The invention of modern-day 4x4 was by two guys who, at the time, sold Reo cars. As they themselves drove a Reo, they found themselves getting stuck, much like anyone else of the time. One of the guys, William Besserdich, found that the way to get unstuck was to drive backward. This gave them an idea to try and figure out a way to drive the front wheels as well as the back.
Now, this was in no way a new idea, as it had been invented for the steam engine in the late-1800s and Spyker had done it in 1903 for their race car. The boys from Reo, however, were the first to mass-produce it by inventing a universal balljoint that would be able to power the front wheels as well as drive them.
Since these humble beginnings, 4x4 has become a staple of trucks and SUVs everywhere, with the system showing up in normal production cars, as well. All-wheel-drive systems began to take hold inside the more compact designs such as the Jensen FF and AMC Eagle, both of which helping to set the stage for the crossover movement we've witnessed in just the past couple of decades.
Of course, there have been some follies to point out along the way that may have had four-wheel drive but didn't utilize it as it was intended due to bad design. Here, we talk about some of the most disappointing 4x4s of the last 28 years and even predict what we think might turn out to be disappointing for the next couple of years. From the infamous Ford Bronco II, through the turn of the millennia to the trucks and SUVs that are to be avoided today, this list covers all the worst 4x4s from every year.
It is well known how bad the Bronco II was, especially when you compare it to the full-sized Bronco. No matter how bad they were, the 1990 model year potentially was the absolute worst. Not only was it the last model year for the Bronco II, which was then replaced by the Explorer two-door, but it also had Ford's notorious electronic 4WD system that had a tendency not to work and often required someone climbing under it to check the motor while someone checked the fuses. So, besides the deviation away from the full-sized Bronco, the Bronco II's 4WD system could potentially not even work at all.
The really big thing that was wrong with the Navajo was that it didn't catch much traction in sales. The reason is very apparent, just looking at it, as the first-gen Explorer was such a huge success that people may have seen this as nothing more than just a knock-off. The Navajo was nothing more than a rebranded Explorer and I think it was more of a disappointment to the company because they couldn't share the huge success that Ford had obtained.
Sold alongside the Suzuki Samurai, the Geo Tracker was a rebadged Suzuki Sidekick that was sold here in the States. It could be argued which one of the two is worse but the Samurai is a very capable offroader, whereas the Tracker is more refined and loses its offroad appeal because of this. The AWD system became redundant (as these CUVs barely saw anything more than inclement weather) whereas the Samurai has become an acceptable alternative to the Wrangler. The Samurai was discontinued in 1995, leaving only the Tracker to compete in the US market which was flooded with better rigs.
The B-Series wouldn't get a redesign until 1998; until then, it retained the same, tired, old look from the mid-80s. It was in 1994 that the Mazda B-series would become based more off of the Ford Ranger, signing off any sort of distinction away from the popular Ford. The B-Series served as a decent truck for cheap, beyond that the Mazda served no other purpose but to blend in with any market as an everyday work truck that doesn't see the 4x4 function used as often as its Ranger sister.
Honda didn't have their own SUV until the Pilot in 2003, until then they only rebadged an Isuzu Rodeo. The problem with that is Honda had their badge on something that didn't live up to the expectations of Honda owners, who expected a decent, reliable SUV and instead got something that was prone to issues. Transmission failure was a common report, as well as the frame completely rusting through. These problems, along with the reputation that Honda set for itself, set the Passport up to be more disappointing than the Isuzu on which it's based.
We've gone on about how much this car doesn't make sense. It's a compact two-door convertible with seating for two. The 4x4 may have been built on the Suzuki Sidekick platform, but it didn't perform as such because the X90 was more sports coupe than SUV. It may have had 4x4 like an SUV but it didn't have the roominess of an SUV nor the real offroad capability, not to mention the questionable build quality. Overall, the car is confusing and has been deemed 10th among the worst cars in the past 20 years by Top Gear. The fact that it's constantly making lists like these should be enough to convince anyone to avoid it.
The other SUV on this list that is based off of the Isuzu Trooper (albeit a different generation), Acura had also branded itself with an image of luxurious and reliable vehicles. The disappointment comes from the fact that all Acura really did was add leather seating to the Trooper. This, of course, raised the price of the SLX, whereas people were really only buying a Trooper all along. The SLX didn't last very long before being replaced by the in-house-built MDX which still serves as Acura's premium SUV today.
To try and show up the compact 4x4 market, Land Rover released the Freelander in both diesel and gasoline driven formats. The Freelander proved to be underpowered when offroading and expensive to fix when things went wrong, which they often did, with some reviews saying how their Freelander is almost never out of the garage. For the next generation, all of the Rover motors were replaced with Ford products offering better reliability ratings though I'm sure many Land Rover fans were very disappointed in the first-generation Freelander.
