Why does one buy an SUV? What makes a consumer prefer the width and breadth of an SUV over the ease of a small car or the style of a luxury sedan? Mostly, it comes from a need to ferry a large number of passengers at one time, if the owner has a large family. Or buyers have the passion for off-roading because there is no other way to get through non-negotiable roads than in a 4X4.
Still, for others, it could be about status, passion, or simply a hankering for size. The one thing that an SUV needs to be, though, is reliable. It has to handle roads the way it promises. It has to have an engine that delivers when in need. It has to have a drivetrain powerful and sturdy enough to carry heavy loads at a reasonable speed.
SUVs are not supposed to leave their owners in a lurch. They are like the elephants of the jungle, stalwart beasts of burden that do their jobs and do them well. So reliability and efficiency are the twin spotlights that a successful SUV needs to shine in. But not all SUVs are built that sturdy or last that long. Some are the result of haphazard rebadging, still others have not undergone the needed quality control procedures. And others come too early or too late for their time. Keeping the consumer in mind, here are 25 SUVs that were floored in the last twenty years and may not last their owners another half decade.
The Freelander comes from the reputable house of Land Rover. Land Rover is, undoubtedly, the most trusted of the UK's automobile brands on the planet Earth. The compact SUV segment was in its heydays in the late 90s and the early 2000s and the Freelander was born in 1997. Everything went well initially but soon the Freelander magic started fading away from the SUV bazaar, especially since repair costs needed an arm and a leg. Pushing its two-door convertible variant in the market didn’t save the compact SUV from its eventual end.
The Nissan Armada is a full-size SUV that came into the market in 2004. This was the time when many full-size SUV names were becoming popular as family haulers. The Armada was Nissan’s answer to these buyers. It was a mammoth SUV that could house seven people easily. However, it's brick-like look led to an eventual downfall. While the second-generation Armada that was launched in 2016 is offered with considerable improvements, the first-generation was like a huge piece of solid rock moving on the roads, cumbersome and laborious.
The Suzuki XL7 was armed with 3.6-liter GM High Feature V6 powerhouse that could thump out 255 horsepower and 243 ft-lb worth of torque. Those are good enough figures for this three-row family hauler. Plus, the XL was offered with top-of-the-line features like a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, a remote starter, a navigation system, and a power sunroof. However, it still failed to make a mark in the SUV bazaar. According to Car and Driver, the quality of the XL7's interior is so sub-par, everything else becomes immaterial.
This mid-size crossover SUV was based on the Mitsubishi PS platform. It was initiated by Mitsubishi in 2003 to penetrate the US market, one of the largest and ever-growing SUV bazaars of that era. The Endeavour debuted with a Cyclone V6 engine churning out 218 horsepower and 250 ft-lb of peak torque. According to a Car and Driver, the Endeavor's snowy-road performance verged on treacherous and the SUV had worst-in-class cargo space. This SUV never really was able to woo buyers, let alone make a mark, despite its endeavors.
Volkswagen joined the SUV bandwagon at the right time with the launch of Touareg in 2002. It was their maiden attempt in the booming SUV bazaar. It was the new kid on the block and seemed well-equipped to take its rivals head-on. Dubbed as a strong contender in the luxury SUV segment, it still did not appeal to the discerning buyers and left domestic shores by the end of 2017. The main reason behind the failure was the powerful but unreliable 5.0-liter TDI V10 powerplant.
The word Borrego means big-horned sheep in Spanish. And the Kia Borrego was named after the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California, home of the bighorns. Dubbed as the largest SUV from the Kia’s stable, it made its global debut in 2009. According to Motor Trend, the ride quality of Borrego felt rough and trucky, and the Kia developed an odd groan in front and a squeak in back. Plus, one would feel the hurt on the fuel bill, too, as the engine barely managed 19 MPG.
Mitsubishi ventured into the mid-size SUV arena in 2000 with their new Montero. The biggest transition was moving on from a pickup-style body-on-frame chassis to a more modern unibody setup. It was done to achieve superior stability by lowering the center of gravity of the vehicle. However, according to Consumer Reports, the good-looking Montero proved to be extremely unstable, being the only SUV of the year to almost rollover during testing itself. 2006 was the final year for Montero in the foremost US SUV bazaar.
