There was a time when the only SUV anyone had ever heard of was a US military jeep. OK, OK, my friends, so I’m exaggerating a little bit but not by much. Sure there were actual Jeeps, Range Rovers and Toyota Land Cruisers but that was about it. And the only people who drove those were Wyoming ranchers, South African vineyard owners and Central American death squads.
But oh, how times have changed. For over a quarter of a century SUVs have made inroads on the automobile market that have been unprecedented. Pretty much every car maker out there has their own line of SUVs, from the massive beasts Cadillac creates to the whole “subcompact SUV” market, which is a misnomer if I’ve ever heard of one. Fiat might be the only manufacturer left who don’t make one...oh wait, I see they’re pushing their 500X pretty hard nowadays. Oh well. You don’t need to be anywhere near a raging river, arctic tundra, steamy jungle or exposed ridgeline to drive these beasts either. I’m reasonably certain 90% of all SUVs sold never leave paved roads.
That doesn’t mean every SUV out there is some great shakes though. Like all automobile categories the experience can run the gamut from supreme to a total suck fest. Some SUVS should never have been made. Some have more problems than they’re worth. Some have a few problems that make them a risk to purchase even if they have a lot of other positive things going on. Here are some of the most highly anticipated SUVS of the past year that you should probably steer clear of. You do see what I did there, right?
15Alfa Romeo Stelvio
Back in the day my Dad had a classic Alfa Romeo Spider. The thing looked awesome, went like a bat out of hell, and broke down about every five minutes. It’s good to know that Alfa Romeo has kept that commitment to excellence alive all of these years later. Yes, I’m being sarcastic. A automobile company known for sports cars and flash- they are Italian, after all- probably has no business getting into the Sport utility vehicle market. I mean, it’s not like there wasn’t already a glut of choices. In fact, in Consumer Report’s (you’ve heard of them, I’m hoping) 2018 reliability rankings for car manufacturers, Alfa doesn’t even crack the top 30 brands. The Stelvio might be the worst offering from a bad brand and just because it’s a brand-new model and from a “fancy” brand doesn’t mean it’s good. Most reports have determined it will malfunction, often, since it’s based on an Alfa sedan, the Giulia, which malfunctions-often.
Volvo as a whole came in only 23rd in overall reliability rankings for 2018. That’s a steep decline for an automaker who built up a luxury brand starting in the ‘80s and has maintained a reputation for precision engineering and safety (it's always about safety with Volvo- remember, they’re boxy!). Anyway, old old Dudley Moore movie references aside, the brand has taken a hit with their XC90 SUV which is rated the least reliable vehicle Volvo makes. Nope, a slipping brand offering its worst model doesn’t sound very attractive to me either. This truly sucks, because the car looks great and has a very nice powertrain. But (there’s always a “but” in articles like this) it also has major electrical and power issues as well as a very troubling issue with its braking system. Umm Volvo, you’re supposed to be the gold standard for safety. Maybe don’t make cars with bad brakes.
OK, so if you’re rated the worst model in your class it’s time to go back to the drawing board. That’s exactly what’s happened with the Mazda CX9, the midsize SUV offering from a maker that usually scores really high. As is often the case with SUVs, the car scored really low with reliability in its electric and braking systems. It also has serious issues with “body integrity.” So do I for that matter but that’s because I never work out and eat way too many Whoppers (both the chocolates and the burgers). I’m pretty sure a car that has bad body integrity is not one I want to drive- it sounds like I would be shedding parts every time I got up over 45mph. Last place in your class isn’t really high, Mazda, it’s embarrassing. Especially when there’s a Fiat in your class! This model is pretty much the only reason the Mazda brand as a whole dropped out of the top ten in 2018 reliability testing.
12Land Rover Range Rover
Land Rover is an old school player in the SUV business and a fancy one at that. As I recently wrote, the current craze in “armored” vehicles has been totally embraced by Range Rover, who have trotted out the Sentinel model for your friendly, local tin pot dictator and his family. I guess Range Rover kind of forgot to pay any attention to their “regular” offerings because the classic Land Rover Range Rover is a brutal fail. I put the word regular in quotes back there because any car that starts around $200,000 can’t really be considered normal. It also can’t be considered an even remotely good deal when the model has averaged three recalls per year for three years straight. How do you sell people a car that keeps getting recalled year after year, let alone for $200,000??? That’s just not right fellas, not right at all. Supposedly the “Sport” model is even worse. ‘Cause who doesn’t want their SUV to break down the minute they try to do something sporty with it. Insert sarcasm there, please.
