Automotive commercials on TV these days spend most of their time focusing on techie add-ons like Bluetooth connectivity, backup cameras, and brake assist systems. It seems like even pickup truck ads have left the ruggedness and reliability behind in favor of trailer hitch cameras and moonroofs.
For much of the lifespan of the automobile as we know it, the main focus has been on how the technology in cars contributes to reliability. Features like fuel injection, four-wheel drive, and automatic transmission were all introduced into model lineups to help the driver feel confident that their car would get them where they needed to go without a hitch along the way.
But while computers are slowly sapping the soul out of the driving experience, they have also contributed mightily towards the radical performance of pickup trucks, sports cars, and SUVs on the market today. After all, who doesn't want to try out the single-speed transmission of the Tesla Roadster and its claimed sub-two second 0-60 sprint?
But computers simply aren't as durable as the metal components used for most of a vehicle's construction—and manufacturers seem to be skimping on build quality in favor of technological goodies. This had led to plenty of cars, trucks, and SUVs that have earned reputations for leaving their owners stranded on a regular basis. But some car-makers have still managed to crank out products worthy of our trust on a day in, day out basis.
25 Worthless: BMW X3
BMW got into the SUV world with their lineup of X-Class models, including the X3. And yet, for all their rationality, BMW delivered an SUV with less interior space than the station wagon version of a contemporary 3-Series.
Plus, their X3 is notorious for getting stuck in inclement weather, not to mention getting stuck because BMW still, after decades of issues, has not figured out that making an entire coolant system out of constantly deteriorating plastic may not be a good idea.
24 Worthless: Land Rover Range Rover
Land Rover's Range Rover may be a fully capable SUV that's worthy of competing (okay, almost competing) with the legendary Land Rover Defender in off-road challenges. But over the years, as Jaguar Land Rover has transitioned skillfully towards a higher class of customer, the Range Rover seems to have retained, at the very least, its penchant for fussiness.
Seen above is a Range Rover with just about every piece of machinery dropped, which goes to prove the old adage that consumers would be better off just buying two, since one will always be in the shop.
23 Worthless: E46 BMW 330xi
BMW introduced an all-wheel-drive setup to their lineup for the first time with the E30-generation 3-Series. With Audi dominating the rally world, it was a no-brainer. The decision to forego AWD on the E36 is strange, but even stranger is the fact that the E46 generation received a highly questionable system that leaned heavily on computer traction control to implement micropulses of the 330xi's brakes to keep the wheels spinning at the "right" speed.
But of course, those tiny brake pulses only broke traction, and the E46 AWD system was notorious for leaving drivers stranded.
22 Worthless: Honda CR-V
Honda's CR-V barely made it into the SUV category when it was introduced in the second half of the 1990s. Now, it's a clear crossover—but that category wasn't established in those days. Regardless, it's always a bad idea to take a crossover off-roading, and despite Honda's legendary reliability, the CR-V is less than reliable when it comes to tackling terrain rougher than a gravel road.
Even a gravel road might be a tough matchup, actually, for Honda's Real Time all-wheel drive.
21 Worthless: Tesla Model S
Elon Musk may hope that his Tesla cars pave the way for the world to gradually accept the concept of electric vehicles, but the reliability of Tesla's cars certainly aren't helping the process. Foregoing the issues with autonomous driving, the Tesla Model S—despite being an attractive and wildly powerful automobile—has serious reliability issues that have resulted in plenty of owners getting stuck on the side of the road.
And that's not even taking into consideration the fact that plenty of drivers become overconfident of their Model S's range, as well as its dual-motor all-wheel-drive system.
20 Worthless: Tesla Model X
The Tesla Model X is Elon Musk's attempt to deliver a vehicle with all the qualities of an SUV but with an eco-friendly profile to rival his earlier release, the Model S sedan. But the Model X was probably rushed into development—though possibly for good reason, given how popular crossovers have become lately—and suffers from some major flaws.
Not only does it have every single issue with regards to autonomous driving, reliability, and range that the Model S does, but it also has ill-conceived falcon-wing doors that are liable to get anyone stuck on the low ceiling of a parking garage. Plus, the X is barely higher off the ground than the S.
19 Worthless: Honda Element
Everything about the Honda Element was intended to be cool, utilitarian, and basic in an effort to attract young, rational car-buyers. And yes, it's cool to be able to hose out the inside of a car or change the seating arrangement modularly.
The Element does bring Honda's proud reliability to the table. But Honda should have left the Element as a car for city families who like surfing more than skiing because the all-wheel drive of the Element is notorious for getting stuck. Come to think of it, surfers might get stuck on sandy beaches, too.