We'll say it again and again, there is something about the VehiCROSS that we love. It's got to be the awkward design but there is no way around how disappointing the VehiCROSS was. When the concept was released in 1993, Isuzu was looking for a change in form from the bricks they sold, hoping to project a more sleek and fun image. Though the basic design stayed, the VehiCROSS gained a top instead. The VehiCROSS didn't sell as projected despite good reviews because it just wasn't all that cracked up to be and didn't get the attention it deserved until now.
Essentially a jacked up A6 Avant, the Allroad is the AWD wagon for those who needed that extra bit of ground clearance. They got a car that offered a variable height control from the airbags—well, when the air-suspension worked properly. The Audi Allroad has improved drastically over the years but sadly this first generation suffered from a myriad of problems all of which ended up costing quite a bit, as the Allroad was a complicated piece of machinery that not all mechanics want to touch.
When the Mercedes-Benz M-class came out, it put a more complicated spin on the crossover market; being an US-built Mercedes, however, it caught disapproving glances from our overseas neighbors. Jeremy Clarkson did a review of this crossover and it seemed to do well enough offroad, but I highly doubt anyone actually did this in their new Mercedes, making the 4x4 essentially useless in any sort of situation beyond traversing the occasional blizzard. Also, since it's a Mercedes, you can bet any sort of maintenance on it is overpriced.
The Blazer has long been a popular option for offroaders, and though the last generation Blazer may not be as popular, that's where the Trailblazer tried to fill in and ultimately fell short. The Trailblazer didn't offer the rugged offroad performance that would come from someone who remembers the glory days. Instead, we got a stockier Envoy that had about the same sort of 4x4 ability. The Trailblazer was a neat name but kind of disappointing because the only blazing it usually did was to the market for groceries.
Car Complaints has listed this as the worst vehicle for the severity of complaints they have received against the Explorer. At this time, the Explorer has already become a national trademark on the roads of the USA. But for this particular year, it suffered from a widespread complaint about transmission failure along with a recall that was put in place in 2009 because of an overheating issue that could cause your Explorer to catch fire spontaneously. The Explorer had lasted so long without much controversy having to do with mechanical issues that this model year was definitely a let-down for Explorer lovers.
The H2 had a big name to live up to and even though it was a capable offroader, there was some standard equipment that was counterproductive to the offroad image. What really thwarted the H2 was its size, as it may be at home in wide open fields and mud holes, but those tight trails where a Cherokee barely fits are almost completely off limits for something as big as the H2. Also, as much as GM was looking to appeal to the off-road market with this rig most often, you'll find it in a mall parking lot.
Subaru is known for their reliability and the Outback is, perhaps, a staple of the brand when looking for capable and roomy wagons. Then there's the Baja, which is pretty much an Outback with the rear chopped off and replaced with a truck bed. To add to the fun image Subaru was trying to pump into the Baja, they came out with a turbocharged flat-four motor. These turbochargers are known to fail and are to be avoided by anyone looking to buy a Baja.
The small truck market is starting to boom once again and the Colorado is leading the pack much like its S-10 forefather did back in the 1980s. This wasn't always the case, though, as the Colorado debuted alongside the Isuzu I-Series. The straight-five is praised for its formidable power and reliability, while the four-cylinder, however, is an issue as it was too underpowered for proper four-wheeling. Since then, the ZR2 trim has (sort of) fixed this issue—though at a cost, leaving the base model Colorado behind and aging.
The Dakota has had a scattered past of good and bad, being the only mid-sized truck in the US to be offered with a V8. So there was no shortage of power, though the Dakota took a big hit in 2005 when the “Big Horn” design was introduced, making the Dakota look rather ugly. Sales were slumping and the Dakota redesign didn't help and more likely hurt it, until the facelift in 2007. Sales were low still, causing the Dakota to be discontinued in 2011.
The first of a few Jeeps on this list, the Compass was a Jeep that really wasn't. What we mean is that the Compass was closer to a jacked-up Dodge Caliber than a true descendant of a CJ or even the Jeepster. When it comes to 4x4s, Jeep has a certain stature in the field—that was, until things like these started showing up. Jeep has slowly been watered down since and this is about as low they've gotten without offering a station wagon.
Based off of the questionable Jeep Liberty, the Nitro fell short of anything enticing with lackluster looks and a void of any sort of off-road performance. The V6 Jeep impersonator's top trim level was an insult to the R/T name and sales showed it, as the Nitro peaked in sales in 2007 with only 74,825 units sold. Dodge knew they struck a dud and discontinued the Nitro to the public in 2011 with less than 200,000 sold during the entire five-year run.
The Touareg is known for the amazing V10 TDI but the Touareg had a bunch of problems out of the gate that continued through the first generation. Multiple electronic issues plagued the big VW and these issues weren't cheap to repair. It's because of these repairs that the Touareg became a fear for any mechanic tasked with having to diagnose the Touareg, just to find a coding issue or a loose or corroded wire hiding somewhere among the other intertwining wires, leaving many Touaregs in the garage for a while.