The nice-looking Buick Rendezvous was launched in 2002 and is ranked below the ill-famed Pontiac Aztek by many auto writers, journalist, and critics. The Rendezvous was based on the same platform as the Aztek and was Buick’s maiden foray into the world of SUVs. It was a success in its initial years despite being compared to the bland and uninteresting Aztek. However, the last model of this compact crossover SUV rolled out in 2007 to join the long list of unsuccessful auto brands, with the engine being an unreliable one for most of the models.
In spite of its mammoth demeanor, this heavy-duty extended-length SUV failed to woo many buyers. The maximum it could achieve was a six-year lifespan (or become a basis for stretched limousines). Many buyers bought it for its intimidating road presence as they could easily decimate roads when they were behind the wheel. However, this mountain-like truck-based SUV was armed with horribly unreliable 6.0-liter Power Stroke diesel powerplant. The engine was capable of coughing up a massive 330 horsepower and 560 ft-lb of torque, but what good is power without reliability?
Unlike its name, the Nitro was one of the weakest offerings from Dodge. According to TheTruthAboutCars, “Low-grade brittle plastic adorns every button while a mishmash of textures suffuses interior surfaces. The Nitro’s interior says 'rental car' almost as clearly as the exterior of the Ford Taurus.” The Nitro was also berated for its clumsy on-road manners, sluggish and sleepy steering, and was mercilessly flayed by many a reviewer. Despite its flashy global debut in 2007, the Nitro was soon discontinued soon enough in 2012.
The Saab 9-7X was born in 2005 under the aegis of Chevrolet. In fact, it is the only model of the Swedish auto giant that was built on home soil. Dubbed as a rebadged and re-skinned Trailblazer in the auto world, the Saab 9-7X was shoved away by the eagle-eyed buyers exactly the same way as the Trailblazer went down. The short-lived SUV, in reality, was a knockoff of a knockoff, a regrettable and rather forgettable SUV. In 2009, the 9-7X was discontinued due to poor sales.
While its sibling, the Lincoln Navigator, has been an astonishing success for the US’s once-great house of automotive luxury, the Lincoln Aviator never really tasted success. The Aviator’s interior space was a bit of a squeeze, despite the car being roughly the same size as the Navigator. According to Car and Driver, the Aviator has a tight, cocoon-like driving compartment that is rather uncomfortable for the driver. After a short spell of three years between 2003 and 2005, the Aviator is gearing up for a second-generation improved model in 2020. It will be a 450-horsepower 600 ft-lb EcoBoost V6 powerplant.
Why would Chrysler name its top-of-the-line SUV the Aspen? It was, perhaps, more suited for an upmarket luxury sedan. The Aspen was based on the Dodge Durango and was a luxury offering from Chrysler. However, Chrysler's effort at going after the premium SUV crown was pretty shoddy as they got the basic elements in the car wrong. The interiors of the SUV and overall driving experience were a low-down for the buyers. Even Chrysler realized that and shut down Aspen’s production within two years of its ambitious launch.
Another SUV nameplate that was, and is, very much forgettable is the Isuzu Axiom. This futuristic-looking Axiom came alive in 2001 and was even featured in the first Spy Kids flick as Antonia Banderas’ personal ride. However, it was discontinued in just three years with only 23,000 units sold over the course of its production run. The Axiom was, in fact, Isuzu’s answer to Toyota’s Highlander. It's just that the Highlander was never a question and the Axiom could not put a dent in its sales, period.
If there was ever a car that made even the ungainly Pontiac Aztek look okay, it was the GMC Envoy. It didn’t copy the Aztec’s “car-on-car” kind of look, but it, too, had a visual weirdness about it. A very long wheelbase mounted on rather small tires gave this car a dwarfed look. The rear end looked gassy because it housed the retractable roof mechanism. This added some 200 pounds to the already heavy car and driving it was closer to a tractor than any other SUV.
If you took a Chevy Trailblazer, rebadged it as an Isuzu, and simply changed the front grille, you made the Isuzu Ascender. And if you actually did get the Isuzu, well, you got the short straw. Frankly, Isuzu itself had a troublesome run in the domestic market and even the Axiom and the VehiCross did not make an impact. It wasn’t as if the SUVs were troublesome, they were boring and rebadged. The Ascender especially seemed to be a half-hearted rebadging of the Trailblazer, and so was booted out by the consumers.