18 Worthless: BMW X5
It may sound like the X5 is a bigger SUV than the X3, which should probably be considered as something closer to a crossover. But just because the X5 is bigger, with a bigger engine, and more room doesn't make it a good idea for an off-roading adventure.
The X5 still doesn't have more interior space than a 3-Series station wagon—which is mind-boggling enough—but the model is also questionable in low-traction situations because BMW prioritized sporty city driving over real SUV ruggedness.
17 Worthless: Jeep Cherokee KL
The Jeep name has become synonymous with rugged SUVs. And early Jeeps were, in fact, rugged, utilitarian vehicles that could be depended upon for long lifespans and plenty of off-road fun. But Jeep's been trending in another direction lately, catering to a more luxury-oriented, city-dweller crowd—exactly the type who would buy a 2014 Jeep Cherokee and not even check the option box for four-wheel drive.
And then they hear a snowstorm's coming and take their front-wheel-drive Fiat product and go get themselves stuck.
16 Worthless: Mercedes-Benz M-Class
Mercedes-Benz got into the SUV market in a big way with the M-Class, but that doesn't necessarily mean the M-Class was a great SUV. In fact, the main problem was the model's big size (and heavyweight).
With bad fuel economy, engines with a dearth of power unless they were hand-built AMG units, and a rear-wheel-biased powertrain that proved dismal in low-traction environments - the M-Class proved unable to handle many tasks that buyers expected at such a high-cost.
15 Worthless: Subaru BRZ
Domestic Subaru fans may be completely flabbergasted that the BRZ doesn't come with a turbocharger and all-wheel drive, but even more surprising is the number of people who just assume things will be fine and try to take their little coupes off-roading.
But the rear-wheel-drive layout notwithstanding, the BRZ is also lacking in the reliability department and is likely to leave drivers stranded on clean, dry city streets because of a faulty valve spring design that can lead to stalling during driving—the recall to fix the issue affected over 400,000 cars.
14 Worthless: Mercedes-Benz GL-Class
Mercedes-Benz released the GL-Class in 2006 seeking to hit the larger SUV market that its M-Class wasn't quite large enough to conquer. And in proper form, Benz equipped every single GL with 4Matic all-wheel drive to ensure that this model would be just as capable as the rugged SUVs coming out of Detroit at the time.
Sadly, though, many drivers didn't realize how much their traction control affected the 4Matic system, and became overconfident in gnarly terrain, leading to plenty of GL-Classes getting stuck in what should have been minor inconvenient situations.
13 Worthless: Mitsubishi Outlander
Mitsubishi's Outlander has been around since 2001 (albeit with different names) but the entire model run has essentially proven to be a misguided attempt at SUV design and engineering. The first-gen Outlander utilized an optional four-wheel drive system with open differentials at both axles, while the second generation was based on a compact car platform developed by Mitsubishi and DaimlerChrysler.
The third generation available these days is still based on the GS platform and has prioritized electric hybrid drive system over actual SUV capability.
12 Worthless: Fiat 500X
Fiat may have unveiled the 500X with a nifty commercial featuring a hilarious case of natural male enhancement gone awry, but the 500X doesn't quite live up to the manly image the advertisement portrayed. Instead, it's a combination of Fiat-Chrysler's low build quality, a design that's left everything small about the Fiat 500 in the dust, and off-road ability that's on par with many soccer mom minivans.
But at least it sits a little higher up, making drivers in town—where the 500X belongs—able to see a bit farther through the traffic jam.
11 Worthless: Mini Cooper Countryman
Much like Fiat hit it out of the park with the resurrection of the minuscule 500, BMW did a great job bringing the Mini brand—and the Mini Cooper—back to life. The recent iterations of the Mini Cooper have been perfectly styled and adequately powered (especially in S trim), but BMW should have quit while they were ahead.
Instead, all these larger additions to the family like the Clubman and the Countryman desert the tiny awesomeness of the original without actually adding any legitimate ruggedness.
10 Worthless: Pontiac Aztek
Reviled as possibly the worst looking vehicle ever produced by man, the Pontiac Aztek doesn't just let everyone down with its peculiar looks. That exterior design was intended to convey the fact that the Aztek was pawing at the gates hoping to get into some off-road adventures.
Instead, a slushbox automatic transmission, all-wheel drive, and low ground clearance meant that just about any tiny piece of brush could thwart the Aztek's plans. Not to mention the fact that Pontiac doesn't even exist anymore, meaning that parts might be a little hard to source these days.