Another car on the Worst of the Past 20 Years list by Top Gear, (okay, not exactly as they only talk about the H3) but in an extension of that, this means the H3T, as well. The H3T was the last breath to revitalize a brand that was going to be cut anyway due to the recession and cuts made by GM. The H3T might've been a bit of a let-down for simply having the Hummer badging on it and trying to live up to a legendary military-derived earth-crawler, but according to Jalopnik, the H3T was simply a victim of the times, offering something that we didn't look for then but that has become desirable in today's market.
The BMW X5 is a decent-looking option in the mid-sized SUV field. Problems start to occur around the 64,000-mile mark, though, according to the NHTSA. These problems include critical engine overheating issues that could cause the car to catch fire while drivers are driving it. Not only is this issue extremely dangerous, but it also extremely expensive, as some of the recalls didn't cover all of the issues, leaving owners to deal with warranties. BMW is known for some awesome machinery but the X5 from this year isn't one to be proud of and should be avoided for the number of problems that have surfaced with the 4x4.
Another Jeep on the list, the Grand Cherokee has been around for a while and has acquired a reputation as being one of the last real Jeeps around. Of course, the Grand Cherokee has fallen in stature since the corporate takeover by Fiat, with complaints about poor build quality and reliability. It is sad considering the type of history the Grand Cherokee comes from, being a part of a heritage stemming from the Grand Wagoneer. The Grand Cherokee has always had a cult following but with the reliability issues, buyers won't be around for long before they pick something else.
We'll go on record saying that the Lada isn't a bad 4x4—actually, it is often preferred by the off-roading community, as it's a good base for a build or to simply beat the crud out of. With all that said, however, the Lada is tired and hasn't received any major upgrades since the 1970s. It may be a good 4x4 but to buy it for anything else besides using it on trails is a bit foolish as the Lada doesn't fare well on the main roads and often falls short of anything besides cheap transportation.
There is a lot wrong with Ssangyong as a whole but the 4x4 offering is something especially awful to behold. The Kyron is not built well, doesn't perform well, and isn't very reliable. It very well could be the most disappointing 4x4 on this list. The only thing that saves its face a bit is that Ssangyong is known as a mediocre company and anyone buying their products comes with the knowledge that what they're buying is going to be lackluster in any field you put it against. The Kyron isn't a good off-roader, nor is it any good on-road either. We can only imagine this thing during a snowstorm.
The Patriot shows up on lists for reasons having to do with expensive parts, poor reliability, and a poor safety rating. During a crash test, the Patriot rated poor for driver's side structure, restraints, and lower leg injury. The Patriot also only earned three stars in a front end crash and three stars in a rollover accident. It may look like a sort of retro-Cherokee that came too late but that's all the Patriot has to offer as the engine line-up isn't particularly great and the offroad capability is about the same as the Compass mentioned earlier.
Land Rover has gained a reputation for making luxury SUVs that aren't as reliable as they look. The Discovery Sport isn't any different from this and a Consumer Reports rated the Discovery Sport as the worst luxury compact SUV, giving it only 47 out of 100. They complained that the interior was plain and the ride a bit "stiff-legged" and for around $40,000, it seems like you're just paying for something that has good looks, is a status symbol, and is not much else beyond that.
The name is a bit misleading because the Kodiaq isn't exactly a performer when it comes to off-roading. Actually, it isn't much a performer at all, as reviews have said that's its a bit underpowered for even road use. It's hard to believe this thing even has 4x4, in fear that the added weight would simply prohibit the Kodiaq's performance further. The design is nothing to write home about, either as, for some reason, we see a bit of VW in there? Not sure if our eyes need to be checked or others see it too...
Being one of the Big Three, you'd almost expect more out of the Ram, but things have seemed to take a downturn ever since Fiat has taken over, especially in the reliability department. The Ram has devilishly good looks, and plenty of torque to boot, but is starting to fall short when compared to the competition. Ford and Chevrolet offer good competitive diesels that may not be quite up to par with the legendary Cummins but they're definitely built better, with multiple complaints about the Ram having mechanical and electrical issues that put the truck in the shop and keep it there.
The hype for this is through the roof, but if history has anything to show us, Jeep trucks can be good rigs but they will not sell nearly as well. It may be different today, as Jeep's lineup has become lacking in recent years, causing a fall in ratings and reviews by the loyal fanbase. With that said, though, history has a way of repeating itself and with all the hype going on about the new Gladiator coming out this year, it's only setting Jeep up for disaster.
Another up-and-comer in the 4x4 market, the Ranger is set to be released in 2019. It'll be in early 2020, then, when the hype dies down and the base Ranger will be about important as a base Colorado. Ford will have to step up their small truck game in order to stay relevant to what GM has had in the works for years (currently, they offer the Colorado Bison). We've seen the ideas for a Ranger Raptor and by the looks of things, that'll be the only way for Ford to stay up to speed.
References: FourWheeler.com, CarComplaints.com, CCN Money, AutoWise, CheatSheet