GMC is another legacy maker that has gone through its ups and downs over the years. Unfortunately this past year has been a really (like really) down year for the brand and the Acadia is the worst of their questionable offerings in 2018. The brand as a whole is ranked 26th by the Consumer Reports reliability testers and the Acadia dead last of everything GMC offers. If you’re the kind of driver who wants your rear-view camera system to work don’t buy this model. If you’re the kind of driver who wants your navigation system to, you know, not crash, don’t buy this model. If you’re the kind of driver who maybe just maybe wants your drivetrain to work don’t…well, I think you know what I was going to say. GMC got a 28 score in reliability. All you need to know about that is that Toyota got an 86. ‘Nuff said.
Lincoln is another maker who has been around forever and has always tried to corner the luxury market- well, at least they did before competitors like Lexus and Infiniti showed up about a quarter of a century ago. Oh yeah, they have a little competition from Cadillac too, don’t they? So it comes as a surprise that they would be so very bad in the SUV department. The maker dropped a few spaces and as we move along in 2018 is ranked out of the top 20 for reliability. And of course, you guessed it; the MKX is their least reliable car. The usual issues with electricals that seem to plague SUVs really messed up this model, as did an airbag recall. In fact, Consumer Reports gave the car less than a 20 for its final grade. That’s about as bad a score as a car can get.
9GMC Yukon XL
Hey look- another GMC model made the worst SUVs of 2018 list. What a shocker! In fact, the Yukon XL, a veritable mammoth of a machine, ranks dead last in the large SUV category. I don’t even know where to begin when listing this vehicle’s problems. Oh wait, yes I do; how about emergency handling??? That’s right; you’re literally taking your life into your hands when you drive this beast. I don’t know about you but I thought they got rid of those pesky rollover problems early SUVs struggled with. The Yukon XL also has power and cabin control issues and that dreaded body integrity problem. This car is so bad- and remember, this is after a redesign three years ago- it was the only big SUV to score below 20 points with Consumer Reports.
8Tesla Model X
Here’s a pro tip for all of you first time car buyers out there. Just because a brand has a “hot” name, is hip at the moment or simply sounds cool doesn’t mean the maker is selling you a good car. That’s the case with Tesla’s foray into the SUV market. Elon Musk and his gang are nothing if not ambitious (SpaceX anyone?) so it’s no surprise they’ve ventured into the fastest growing segment of the automobile market. But…the Model X is a disaster. First of all, our ever reliable reliability scores from Consumer Report put Tesla as a car maker at the 21st spot and the Model X as their absolute worst offering. I don’t know about you but I’m sensing a trend here when it comes to makers and their SUVs. Tesla’s first major problem with the Model X is that it’s an electric car that doesn’t always go. Umm, no thank you, please. It also has body integrity issues, the finish has been criticized (as in “hello rust bucket”), and let’s not even get into the falcon wing doors- we can’t anyway; they don’t work.
Fiat is actually owned by Chrysler nowadays, which has led to marked improvement in brand quality. In fact, Chrysler did pretty well in overall reliability, jumping way up into the top 20 and averaging over 40 points per vehicle. However, the Fiat 500X didn’t contribute to that rise by Fiat-Chrysler. In fact, this model probably kept the company out of the top ten. It’s a subcompact SUV so you would think it would get better mileage than some of the other cars we’re looking at here, right? Wrong. It gets terrible gas mileage. It also likes to rattle and “boom’ a lot at really high speeds, like 45mph-whoops! Add to that the fact that there are tons of complaints about “excessive cabin noise” (and not, not from the kids in the back) and it’s a wonder that the company pushed this model as hard as they did. As a consumer you should push right back with the old “Hell’s no!”
