By on April 19, 2013

There’s nothing worse than discovering that an attractive woman (or man, I won’t judge) has a bad personality. Picture it: you meet someone. You hit it off. You exchange numbers. You go home and excitedly search for your new object of interest on Facebook. You find their profile. And then … you discover multiple uses of the word “YOLO.” Ouch.

This is, of course, also true in the automotive world. It’s sad when you’re captivated by a car at an auto show, then at a dealer, then on the road, and then – when you finally go test drive it – you discover it’s awful in every way. These are a few of my favorite cars that look good but aren’t.

1991-1994 Ford Explorer

The ’91-’94 Explorer is the single best-looking SUV ever made. I know this because I recently polled everyone in my immediate vicinity on the issue, and it went like this:

Doug: Yes, the Explorer is the best-looking SUV ever made.
My neighbor: Not home.

Obviously, this poll has some problems. But so did the Explorer. I won’t go into the transmission troubles, or the wheel hub issue. I won’t even touch on the lack of rear headrests or that awful two-spoke steering wheel. I’ll just say this: the ’91-’94 Explorer offers minimal protection from a dinosaur attack. Despite these issues, there are still quite a few first-generation Explorers on the road. Life, uh… life finds a way.

1991-1996 Infiniti G20

I love the first-generation G20, and I recommend it to everyone who comes to me and says “I have four thousand dollars to buy a car, what should I get?!” Usually, they ignore my suggestion and somehow end up with a late-model Prius. But the G20 was small and underpowered, and most have been driven into the ground by people who actually only had four thousand dollars to buy a car. Still: it was absolutely handsome. Especially in Gran Turismo 2.

Virtually Any Land Rover

Man, Land Rovers look cool. I have one, and when I drive down the road, I roll the windows down and blast music so people look at me and think: Wow, that guy looks cool. I know they think this because they jealously honk at me while I’m texting all my friends (on my iPhone 5, duh) because I’m so popular. YOLO!

OK, I don’t do any of those things. I mean, occasionally I roll the windows down, but usually just because the air-conditioning has broken. And that’s the problem: while Land Rovers look like they’re ready for safari, or at least parking on the grass when all the legal spots are taken at the mall, they’re actually only capable of electrical malfunctions. And no one looks cool standing on the side of the road.

1999-2003 Mitsubishi Galant

I always felt that Mitsubishi really got midsize sedan styling just right with this car. Everything was well-proportioned. The narrow grille made it look sporty and cool. There were some decent wheel designs. Honestly, it looked like a poor man’s BMW.

Unfortunately, it drove like a poor man’s Mitsubishi, which is already a poor man’s Nissan, which itself is a poor man’s Toyota, and I could continue this forever until I’ve offended the owners of every single car brand except Rolls-Royce. So I’ll leave you with this: when equipped with its optional V6 (which went into less than a quarter of cars), the ’99-’03 Galant did 0-60 in about nine seconds. That, ladies and gentleman, is a poor man’s engineering team.

1995-1997 Volkswagen Passat

The ’95-’97 Passat was a handsome car. That was important for Volkswagen, because people certainly weren’t going to buy the Passat based on its merits. Those included a 115-horsepower four-cylinder that propelled the cars up hills, according to Volkswagen; a 172-horsepower V6 that – most days – was not on fire; a 90-horsepower diesel that propelled the car nowhere, but got 40 mpg while doing it; and, most importantly, a dashboard without a glovebox. (Their reasoning was probably: “If Porsche can do it, so can we,” forgetting, perhaps, that Porsche doesn’t consider its first model year to be a “testing period.”)

2004-2007 Volvo S60R

The Volvo S60R just screams “tremendously attractive.” Those huge wheels; those chiseled shoulder lines. The decision to sell the first few in Flash Green until the acid wore off at the factory.

The problems start when you look at the badge. And deal with the reliability nightmare that was the car’s Haldex all-wheel drive system. And, worse, when you drive the dog that was the S60R Automatic. As a result, the best way to enjoy an S60R is from the privacy of your own home on a late-night AutoTrader.com search with a bag of chips. Or possibly a dealer test drive – as long as it’s a stick shift. Just don’t sign anything. Especially if it’s Flash Green.

OK, folks: you have my nominations. What do you think are some of today’s most attractive cars that aren’t very good?

Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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206 Comments on “Cars That Look Good But Aren’t...”


  • avatar
    CoastieLenn

    I love this article… just as I do almost everything else you have written thus far. I must say though… where do you get your information on the Volvo’s Haldex AWD? I worked for a Volvo service department for 7 years (2001-2008) and I’d never seen any AWD with issues after 2003 when they switched to electronic control. Before that, most owners didnt know that they couldn’t just replace a tire or two. No, you had to do all four. That’s true for any earlier AWD car though.

    So, other than the “AWD issues” (that I’m still curious about), what other issues do you take note with the Volvo? The automatic? That’s a bit… trivial. Especially considering you can get a buttery smooth manual.

    The way I see it, if Jeremy Clarkson didn’t have anything bad to say, nobody really should.

    • 0 avatar

      To qualify: I think it’s an absolutely amazing car. I had a friend with a stick S60R and we loved driving it. I would LOVE a Flash Green 2004.

      I was really speaking more to the general reliability issues that he (and all S60R owners) had. Some of the “S60R Reliability Issues” threads on SwedeSpeed sound like I’m reading a listing of every single part on the S60R, not a roundup of problems…

      EDIT: I mistook the AWD thing for the angle gear thing. The point, hopefully, remains clear!!

      • 0 avatar
        cargogh

        The 6-speed shifter boot is a work of art.

        • 0 avatar
          MeaCulpa

          The original plan was that the boot was supposed to be made out of aluminum. But for “engineering and technical reasons” that was deemed unfeasible. My suspicion is that the engineering problem was that technically that would have cost too much for the bean counters at fomoco. So now it looks pukka in pictures but unfortunately feels cheap in person.

      • 0 avatar
        salhany

        The early automatics on the R models (04-05) gimped the engine because they couldn’t handle the power. The later years (06-07) were reflashed or a bit different mechanically and could handle it without a problem.

        And yes, Rs are far more unreliable than the regular S60s.

        • 0 avatar
          needsdecaf

          The 2006 and 2007 had a 6 speed auto that was rated to take more torque than the 5 speed.

          The worst part of the 5 speeds was that overall torque dropped from 295 to 258, but what Volvo didn’t tell you was that second gear was neutered further to about 235 and first down to about 220, IIRC. Crime against humanity!