The Dodge Journey’s journey wasn’t all that long, or even interesting, for that matter. This crossover had poor ride quality, to begin with, and was, overall, a lackluster SUV. According to Motor Trend, even the smallest of potholes and bumps unsettled the driver and passengers for the rear suspension did not just shudder, it jarred, even on roads that looked smooth. The V6 engine was poorly tuned and even the Honda Pilot was faster than the Dodge Journey with a similar V6 engine.
Frankly, what brought the Hummer down was probably the same thing that brought it into the notice of general populace in the first place: it's ginormous proportions! In the beginning, the Hummer wasn’t attainable and so it became the moon that all civilians cried for. Once they got the moon (or rather, the civilian version of it), they realized it was just a poor copy of the far more capable military vehicle. According to Jalopnik, it was a poor copy of the H1. Basically, it drove as refined as a sack of potatoes.
According to Car And Driver, the Jeep Commander handled rather vaguely and the third-row seats were the most poorly designed to date. The trunk space was almost next to nothing, considering it was too small for a car this size. The Jeep Commander did come with a few good points and those lay in the way it looked and the cabin construction. The leather interiors looked upscale, as well, but none of these qualities were enough to save it from eventual extinction.
GM struggled through the early 2000s and this was the time it made it through mostly on rebadging. Enter the Cadillac SRX, which was a modern crossover for those times and looked far better than the Aztek or the Rendezvous. On paper, the V8 engine sounded good and capable. However, it mostly blew out its head gaskets before long. One could take the V6, but with 225 horsepower, it toiled to move the 4,000-pound beast it was fitted into. And the interiors were a fake-wood and cheap plastic disaster.
The JDM craze survives on two things: sheer reliability and of course, the memories of the late Paul Walker. But not every car out of Japan's stable can be called reliable. Some are downright problems, much like the Nissan Pathfinder. The chassis and the engine were robust and unquestionable but the build quality was a sore point with consumers. According to Consumer Reports, chipping paint as well as faulty fuel and emission sensors were common complaints. Of course, the front airbags did not help and neither did the sluggish steering.
While Jeep has had a long history of making the good stuff, it has made the goofy stuff in plenty, as well. The Jeep Liberty was supposed to be a replacement for the Cherokee XJ and these were big and robust shoes to fill. The Liberty failed bitterly, though, even if it was a strong off-roader. However, it was dubbed noisy, lethargic, thirsty, clumsy, jittery, and basically, was a car with absolutely no road manners. The near-mythical status of the Cherokee XJ destroyed the rest of Liberty’s standing in the car bazaar.
After we covered why the rebadged Chevrolet Trailblazer, the Isuzu Ascender, did not work, let’s talk about the original. The build quality problems were aplenty; faulty windshield wipers, a problematic automatic transmission, defective airbags, and electric issues that could even burn down the car were major hurdles. And despite the SS model that came with a 6.0-liter small block, the Trailblazer fell abysmally short of its rather inspiring name. The nine recalls did not help its already low rating and people soon preferred other, better builds to choose over it.
Despite all its faults and flaws, the Saturn Vue had a stellar engine. A Honda-built, 3.5-liter V6 powered this otherwise lackluster car. If you flatfooted the pedal on a straight smooth road, the Vue could lunge like few other cars of its time. However, speed alone could not save its falling reliability ratings. The transmission, a CVT, was an especially problematic one, one that resulted in a class-action lawsuit being filed against an already floundering GM. Had the Vue survived, it may have done well, but that’s whimsical talk.
The Cadillac Escalade EXT was floored in the car bazaar alongside its twin, the Chevrolet Avalanche. And they both perished almost around the same time in 2013. According to Autoblog, for 2013, the EXT was ranked tenth among the worst-selling vehicles in the domestic markets. This bizarre truck-like EXT was labeled as a sports utility truck and was, in fact, more expensive than the standard Escalade despite being sans two seats. Back in 2013, it was considered an impractical vehicle that looked neither like an SUV nor like a truck and floundered in the middle.
Sources: CarAndDriver, Motortrend, ConsumerReports, RepairPal, TheTruthAboutCars, Jalopnik, and Chicago Tribune