Now we come to one of the old standbys. Everyone has seen a Suburban or fifty in their neighborhood. Soccer moms love them, old guys who haul their trash to the dump love them, even your garden variety mobster probably started out with a decked-out one before graduating to his Escalade. The brand recognition for the Suburban is massive and it seems like Chevy just might be riding on those laurels. Why do I say that you ask? Because the Suburban has fallen on hard times. This car actually had the worst score of any large SUV in its class. That’s pretty damn bad for a classic. Its problems range from the navigation system and powertrain being a bit “iffy” as they say, to silly stuff like the paint and trim falling off about 10 seconds after you drive it off the showroom floor. As always Chevy stayed in the top 20 for overall reliability ratings but the Suburban sure didn’t help their cause.
Every category of car has its outliers. There was a time that nobody can remember now when the industry’s critics said Cadillac was crazy to enter the SUV market. We all know how that turned out. So it should come as no surprise that Jaguar, of all automobile manufacturers, has tried to land itself a winner in the SUV market. Unfortunately for Jaguar they haven’t hooked the proverbial big fish just quite yet. The F-Pace suffers from an idiotic name (the “F-off” would have been more appropriate) and also seems to suffer from a rush job to get it onto dealer’s floors. Issues with this car range from the normal SUV complaint of a bad drive system to really, really bad problems with the excruciatingly slow touchscreen controls that get all weird and widgety as soon as they actually come on. Oh yeah, it also has a crappy AC system. I’ll tell ya, I’m not gonna buy a luxury car like a Jaguar that can’t keep me riding in air conditioned comfort- that would just be dumb.
Here’s another luxury maker who should have stuck to sleek, killer sports cars. Everyone loves a good Porsche- when it’s about four feet high, weighs less than a ton and has more torque than a F-16 at takeoff. The Cayenne, although it has been around for a while now, has none of the aesthetic or capabilities we’ve come to expect from regular Porsches. Look, it’s not like Porsche can’t make great cars- they came in 13th overall in the Consumer Reports 2018 reliability tests, but maybe they should stay away from SUVs. I won’t even tell you which Porsche model is the company’s least reliable because you already know. The ill-fated electronics issues spring up in the Cayenne repeatedly, as do problems with interior controls; as in “Hey, how come my window won’t open???” The thing costs $60,000 base so you would think Porsche could have done better.
3Land Rover Discovery
We already flamed Land Rover and with good reason- they’re supposed to be one of the makers that started this whole SUV craze back in the day. To put it another way, they’re supposed to deliver good cars, especially at the price points we’re talking about. Unfortunately they simply don’t. The discovery, like ALL of Land Rovers 2018 offerings, got well below average scores. There are issues with the headlights, of all things (what did they do, put candles behind a glass headlamp like it was 1908?), issues with the transmission, and, the Achilles Heel for Land Rover it seems, issues with the emergency handling. Stay away from Land Rover until this once-proud SUV maker can figure out a way to make a decent comeback.
Ahh, the Escalade. The favorite of OGs, rappers, and Kardashians everywhere. When Cadillac first introduced their luxury SUV back in the day everybody ate it up. After all, who wouldn’t want a “boat” of a car, which Cadillac has always thrived on offering, which was taller than your average NBA baller. But Cadillac’s flagship vehicle has fallen on rough times the past few years. First of all, in those ever-damning Consumer Report’s reliability ratings the company came in 27th (27th! For Cadillac!!). Second of all, the Escalade was their least reliable car. Third of all, it has transmission problems- not a good look in a massive, $75,000 car. Fourth of all, it has AC issues- probably because it’s so damn big trying to keep it cool is like trying to air condition the Superdome- it can’t be done. The best thing to do with the 2018 Escalade is to stay very, very far away.
We finally come to one of the biggest shockers out there. The idea that Mercedes-Benz could ever make a bad car is pretty much anathema to most of the general car-buying public. After all, we are talking about Mercedes, not some cheap, fly-by-night maker no one has ever heard of like Buick (I’m joking Buick, calm down). But honestly, Mercedes-Benz has a reputation to maintain and they usually do a great job doing so. In fact, they are still in the top 15 in reliability ratings, where they have resided forever. But the GLC doesn’t cut the mustard as they say. It actually drives well, like a Mercedes should, probably because it’s a subcompact SUV. But after that…well, forget it. The brakes are bad, the suspension is bad, and the power system is brutal. So there you have it- a bad Mercedes model. Will wonders never cease?
Sources: cheatsheet.com, consumerreports.org, newsday.com
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