          6 speed stick the only way to go. The M66 transmission is pretty robust as is the clutch.

      • 0 avatar
        racer193

        They did seem to eat center and rear diffs.

        • 0 avatar
          needsdecaf

          The problem was with the angle / bevel gear, which turns power 90 degrees from the transverse engine. There is no center diff.

          The rear issue is with the haldex coupling itself, which is connected to the rear diff. The coupling itself was fine, but the control module had a tendency to crap out due to excessive heat or fluid leak.

      • 0 avatar
        needsdecaf

        Yeah, you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head with the S60 and V70R’s. They definitely have their quirks.

        Having owned a 2004 V70R Geartronic, the 2004 and 2005 automatics had some bad neutering. However, a simple tune would remove that without any significant worries for reliability.

        The angle gear thing is definitely an issue. Not just with R’s but with all Volvos using it. My sister in law had an XC90 that she went through two winters with wondering why it was so bad in the snow until they found out the angle gear was shot.

        Other than that, it was a great car for what it was. Most beautiful gauges I have had the pleasure to look at, IMO. The other achilles was the intercooling – the stock setup was very weak for the boost levels running. Search “heat soak” on Swedespeed and see why an aftermarket FMIC was de-reguier.

        I used to say that the worst thing about the S60R was the fact that the V70R existed. About 3″ more rear seat room, massively more cargo space, arguably better looks with almost no loss in performance (actually better weight distribution!). I loved my turbo, AWD, 4-piston Brembo wagon!

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      “No, you had to do all four. That’s true for any earlier AWD car though.”

      Another option is to ask Tire Rack to shave the tire down to what your others are at. However, if it’s only 1/32 or 2/32 difference, it’s probably not worth worrying about.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        That’s brilliant. The only problem I can see is that when you need one tire, you really need that tire. There is bound to be some delay involved in having the Tire Rack shave a tire and ship it to you. Driving on the space saver in the mean time will eat an AWD component or two. If you have another car handy though, that is a great solution.

        My own Volvo XC70 experience was disastrous, but I wasn’t at the Volvo dealer when they condemned the effing thing, so I don’t know exactly how they talked me ex-girlfriend out of a 81,000 mile, five year old car that she’d paid cash for. I’d done a bit of research and feared the noises coming from the tunnel were angle gear related. They said the problem was rusty drive-line and suspension components and that it wasn’t worth repairing. It still sounds ridiculous to me, but I wasn’t there to look under the car or convince my ex to get a second opinion from a major Volvo resource I had ties to at the time.

        • 0 avatar
          corntrollio

          Sure, there’s a delay there. Perhaps you could get someone to shave the tire for you locally too.

          I believe some companies say that even 3/32 or 4/32 is okay. I did the math on this for a typical AWD tire size, and 4/32 was less than 1% difference in circumference.

          • 0 avatar
            golden2husky

            Except that tires are expensive. To throw away tread and pay for the service to do so seems ridiculous….

          • 0 avatar
            corntrollio

            Well, to be fair, it’s not like this concern is unique to AWD systems. You can still screw up a differential by having a rather worn tire on one side and a new tire on the other. A lot of tires should be replaced in pairs anyway, and people don’t always do that. Shaving a tire can be a good compromise, cost-wise.

            Not every car has high performance 19-inch rubber that cost $300/tire. That said, my guess is that a lot of mid-size family cars these days have 16 or 17 inch wheels, and tires that fit them probably cost more than those that fit the 14s/15s my old cars had.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            golden2husky,

            Imagine if your choice is shaving half the useful tread life of one new tire or throwing away three half-worn tires, because that is the usual situation.

          • 0 avatar
            golden2husky

            point taken, but it seems that the design is not very robust if it can’t deal with a very likely situation…losing one tire partway through the overall tire life if fairly common. In my mind, good design should take into account scenarios that are statistically likely to happen and be designed to handle them.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            I think the alternative is using three conventional and open differentials, but that has tradeoffs in terms of fuel economy(relative to automatic part time systems like Haldex) and the potential for all the power going to the wheel with the least traction when that’s not what you want. Otherwise, all this automatic torque apportionment is based on differences in wheel speeds. If you change the relative circumference of the tires, a reactive system is going to react and eventually overheat once all of its efforts to restore uniform wheel speeds fail. Making such systems insensitive enough to tolerate different diameter tires might also make them slow to engage and clunky when they do. I’m giving the manufacturers the benefit of the doubt, because I assume they don’t want to anger customers with expensive early 4 tire replacement scenarios and broken drive-train components.

        • 0 avatar
          bill mcgee

          I always thought the S60/70 Volvos were ugly- didn’t like the roofline or the taillight design . My sole experience driving one was to take my boss’s 2007 S60 on its final trip to the dealership because she had ongoing problems with the car not starting and a check engine light that stayed on most of the time . She never drove the car again , because the dealer found that so much money was needed to repair it that she traded it in on a new car , a Volvo SUV .

  • avatar
    cargogh

    Especially if S60R has that orangy tan leather. Very eye catching.
    Louisville is full of Explorers. Sometimes when something is pulling up close to me I try to guess without looking if it is an Explorer or a Ranger. This is based on the squeaking front suspension. It is a unique sound like a slant six starting or the old Nissan 310 transaxle whine. I guess it was a deterrent to T-Rex attacks.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Before I bought my Legacy I very nearly bought an S60R (and probably would have if I could have found a V70R). I test drove one (an automatic) and I was blown away by how fast it was. I dropped it back off at the dealer and went home to do some research. I begrudgingly fell out of love with it when I happened upon the “Angle gear” threads on Swedespeed. I still lust after them and admire them when I see them in the wild. But at the same time I wonder how many miles away from a crunch and a tow it is.

    I also considered a late G20 at one point and I thought the Galant was one of the best designed cars of the late 90s/early 2000s. One you failed to mention:
    Mazda Millenia S

    • 0 avatar

      Millenia was definitely a consideration. (Diamante, too!) Beautiful car, the Millenia, but even the “S” wasn’t a standout.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        My friends had Millenias and Diamantes. I think they were popular with black people. The Millenias were CRAP. The Diamantes were pretty good. Really good highway cars.

        I think you can add any European luxury car from the late 90s to this list. 7 series, S Class, XJ… look good, drive well…. WHEN THEY’RE WORKING. Anything breaks, you might as well trade it in.

  • avatar
    corntrollio

    “I’ll just say this: the ’91-’94 Explorer offers minimal protection from a dinosaur attack.”

