical systems that wouldn’t turn on, or wouldn’t turn off, or simply decided themselves when they would do so? How about leaky radiators? Or leaky oil reservoirs? The Paseo would just eat you up with all of its tiny little problems, and then, just when you thought you had the thing fixed up and figured out, it would go ahead and just die on you. What a great car, let me tell you.
Nowadays, Subaru is a highly respected automaker that's enjoying record sales in the US market. The Consumer Reports reliability ratings consistently rank them right near the top of all makers for safety, drivability, and pretty much every other category. But there was once a time when Subaru tried to pawn off a truly horrible car on an unsuspecting American public. Way back in the 1960s, Subaru brought the 360 here. It was supposed to be a “Rally” car but was mostly a crumbling deathtrap.
If you think the original Volkswagen Beetle (another “Rally” model) is a small car, get this—the Subaru 360 was less than 10 feet long and weighed about 900 pounds.
Yes, you read that correctly. It was nowhere close to meeting US automotive safety standards, and Consumer Reports labeled it “the most unsafe car in America.” That’s a very far cry from the Subaru we all know and love today.
First of all, the name of this Korean carmaker just freaks me out. “Ssangyong” sounds like a secret Slytherin password or something—it doesn't inspire confidence. Come to think of it, “Rodius” isn’t much better. It’s like somebody meant to call it a “radius” as a funny reference to its cornering abilities, and the memo was misspelled. "Rodius" sounds like the name of one of Godzilla’s enemies.
Anyway, the real problem with this cheapo vehicle is that it's just so darn boxy.
“Boxy” vehicles are one of my pet peeves, as those of you who've followed my work know. Why on Earth a carmaker would ever spend so little time on design and come out with what looks like a cardboard box spray-painted red or silver is beyond me. Make a car with some lines, people!
In case you weren’t aware, which I’m sure you were because who doesn’t keep up on all things Chinese, the people of that country are notorious for their knockoffs. A lot of this stems from the fact that for decades, the average Chinese consumer couldn’t afford real Western products, not that they could even get their hands on them anyway, but that’s another story. So, domestic Chinese companies made their own “Gucci” handbags, their own “Rolexes,” and, of course, their own knockoff cars. We’re going to be blessed with the presence of more than one of these cars in the following entries, but our first suspect is the Lifan 330, an absolute picture-perfect copy of the Mini Cooper. The problem is, the Lifan is “picture” perfect but not even close in reality. Hey, it’s a cheap fake being sold to people who've never seen the real thing in person—quality control is perhaps not the company’s number one priority.
We all remember Daewoo, right everybody? Yes? Maybe? No??? OK, that’s alright. You don’t really want to. The company last produced a car in 1999 and, in 2001, sold all of its remaining assets to GMC, which I’m sure did a much better job with whatever was left. Daewoo cars were bad, bad, bad—built to crumble on a moment’s notice and unsafe to boot.
The Nexia was actually built on a Vauxhall Astra frame, which should've given it a leg up but didn’t.
It was widely (OK, universally) panned for its awful build quality. In fact, the guy who wrote the book The Worst Cars Ever Sold was quoted as saying, "It was really awful. Even when it came out, it was two generations behind the current Astra, which was never aspirational. The Nexia was one of the worst Daewoos, although the Leganza, Espero, and Nubira all ran it close for utter mediocrity." So yeah, if you don’t believe me, take it from him—Daewoos suck.
Although they've had a few isolated issues with some testers being, shall we say, a little bit less than honest (see Suzuki v. Consumer Reports for that particular mess) Consumer Reports magazine has been the gold standard for impartial product testing for almost 100 years. Their new car buying guide is the industry bible for objective reviews of every model that comes out every year. It can make or break a car’s reputation. In the case of the Mitsubishi Montero, first released in 2000 to cash in on the burgeoning SUV market, Consumer Reports broke it. But that’s OK, as the Montero was going to break down and break you if you drove it. Consumer Reports found that not only did the SUV have shoddy construction, but it also had a tendency to roll over at any speed higher than 37 mph. That's so not good it’s not even funny. Mitsubishi scrapped sales of the car (you do see what I did there, right?) in the US in 2006 after seriously poor sales numbers.