9 Worthless: Jaguar XJ-S
Much like their sister brand, Land Rover, Jaguars are notorious for having the reliability of a piece of toast soaking in warm milk—they're not great, especially when wet, folks. Still, a select crowd loves their Jaguars and swears they're the best drivers on the market when they do run.
But when your driving routinely means that you hope to actually get to the market without another breakdown, perhaps it's time to send that old Jag to the scrapyard where it belongs.
8 Worthless: Land Rover Discovery 5
Land Rover redesigned the Discovery for a fifth generation, right around the same time they shelved the original Defender pending a long-awaited reboot. But if the current Discovery is any indication, Defender lovers better get their hands on one of those final few examples (that are all skyrocketing in value)—and fast.
It's never a good sign when Motor Trend Canada takes your newly-released SUV, complete with "NEW DISCOVERY" stickers on the doors, and promptly gets stuck in some mud during an inaugural test drive.
7 Worthy: Jeep Wrangler
The Jeep Wrangler remains the quintessential SUV for simple off-road fun. With little in the way of creature comforts, plenty in the way of ground clearance and suspension travel, and an array of different hard-top and soft-top configurations, the Wrangler has stayed true to Jeep's roots—even in Fiat-Chrysler has slowly ruined most of the rest of the Jeep lineup.
A forthcoming Wrangler-based pickup is even in the works and hopefully, it can be relied upon just as much as every Wrangler that came before it.
6 Worthy: Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen
A few Mercedes-Benz products have earned the dubious honor of being included on the sad list above, and yet the G-Wagen has earned its stripes year in and year out. Even if the G-Wagen is increasingly catered to luxury buyers and celebrities, it still remains a mystery why Mercedes can't quite translate the G-Wagen's success onto its other SUV products.
To keep things simple, they should start by counting the locking differentials (which number three on the G-Wagen) and give each of their other models the very same number.
5 Worthy: Audi TT Mk1
The Audi TT may have taken a shellacking from the automotive press corps when it first debuted as an actual vehicle, despite being one of the most popular concept cars ever seen and having had very little changed for the production model. But these days, first-gen TTs equipped with the 1.8-liter, 225-horsepower turbo four, a buttery six-speed transmission, and Haldex-based all-wheel drive has a serious cult following.
The looks stand out in a crowd, and that little coupe can charge through the snow with the best of them.
4 Worthy: Porsche 911 Carrera 4
When it comes to sports cars that can be reliable all year round regardless of weather conditions, the Porsche 911 Carrera 4 may take the cake. The combination of rear-biased all-wheel drive and a rear-mounted engine was established as being seriously capable by the legendary Porsche 959, and today, a Carrera 4 continues that tradition without the complexity of a turbocharger, which cramps the engine bay.
A 996-gen Carrera 4 may just be the best buy on the used car market today—just be sure to research IMS bearing issues, symptoms, and preventative measures before buying.
3 Worthy: Fiat Panda
The Fiat Panda never made it to the States as a legal import in any generation, but the rest of the world considers the model to be just about the simplest, most reliable, most capable off-roading vehicle ever made. For context, compare the Panda to the Wrangler. It has zero percent luxury, a boxy exterior, plenty of ground clearance, and a series of engines ranging from the hilariously under-powered to moderately respectable.
Today, the Fiat Panda has sadly been transformed into a crossover, a mistake akin to a few of the travesties that Jeep (a Fiat subsidiary) has cranked out over the past decade.
2 Worthy: Subaru Impreza WRX STI
A history of rally success has proven that Subaru knows a thing or two about rugged reliability. And any Subie fan will tell you that, for the dollar, no car can match a Subaru Impreza—in base 2.5RS, WRX, or STI trim—when it comes to everyday driveability.
Sure, plenty of bros have chosen to slam their STI down on airbags, but even factory-spec Imprezas are ready to take on winding canyon road, a dirt track, or a snowy ski-slope parking lot any day of the week.
1 Worthy: Mitsubishi Lancer EVO
Mitsubishi may not enjoy quite the reputation that Subaru has managed to leverage from their rally success (and these days, it's a toss-up for which brand actually reigns supreme), but regardless, their Lancer Evo is one mean rough-and-ready machine.
While Subaru has toned down the rallycross harshness of even their STI, Mitsu has kept the Lancer Evo at full insanity, making it a bit rough for city driving but ideal for any kind of aggressive maneuvering over any kind of terrain.
Sources: VW Vortex, and Motor Trend Canada.