    You know, in the book, they had Land Cruisers. Total product placement by changing them to Explorers. However, something tells me the 80 Series wouldn’t have done a whole lot better.

    I guess they didn’t have the know-how to engineer that panoramic roof back then, but maybe now they could?

    • 0 avatar

      This is the most interesting thing I’ve heard today. I had no idea they had Land Cruisers in the book.

      By the way, the product placement works. Ask me what the SECOND most attractive SUV is, and my answer will always be the 1998 Mercedes ML320. I seem to remember that being in a movie, too.

      I don’t think either car was THAT attractive. But something about seeing them take on T-Rex has kept both models high on my “handsome and cool” list.

      • 0 avatar
        kmoney

        Yeah, that movie was one of the first big marketing pushes for the ML, the 3 trucks in the movie are actually pre-production models. I seem to remember they had 5 speed manuals, which would likely make them rebadged European ML230s.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        I had never discovered this site before we had this exchange, but have you been to IMCDB before? Great reference for TTACers:

        http://www.imcdb.org/movie_119567-The-Lost-World–Jurassic-Park.html

        Apparently a BMW 733i was also in The Lost World.

        JP III appears not to have had any placements per this site.

        • 0 avatar

          I did indeed know of the site- the level of detail is stunning!!

          JP3 didn’t have any cars, as I remember. I’m hopeful JP4 has another very obvious highly expensive product placement so I’ll have a new SUV to lust after for a decade.

          • 0 avatar
            luvmyv8

            JP III didn’t have working cars in it, but I think it had a derelect Toyota FJ40, but for sure it had a first generation Explorer seen outside the lab facility. This one was a dark color with a ‘INGEN’ logo on the door, it wasn’t the Jurassic Park tour Explorer. Of course though, it was in sorry shape to simulate 10+ years of being abandoned in…. well a dinosaur filled jungle. You have to look sharp, because it only appears briefly when Dr. Grant runs past it.

            I’ve heard rumors that it was put into the movie as sort of an easter egg and reference to the Explorer’s role in the first movie, and that possibly, it might have been an actual vehicle used in the first movie.

  • avatar
    otter

    This made me laugh, even the inclusion of the early G20, which I think is actually a great car, unless you also don’t want a slow car. Bought one for $4000 and drove it for years, which maybe tells you all you need to know about my impartiality.

    • 0 avatar

      There was an article at TTAC long before Doug that lauded G20 in the context of its role in establishing the Infiniti brand. IIRC it was supposed to be a very good car for its time, and Nissan was letting them go cheap.

  • avatar
    Sammy B

    I get the point you’re making on the G20, but let’s keep in mind the SR20DE engine from the SE-R. The G20t model even got the LSD.

    And the G20 was far more reliable than anything else on this list.

    I would perhaps agree if you’re only talking about the 2nd gen G20. By that time the weight had gone up (and the competition advanced enough) that it was really outmatched. The 1st gen (91-96) though….I will have none of your negative talk!

    • 0 avatar

      I knew someone would mention the G20′s connection to the SE-R, and I TOTALLY used to think the same thing. However, I actually drove both cars, and it’s stunning that they share an engine. By comparison, the G20 feels like a city bus.

      Truthfully, though, it was tremendously reliable, which is why I always recommend them.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        By city bus you mean quieter and more solid feeling right? No it is not as fast but at least with the T’s LSD it handled just as well and was much more comfortable to live with on a daily basis. No you wouldn’t be winning a drag race against the lighter SE-R but they aren’t that much slower.

      • 0 avatar
        greaseyknight

        Its probably the increased curb weight that makes a difference, according to Wikipedia, a 2 door Sentra is 2266lbs and a a G20 is 2,535 to 2,818lbs. That platform is very susceptible to weight, so I’ll bet the additional weight makes a great difference in the handling.

      • 0 avatar
        otter

        I still have the old SE-R that I got new, and I got the G20 once I wanted a daily driver that had under 100k and wild foofoo stuff like power windows and RKE. It’s extremely reliable, just like the SE-R, but it actually handles better. Better suspension and all that. Weight diffy is about 300lbs. and gearing is slightly different. Pre-94 engines are a little different than later ones. But now I am starting to sound like a fanboy, so I’ll stop.

        • 0 avatar
          Power6

          Anyone who extolls the virtues of an OEM viscous LSD in a 140hp front drive car…is clearly too much of a fanboi to be objective.

          • 0 avatar
            otter

            I am shocked – shocked! – that you would suggest that I am anything but entirely, utterly objective about certain cars.

        • 0 avatar
          TwoTone Loser

          My wife has the Gen II G20. I give it high marks for the reliability, as it had made it 200,002 miles on all the original equipment when the radiator failed, but that’s a common Nissan thing.

          Other than that, Its horribly loud, full of nonstop vibrations, resonant like you are driving a cheap mailbox, cramped(for me at least), and is woefully slow. In town, it wont..go. On the highway, it wont pass.

          It’ll still get its 30mpg, and I like how I don’t speed in it as it makes such a huge racket when the engine is moderately accelerated, I tend to naturally drive 5-10 mph under when I am in it. Complaints aside, It has been a great car for A to B, but not much to mention otherwise.

  • avatar
    burakvtec

    another nice article from demuro, I think you are very right with land Rover case . The reliability of land Rover is always a issue and the reliability index 2012 of company Warranty Direct -uk based- have shown that land Rover is bottom of the list including 36 brands wıth %71 breaking down.Even I like the new style design language of land Rover including evoque and ranger Rover( not rr sport;ı hate it) this well known issues like electrical etc. can shift customers to x5 etc

  • avatar
    JimR

    I would put the P10 Infiniti G20 on a list of cars that didn’t look great, but was great in reality.

    - Four-wheel IRS with Z32 300ZX-like front geometry
    - Four-wheel discs with the same front hardware as a S13 240SX
    - Available with the same limited slip five-speed as the B13 SE-R
    - Same 7,500RPM-revving SR20DE as the SE-R and friends

    They were like a grownup, better-handling ’91-’94 Sentra SE-R. They weren’t as quick off the line, but they were very capable and entertaining on the move, and reasonably comfortable. Mechanically very reliable, too.

    My ’93.5 G20 was an excellent car that loved to be driven hard. It’s still in the family and kicking hard in the 200k’s.

    • 0 avatar
      onyxtape

      I live in this weird neighborhood where there are 5 G20′s within a 5-block radius. Huh? And they all look like they’re well loved by their owners – no rust, no bumper stickers, always washed and waxed.