Well, here it is—another one of my pet peeves in the auto world—the ridiculous car name. Here’s a pro tip, auto manufacturers: when you name a car model, maybe don’t have the eight-year-old son of the chief engineer be in charge of the christening ceremony. What the hell is an “Actyon?” Are we really trying to get a play on the word “action” going here, Ssangyong? If so, you've failed miserably. Go back to the drawing board and come up with a more suitable name. On the other hand, looking at this car kind of makes me want to projectile vomit, so maybe what Ssangyong was implying was the action someone would take after seeing it. The Actyon is supposedly rather poorly made, but really, who cares? It’s the look of the thing that’s so brutal. It’s like someone put an upside-down fishbowl on jacked up wheels and shook it as hard as they could.
There's a certain class of car that you’ll only find in Japan. That’s the much loved “Kei-car” class, which basically means any tiny car that's less than 12 feet long and 5 feet wide, pushes 64 horsepower or less, and seats four people maximum. The Kei-car came out of the ashes of postwar Japan when people needed a cheap family car in a struggling economy. It’s sort of an institution in Japan but perhaps not a good one. You see, four people in a car that size is really pushing it, especially since there's basically zero trunk space (the Suzuki Alto Kei-car has less than five cubic feet of storage space). Then you’ve got to factor in how responsive a car with 64 horses is gonna be hauling around four people. The answer, not surprisingly, is not very well. In fact, Keis are notorious for their inability to get up to any kind of speed. Also, with such a light body (i.e. cheap) and small footprint, the damn things like to roll over at any moment, even when standing still if the wind is blowing hard enough. So please, don’t say OK to Keis.
OK, so if you thought the Montero was bad (and it was; it really was) you’re going to love our next offering. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the mighty Proton Saga… (*crickets*). Anyone who actually clapped for that intro needs to put down their phone now and walk away from this article.
Proton is a Malaysian carmaker that you've probably never heard of before and hopefully never will again.
I don’t want to be nasty to them as they actually make some fairly decent models (for the Asian market, though, you won’t find them here), but the Saga is most decidedly not one of them. First of all, just look at the thing—it looks like it’s gonna crumble into rusty dust at the drop of a hat. Second of all, Proton took the platform of the Mitsubishi Lancer and put their own car on top of it. Umm, the Lancer wasn’t really much, to begin with, so maybe that wasn’t the best thing Proton could've done.
If you thought the Ssangyong Rodius (plural Rodii???) and Actyons were bad cars well have I got news for you. They are! But, so are quite a few other offerings by this crazy South Korean carmaker, including this little (well, giant) number, the ever-boxy Korando. What irks me the most about this SUV—and there's a lot about it that irks me—is that the hood space is insane. How much hood do you need? I mean, I suppose if the Korando were packing a road-eating V8, I could understand the incredibly elongated hood, but it doesn't have anything remotely like that under that hood. Then—and I can only assume this is because that damn hood is so huge—they took the cabin and the rear end and made them a straight-up, sheared-off box. I hate boxy cars. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. Why did Ssangyong create such a monstrosity? Who allowed it? These are the questions that keep me up nights.
There was a time when producing a cheap, sub-compact, "Economy” car was all the rage and nobody cared if a few corners in appointments, safety, and performance were cut. That time was called "the 1980s," and the Japanese automakers made a killing doing exactly that. But now is not the ‘80s. We're well into the 21st century, and no self-respecting automaker should be producing “bargain basement” economy cars that'll collapse if you look at them funny.
Unfortunately, Japanese maker Mitsubishi makes our list for the second time because the Mirage is exactly what its name says it is—it’s so bad, it can’t be real; it has to be a mirage.
Look, a cheapo three-cylinder vehicle isn't what should be foisted upon the car-buying public. And guess what? Car & Driver, Road & Track, and Consumer Reports (who place this car on their annual “Worst Of” list every year) all agree. The Mirage sucks.
Here it is—perhaps the worst Asian car you can find being sold on the US market. No, it’s probably not quite as bad as some of our Chinese and Korean entrants on this list, but wow... it sure is pretty bad for an import car. In fact, the Scion iQ is so bad, I’m not even that upset by the overly cutesy name, and that’s saying something, let me tell you. Consumer Reports refuses to recommend this car under any condition. In fact, the car scored only a 29 on their road-test score (for comparison, the “best” of their 10 worst Japanese cars, the Mitsubishi Outlander, scored a 57). Some of the problems plaguing the Paseo include, but aren't limited to, uncomfortable ride, too much noise, bad acceleration, bad steering, bad radio controls, bad blind spots, a tiny rear seat, etc., etc., etc. So, sorry, Paseo, but you are passé.