      Speaking of the 95-97 Passat, isn’t that around the time when VW briefly offered a 10-year/100k powertrain warranty? Did anyone ever take full advantage of this?

    • 0 avatar
      USAFMech

      Jim, I would like to hear more about this 4-wheel Independent Rear Suspension. Sounds interesting.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        Even with the typo, I stopped thinking a 4-wheel independent suspension was a big deal when my first-gen Taurus had one. It would be more notable to me what cars *don’t* have one.

        The “Z32 300ZX-like front geometry” was the most relevant point to me in that line.

    • 0 avatar
      Advance_92

      The Sentras of that era had independent rear suspension, too. Like rear disc brakes lots of people say it isn’t needed but it also says the maker just too cheap to go the extra mile. Do you want to support someone doing the bare minimum or the one that goes over and above? I don’t think over engineering is a bad thing from the car-guy perspective.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Previous generation Mercedes C-350. Great looking car, especially with the AMG inspired trim package. Beefy, no hood ornament sticking up, a great red color.

    Then you get inside the interior that made a Cadillac CTS look nice in comparison, and then you drove it, and then you spent $1000 replacing the instrument cluster, and replacing basically everything else that breaks.

    Then you run for your life.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Is that the one with a fiber optic link between the trans and the shifter, which would get spoiled with transmission fluid that would flow up the line and short out the tranny electronics?

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I’d have to disagree on the G20. For it’s time the G20 was at the top of it’s class in handling and performance. Of course now at ~20 years old a lot of them have been abused and just plain used up but you can say that about almost all 20 year old cars. Yes it is small but that is kind of the point of a compact car.

    As to the Explorer there is a reason that it was the most traded in vehicle during cash for clunkers. The reason, because there were still so many of them still on the road with 200,000 300,000 or more miles on them. Overall they were very durable vehicles.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Jodi Arias

    1974 Fiat 128SL

    2002 VW Passat

    Luckily, I’ve only experienced the last two.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    2004-2007 Volvo S60R look was a total ripoff of the 1994-1997 Honda Accord.

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    Redundancy – “poor man’s Mitsubishi”

    Anyhow, disagree. The Galant never looked good. The Diamante DID, however, and was equally lousy. I still recognize them, however, when a largish sedan flashes by billowing a thin but obvious stream of burnt oil behind it.

    And forget the R; ANY S60 LOOKED good, but were garbage.

    A few others:
    Hyundai Tiburon – looks good, garbage.
    GMC Canyon – looks good, lousy (and I’m a GM lover)
    Hyundai XG – looks good in a pesuedo knock-off Mitsubishi Debonair way, lousy
    Mercury Monterrey – Looked nice, lousy unless you’re a transmission shop
    Hyundai Veloster – Looks awesome, lousy in terms of fun-to-drive. Its like an Accent in a tight skirt. Its still an Accent. And, boy, can you tell.

    • 0 avatar
      salhany

      “And forget the R; ANY S60 LOOKED good, but were garbage.”

      Nonsense, unless the S60 I’ve been driving for the past 6 1/2 years 50 miles a day has been lying to me.

    • 0 avatar
      Fordson

      Tiburon, Canyon, Hyundai XG, Monterey, Veloster?

      In order to appear in a comment on a post entitled, “cars that look good but aren’t,” don’t they have to in fact look good?

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        The Hyundai Tiburon did look good… compare it to the Eclipse of the same era. I’m talking about the (01-08) generation, not that mess with odd headlights (99-01).

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      While the Diamante was certainly better looking than the current Taurus, it suffered from the same sort of packaging issues. Somehow the interior was full of interior, leaving little room for people. A guy I worked for in college replaced his E30 325 5-speed with one. I was nearly speechless. I was even more confused once I wedged myself behind the steering wheel and drove it. I still didn’t get the appeal, even if it looked like a bigger BMW.

  • avatar
    Mykl

    Audi S4; B5 (1997-2002); beautiful sedan.

    Turbo failure, which doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that the engine needs to be yanked to get to them.

    • 0 avatar

      Perfect example. Don’t know how I forgot it. Would’ve been a great replacement for the G20, which apparently has a massive following on TTAC.

      • 0 avatar
        walker42

        The original G20 has a pretty massive following everywhere Doug. Are you sure you aren’t confusing the second-generation with the first? Not sure how the first would feel like a city bus compared to the SE-R, unless the one you drove was an automatic. If so that wouldn’t be a fair comparison, the SE-R came only in a stick.

        What exactly isn’t good about the first G20? You said you recommend them because they are reliable. It was the best handling 4-door back then and the engine and shifter are super sweet. Plus has a ton of room inside for its small size. I’m stumped.

        • 0 avatar

          I definitely mean the first-gen, since the second-gen didn’t look good :)

          I think the big disconnect here is most people must’ve driven stick G20s. The vast majority were automatics, especially in the last few model years, and they were dog slow.

          The other problem is the equation of “durable” with “good.” Just because something lasts doesn’t mean it’s good! I feel this way because virtually all my cars break down, but they’re all “good!” I swear!

          • 0 avatar
            walker42

            Could be but the G stands out as not belonging on the list no matter what tranny it has. The others I agree all have issues, including, in the case of the Galant, its looks.

            That is one big, bland car and while the others may suggest more than they can deliver the Galant doesn’t even hint. Galants are noteworthy only for their record breaking incentive levels which more than anything else put Mitsubishi where it is today.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            I don’t know about your area but around here when I was playing with G20s they 5sp was much more common. I imagine that a slush box would take a good chunk of fun out of the car but it wouldn’t change it’s general handling much nor the rest of the great points of the car.

            In my book durable is required for a car to be more than just good.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff Weimer

        Make that ANY B5 variant – A4, S4, Passat (and I would include A6 since they shared a large number of parts). $2000 entire front suspension replacement at 100K? Check. $1500 timing belt and water pump every 60-75K miles? Check. Those are considered regular maintenance items – you don’t want to know how much the repairs should cost. You want HOW MUCH for rear wheel bearings? How much to trade this in?

        • 0 avatar
          corntrollio

          The entire front suspension doesn’t cost $2000 to replace, except maybe at the stealership. Also, often people only needed the uppers replaced (and some of the lower control arms were replaced under recall/warranty).

          Timing belt also doesn’t cost $1500 except at a stealership. At an indy, the quote is probably not much more than the one I heard for a Honda Civic timing belt. That interval was extended to 110K on later A4s, and now A4s have a timing chain.

        • 0 avatar

          Not to mention Tiptronic, which will eventually fail in virtually all of them. It went in my B5 A4. And in the RS6, most Tiptronics failed within the first 80k.

          • 0 avatar
            burakvtec

            rs6 is the most unreliable car between 1997 – 2012 ( studied more than 200,000 live and historical policies )
            check top 10 unreliable car during 15 years.
            http://www.carscoops.com/2012/11/breaking-bad-warranty-direct-lists-10.html

          • 0 avatar

            Hah! What a great stat. NONE of the cars on that list are surprising. Oh, Audi Allroad…

          • 0 avatar
            markholli

            I saw two different Audi Allroads broken down on the side of the road on the same day just this week. Coincidence?

  • avatar
    Marko

    2002-2005 Ford Explorer. The clean design aged well; unfortunately, nothing else did.

    1999.5-2005 VW Golf/Jetta and 1998-2010 VW “New” Beetle: Looked and felt high quality when new; unfortunately started falling apart as soon as the two-year warranty expired.

    1998-2004 Dodge Intrepid and Chrysler LH siblings: The 2.7L engine was designed in “record time”. Yeah, and it also threw its timing chain in “record time”.

  • avatar
    Mykl

    RX-7, FD (1993-1995)

    I guess the engine thing doesn’t need to be harped on. Whether or not the car drives well enough to make it worth the pain is up to the individual. I love them, but could never own one….. I want a car I’ll spend more time driving than working on.

    • 0 avatar
      Marko

      At least the RX-7 has decent engine swap kits available; the RX-8, which I have been drooling over for a decade, does not, unless you want to deal with a certain very shady company.

    • 0 avatar
      juicy sushi

      I was just scrolling to make sure no one said this before I posted it. Definitely should be on the list. The FD3S and RX-8 were cars a good engine short of being absolutely perfect.

    • 0 avatar
      zeus01

      Too bad Mazda couldn’t have stayed away from turbos (which kill rotaries way before their time) and instead shipped the FD RX7s with a normally-aspirated 20B (3-rotor). This would have solved the weak torque at low rpm issue while still delivering a wide power band at the middle and top end.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Plymouth Prowler: Awesome looks! WTF?! A six?!

    I’d say something similar about the Chevy SSR, except I don’t think it looked good, rather a me-too effort that bordered on ugly and it had an even higher WTF factor.

    Flipping the assignment over, I thought the HHR probably one of the ugliest vehicles on the road but Edmunds reviews of the ’07 are about 2/3 fairly well satisfied customers and the remainder are simply people noticing the routine problems of a GM car. All these people would be happier with a first-generation Xb, of course, but don’t even try to pry a GM loyalist out of a Chevy showroom to get him to look at a Scion.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    The fact that I’ve *never* seen a 95-97 Passat says something about its quality, or lack thereof…

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      That was the last boxy Passat before the more aero-looking re-design in the late 90s, right? I used to see those several years ago. Rarer now, but still seem them every so often. A friend of mine had one back in the late 90s.

    • 0 avatar
      Marko

      I think I’ve seen about three in my life, and one belonged to a relative (who, needless to say, always talked about its expensive problems).

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      I still see the odd one driving around. They’re usually green TDIs. I think 98% of the B4 Passat TDIs VW built were green. I typically see sedans, but will occasionally see a TDI wagon, and sometimes a VR6 wagon. They’re still beautiful cars IMO, close to 20 years since you could buy one new. I also have the same opinion of mid 90s Accord wagons. I wouldn’t want to own a mid 90s Passat, but they’re nice to look at. A mid-90s Accord wagon might not be so bad to own.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        More generally, there used to be a lot more cars available in dark/forest green. Was it a color of the times only?

        I’m not a big fan of the light green that’s on a lot of Toyotas and maybe some Fords.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        Guy that lives next to door to me has this exact combo: B4 Passat, Dark Green, TDI. The reason people don’t recall seeming them is that they look like Jetta, only 10% bigger. No where near as good looking as the generation B5 which I owned and (as documented everywhere) is a major POS.

        • 0 avatar
          cargogh

          A friend of mine has a ’98 sedan. That green with cream leather. I bet he’s spent $3000 in the last 5 years just redoing front suspension parts. All stock, and it has never not rattled. He had me drive it once because I suggested it was a heat shield. It was not. The shifter was barely better than a ’74 Rabbit I once owned. They still look great. Teutonic styling at its best.

        • 0 avatar

          You really think the B5 looked better? It was certainly objectively better in every measurable aspect, but I think the B4 was a handsome car, especially with the wheels shown (which I believe were only offered on the GLX VR6 model).

          • 0 avatar
            cargogh

            I do. The early unchromed ones have a smooth, purposeful, sturdy appearance. But it may be because I miss the later Audi 80/90s which I never see any more. It was odd for me to like the Audi because of the very large area between the fender top to front upper wheel opening, while some of my favorite styling points were how flat that was on 3rd gen Preludes and E38 BMWs.
            The B5s seem more timeless like a Mercedes W124.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      I look at one every day, sitting in my driveway, waiting for me (for years now) to fix it. Mine is white and still looks good.

      And I have a spare, engineless TDI parts car tucked away at a friend’s house (will be visiting them and it this weekend). One can never have too many spare window regulators, HVAC controls, instrument clusters, or door handles for this car . . .

      It’s not basic transportation, it’s a lifestyle choice which requires either a lot of money and/or a lot of spare time. And unfortunately, I no longer have either!

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    My son found his niece (my granddaughter) a beautiful late 90s Honda Accord with V6 and Auto for $2K. I thought it was too good to be true since the model seems to be generally badmouthed on the forums. It was.

    First they got into a drawn out kerfuffle with my mechanic when an overheating episode turned out to be two cracked heads. He also found that the symptoms had been temporarily hidden with liquid glass. After welding the heads and flushing the compound from the engine they had a problem with his supposedly stacking the bill. Personally, I thought the bill was pretty reasonable considering all the work he had done. I have seen higher costs involved with just changing head gaskets.

    I told them to dump the car before something else went wrong because the cats were throwing out codes of impending disaster on the mechanics computer. They drove it instead, including a round trip Houston/Dallas. Shortly after returning the automatic transmission began to slip badly. I told them to cut bait.

    As usual, my SIL knew best and they just spent another $2k on the transmission. I can hardly wait to see what happens next in this ongoing saga of Soichiro’s spawn. I believe this general period Honda Accord, V6, Auto qualifies for your list.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Ouch.

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        Not surprising at all.

        P0420 catalytic converter low efficiency code for sure, and the same craptastic auto tranny that regularly grenaded in the Odyssey.

        Look up ‘spark plug non-fouler’ along with that trouble code and start reading! It worked on my Ody and on a friend’s Subaru.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      To be fair, I think the transmissions for the V6 Accords in that time came from GM. Still though, time bombs. I don’t know if they qualify though. They were pretty ugly cars, especially inside.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        “To be fair, I think the transmissions for the V6 Accords in that time came from GM.”

        This is untrue. The blame falls solely on Honda for that abomination.

        Honda’s automatic transmissions are fairly unique as they use constant mesh gear sets where almost all of GM’s light duty automatics use planetary gear sets.

        Saturn did make a proprietary constant mesh automatic for their earlier models, but they are not the ones found in the Accord. Although they likely would have fared better with the Saturn transmission, as they did tend to hold together for the long haul.

  • avatar
    Augie the Argie

    Interesting comments

    I’ll go for 90-94 VW Passat 4cyl to be included into the list.

    Had a 1991 all optioned light green GL model, it was a blast to drive with the stick shift. Had it for 12 years until it hit a wall with 108K miles. Main bugs were feebly attached anti-freeze hoses, gasket and engine mount problems, and a rattling cluster panel which had the dash demagnetized.?.

  • avatar
    jaydez

    I would add the Mazdaspeed 6 to that list. It looks awesome in person and on paper. It drives like a dream. But…

    I know plenty of people who destroyed their rear diff just driving the thing. The interior was kind of cramped for a mid size. They turbo had tons of lag which made you need to launch it. However, doing said launch would tear the motor mounts like the Hulk’s shirt. Oh.. and the gas mileage was equal to that of a midsize SUV while requiring premium.

    My brother had one for a year and alf before traiding it for a Mazdaspeed3….

    Actually, I think the 3 should be on the list too for 3 reasons. Horrible gas mileage (again), weak as shit motor mounts, and the winter package (a requirement in new england with heatted mirrors and seats) ships with SUMMER ONLY TIRES from the factory.

    I’d still love to own either though.

  • avatar
    Morse

    What I consider to be somewhat attractive vehicles I have test driven and found to be very dissapointing despite their good looks are …

    Honda CRV 2008 – clumsy and noisy cabin.
    Honda Odyssey – box on wheels
    Lexus RX300 – clumsy and NOISY (what’s with Lexus – was expecting to hear myself breathing)
    Lexus LS430 and GS300 – twitchy steering requiring constant correction of wheel on the highway.
    Mazda Protoge5 – Noisy and harsh ride
    Subaru Legacy ’05-’09 Not enough legroom and noisy interior.
    Volvo V70 – unresponsive and sloppy handling

    When I get back in my ’91 Volvo 740 , I am a happy camper.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      Can’t agree on the Odyssey being in that list (at least not the 1999-2004). Yes, despite the crappy tranny, every time I drive it (usually only on Sunday or on long trips) I smile – it’s the nicest driving and handling FWD van that I have ever driven.

  • avatar
    dts187

    This whole thing made me laugh. Congrats on another great piece, Mr. DeMuro.

    I’d like to go ahead nominate the Honda CR-Z. I was excited about the idea of the car but driving it made my man-bits shrink inside me like a scared turtle.

  • avatar
    dswilly

    Those Explorers were handsome in a basic way. As for reliability I personally knew three families that drove them way over 200k without too many problems. As for Land Rovers, specifically the Disco’s, mucho trouble. But I still want one.

  • avatar
    red60r

    I agree with most of the first comment on this article re: the S60R. The Flash Green was a mistake; a bright metallic blue like the original show car would have been magic. My red with “Atacama” leather and 5-speed Aisin automatic 2004 example has served well for 80,000 miles with no more mechanical problems than I experienced from a variety of other makes and models. I test drove a manual version before settling on the automatic, finding the shifter to be a tad vague for a performance car. Even my 1966 122S Volvo’s loooong shift lever felt better. The R’s major shortcomings are ground clearance and a huge turning circle. And don’t get me started about the Navteq GPS…

  • avatar
    carguy

    I’ll add an international flavor to this list and nominate the Peugeot 406 Coupe. Gorgeous body design by Pininfarina but underneath it was just a front heavy 406 in better looking clothing. But boy, did I want one back in the late 90s.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Peugeot_coup%C3%A9_406_1999.JPG

  • avatar
    racer193

    The mazda 6 is one of the few vehicles where I have seen people actually give away a newer car. My brother ownes a towing company and has had two of them given to him after the owner was left on the side of the road woth a blown engine. Trying to find an engine comfirmed the problem as their where non avaliable in the three closest provinces.

    • 0 avatar
      ignatius reilly

      I bought an 08 with a rebuilt motor. It hasn’t been terrible but some annoying things have popped up. In 6 months it’s had a broken CV joint and the radiator sprung a leak (both a little premature I feel like for an 08 with 60k), plus all the stock motor mounts were shredded when I got it but that happens to most of these cars according to the forums. The most bizarre is that the headliner is falling down like an 80s Dodge Dynasty. I thought that problem had been cured decades ago! I’m tolerating it though because I like everything else about the stupid thing.

  • avatar
    phlipski

    The 99-03 E-class. The W210 E-class still looks good and modern IMO. However fairly notorious for quality problems, and the switch from the inline-6 to a 90-degree V6.

    93-97 Ford Probe – seriously when’s the last time you saw one on the road? Where the hell are they – dead.

    C4 Corvette

    Jeep Grand Wagoneer

    • 0 avatar
      dts187

      Funny that you say that about the Probe. I hadn’t seen one on the road in ages. Then I moved to my current town in northern WV, I see 4 different Ford Probes every single week during my commute. One notable example has a body kit and big fartcan exhaust.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      I see them sometimes still, but rarely. I thought I saw a white first-gen Probe today for a second, but realized it was an MX-6.

    • 0 avatar
      Marko

      W210 was ’96-’02, and it had bad rust issues (not just the body, but also the spring perches).

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      You’ll find a mint Probe in my garage. They only had one real problem area and that was the automatic. By 120K or so they die and that is the end of the car. Mine’s a shift. The car is just as well made as the Mazda MX6 because they are pretty much the same.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        The Probe had the same automatic as the Escort, right? Did the transmission last longer in the Escorts?

        A friend of mine had a Probe — we referred to it as the Anal Probe.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          Going from memory here, but I believe the second generation Escort was a kissing cousin with the Mazda 323. Probes shared platforms and running gear with the 626/MX-6. Don’t really know if the automatic trans was the same in the 323 as four cylinder Probes/626. And yes, the name was a bit unfortunate. But if you wanted a car that handled really well for a front driver, this platform delivered the goods…

    • 0 avatar
      MPAVictoria

      Man you ain’t kidding about the Probe. I had a 1997 4 cylinder 5 speed. It was a beautiful car with a nice interior for the time but it was nothing but problems. Was barely able to drag it over 100,000 miles. Too bad really.

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    Piling on the Mitsubishi thing, I was presented a 2011 Eclipse as a service loaner earlier this year. Of all the myriad of miserable rental cars I’ve driven over the years, this 4 cylinder convertible Eclipse automatic was one of the worst things I’ve ever driven.

    Embarrassment comes early when you realize that the harsh sound this thing makes instantly convey upon you the same mantle as the teenage driver with the melon launcher fixed to their million mile unmodified engine. Being slow enough to hold up traffic and noisy enough to attract unwanted attention come as standard.

    Sine my Yamaha Rhino feels significantly less agricultural when turning corners than this Eclipse it made me wonder if the thing was engineered in a barn by Romanian farmers using left over 80′s Dacia and Trabant parts.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    As a previous owner, I have to ask consideration be given to any 8 series BMW. I had owned two 320′s, and loved their simplicity and balance. To say that I jumped to a conclusion on the big coupe would be massive understatement. Like the article of several days ago posited, sticking your key in crazy seems to be a self-perpetuated problem. I kept thinking that this is the LAST problem, and once fixed I’ll get to enjoy the driving without worry. $10,000 later, I finally pulled the plug and limped away, licking my wounds and looking for someone else to blame. Still my worst fiscal automobile decision.As I keep X dollars for my transportation and collecting needs, this crimped my usual “style”, and hurt my mental image of myself as a wise old bargain collector. Plus, my wife was outraged her Ixtapa trip had to be cancelled. Hubris always gets in the way of rational car decisions. You may want to think it will never happen to me, but I guarantee that sooner or later, it will.

  • avatar
    Windy

    In late 2006 I rented an Alfa Romero 159 2.4 on a short trip to the Naples area… Drop dead fantastic looking car but the list of things that were broken or worked part of the time was a long one including major cold start problems
    I have for years tried to be sure to try to rent cars not sold in the USA to broaden my car experience.
    I can not think of any other that was as big a disappointment

  • avatar
    markholli

    Pshh…Rolls Royce is just the poor man’s vintage Murphy-bodied 1931 Duesenberg Model J coupe preserved in mint condition.

  • avatar
    suspekt

    Looks good but isnt…. hmmmmm, here goes:

    –> Nissan 350Z
    I really really like the original and the styling was amazing. However, after spending time in them and driving a few, they just have a roughness to them that turns me off. The engine is too coarse. Maybe it is just my bias for engines that like to rev. And the overall level of quality is just not great.
    BUT, I still think they look great, perform very well, and offer a great package for the enthusiast especially in the used car market.

    –> Ford Probe GT
    Actually, it was pretty good. Bought a 1993 model in 1997 and loved it. Eventually got tired of it and picked up a Prelude SR-V (Si in USA) which was a better car all around

    –> Chevrolet HHR
    They look cool, even better looking then the PT Cruiser; maybe only because the HHR was less common and therefore seemed “fresher”. Realistically though, the view from the driving seat is terrible and it feels like you are literally driving a twinkie with gun-slit windows

  • avatar
    NotFast

    Car that looks good but isn’t: Pontiac Fiero.

    Do I win?

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    Eagle Talon/Mitsubishi Eclipse 1995-1999

    I always liked the look of these (and still do) but they were a real service nightmare, even when new.

  • avatar
    korvetkeith

    I have an X308 jaguar XJR. The land rover description is interchangeable.
    -timing chain tensioners
    -abs module
    -throttle body and connector
    -shifter dip switches
    -doors sometimes unlock
    -headliner falls down

    In non supercharged cars, the transmission also blows up. The only people dumber than me buy those. If you have a burning desire to spend at least $10k fixing a $5-10k car, by all means buy one. In 5 years you and Korvetkeith will have the only surviving driveable ones.

    • 0 avatar
      salhany

      Why would the tranny blow up in the non-supercharged cars?

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I thought that too, unless the XKR transmission was a different model or had better quality parts.

        • 0 avatar
          korvetkeith

          You got it, the XJR got the nice amg trans before it was in AMGs with 722ft.lbs of torque. The non supercharged cars got some other trans with some sort of drum and valve problems.

          If you want some attention, these cars get it. And they’re prettier than 99.9% of the cars on the road. I was sure I wanted an SEC, but this car was so much newer and more powerful I couldn’t pass it up.

          If you insist, by the last year 308 XJR with lots of receipts for repairs.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        Without knowing anything about the XJR, I bet the supercharged car has a transmission with a higher torque rating.

        Just looked it up, the non-supercharged car had a ZF 5-speed (same as E38/E39 BMWs, same as A6/S6/RS6, A8/S8), whereas the supercharged car had a Mercedes 5G-Tronic 5-speed. The 5G-Tronic could deal with 796 lb-ft of torque.

        I believe people had similar complaints about that ZF 5-speed in the RS6.

    • 0 avatar
      olddavid

      I have been able to resist the attraction of those beautiful cars, but only to the point of being the owner of an XJR that sits in my garage after being driven over a parking curb at 30 m.p.h. For $2500, the totaled wreck was too good of a bargain to not buy and hope for the best. At least that was my belief at the time. Not such a good deal after all, however. It was parked at a remote farm for two years and I haven’t even attempted to start thinking about what to do with it. Perhaps there is a 12 step group for wanna-be Jaguar owners? Please, Keith, tell me to sell it to Schnitzer’s Pick-n-Pull before I leap into the abyss…….

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Yes this right here. The X308s are what a “saloon” should look like. The powertrains are nice, until they fail. 28cars is right, the aftermarket is embracing LSx swapping these cars. Just as it allowed the predecessors of this car to live on with Gen 1 and 2 SBCs.

      Recently, I saw a fairly nice looking LT1 swapped series 3 for sale locally in the 3-4k range. If I had more room, it would have been really tempting.

      Edit: ahh it’s still for sale. Must. Not…buy

  • avatar
    Tifighter

    The 1992-1996 Mazda 929. Still a great looking car. From my understanding, super fragile. Oh well.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    I’ll go with the E46 BMW. It was the last BMW that looked like a BMW should. The interior was still close enough to the ergonomic ideal while appearing to have much better materials than the E36 and better fit and finish. The available engines and manual transmissions in the US were all of the stuff BMW mechanicals were meant to be.

    Unfortunately, the interiors still weren’t tested outside in the sun. Being told that you can buy new window surrounds for hundreds of dollars but they’ll be falling on your head again in 18 months like the originals isn’t nice. The steering was slow on the 2001s, which were most of the ones I drove. The rear subframes were as weak as the E36s, and the cars stressing them were heavier. The front control arms were maintenance parts, now 50K mile maintenance parts instead of 100K mile maintenance pieces like on the five hundred pound lighter E30, which it seems like they were meant for. That must not be the case though, as replacing them went up a thousand dollars. Speaking of maintenance expenses, the entire (plastic and aluminum)cooling system became one that a very good shop told me should be done no less than every 60K miles. Two doors still had the frameless door glass and pop-seal mechanism that necessitated 30K window regulator replacement for the driver side, 50K replacement for the passenger side, just like on our E36 and Mini Cooper. Last(for people without SMG) but not least, there were the horrors of the body computer. Need a new battery? Headache. Need a new key? Expense. Need pretty much any electrical component replaced, or at least to replace various sensors that somehow made it just past the warranty duration? Headache. The best thing I can say about BMW now is that they don’t make anything that tempts me even a little bit.

    • 0 avatar
      Buzz Killington

      The E46 is one of those cars where the juice is worth the squeeze…as long as you don’t need to pay someone else to do that work. But I am glad my wagon is a 2004 and not an early one.

      BTW, cooling system replacement is 90k.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        Why is BMW unable to produce a decent cooling system? Is Germany so cold that they don’t have to worry about these things?

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I was told 60K if you really didn’t want to experience complete coolant loss(La Jolla Independent said this, the people Road & Track go to when they want BMW expertise). 90K was for people luckier with BMWs than I.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          60K is the safe number; both my friends had catastrophic failure of the expansion tank in the early 70k mileage. They wisely chose to use their cell phones instead of driving home so no engine damage. Funny how the body structure feels so rigid, yet some of the sub system are like play-dough.

          • 0 avatar
            redmondjp

            Yup. A former coworker got a creampuff one-owner example for cheap because the original owner tried to drive it to the shop with this problem and the engine was toast.

            One replacement low-mileage engine ($3500?) from an importer in California (who has some connection with German auto dismantlers IIRC) and a long weekend later, and he is now driving in style.

  • avatar
    stevejac

    Two more:

    ’90 Volvo 740 Turbo wagon. Looked good (and still does), screams Yuppiemobile. My wife loved it briefly, until it’s reliability problems became obvious. I did learn why Volvos are so safe– it’s hard to be killed in a car that won’t start.

    ’05 Lexus ES 300. Again, a very attractive car. Dead-on reliable. Dead driving experience. Terrible handling. What was I thinking?

    • 0 avatar
      WaftableTorque

      I have an 02 ES300 and 02 LS430. I actually think the ES handles too well given its mission as a cosseting Buick-like luxury sedan. The base suspension is more aggressive than the Sport mode on my LS, which means they could have made the ride more lush than they actually did.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I thought Chrysler LeBaron was good looking car back then. But what a trash it was!!!

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Honda Passport was an attractive SUV but man, it was a garbage.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Mazda 626, something like 1995. Good looks, tranny broke every 45K

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Ok. last one, or two… 2009 Camry and I can add 1st gen Avalon – look good, but my queen bed on wheels drives better.

  • avatar
    davew833

    Count me among those who disagree that the P10 G20 should be on this list. I worked for the local Infiniti dealership from 1991-93 when these were new. I loved everything about them except the two-tone interiors which I thought looked cheap because of the somewhat odd color choices (that light brown was right out of the ’70s) and the massive dashboard which seemed to be molded from one piece of overly-leather-grained plastic. 5-speeds were a treat to drive. The automatics were very responsive compared to most slushboxes from the ’80s, and it must be remembered that having a 4 cyl with 140 hp and 132 ft-lb of torque in the early ’90s was nothing to sneeze at. I’ll grant you that by 1996 they were starting to look pretty underpowered, but in 1991 for someone whose personal car at the time was an ’85 Honda Accord that put out a whopping 86 HP, stepping up to 140 on the occasions I got to drive a G20 seemed huge. If anything, I’d say the G20 is the opposite of your premise- it was a bland-looking car that blended in perfectly with the Camcords of the day yet was far superior- a sleeper with a timing chain instead of a belt. I loved the exterior styling though– especially by ’94 when they’d changed to body-colored moldings, chrome door handles, and a slightly larger grille.

    Unfortunately I agree that good ones are hard to find and have been for some time. Soft resale values and the allure of the SR20DE engines to the ricer-racer crowd have meant that far too many were ridden hard and put away wet. This applies to two of the three P10 G20′s I owned personally which I bought cheap and spent way too much money getting back into shape. I’d still love to find a well-cared-for low-mileage ’95 or ’96 G20t 5-speed.

    My nominee for a car that truly fits your category is the 1987-1991 Rover Sterling 827SL. The (false) promise of beautiful, crisp, styling on the outside, yards of Connolly leather and real wood on the inside, a jewel-like Acura V6 under the hood, and… Lucas electronics, poor quality control, lousy manufacturer and dealer support, etc. All the things you love about Japanese cars combined with all the things you hate about British ones. It’s no wonder Sterling left the US market with their tails between their legs and never returned. (I’ve owned a few of these, too. What can I say- I’m a sucker for a British accent.)

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      “My nominee for a car that truly fits your category is the 1987-1991 Rover Sterling 827SL. The vain promise of Beautiful, crisp, styling on the outside, yards of Connolly leather and real wood on the inside, a jewel-like Acura V6 under the hood, and… Lucas electronics, poor quality control, etc.”

      Does anyone remember the commercials back in the 80s for these Sterlings? They made you feel like you needed to be chauffeured to be riding in one of these, and you needed to ask the guy next to you if you had any Grey Poupon. I’m not even sure if they even showed the car or told you anything about it — it was all about how prestigious a British automobile was. I think they only sold about 35K of these during the whole run, of which maybe more than a third were sold in 1987. Must have been the least reliable Acura Legend in history.

      I saw a guy driving a clapped out one of these a few months ago. I was shocked to see it. It looked like it might have been slightly Harlequin-ed in the VW style — different panels from different cars.

      I was only able to dig up three Sterling commercials and none of them are the one I’m thinking of:

      Random Investment Banker
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThFu1TMLz48

      James Bond
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9TvdqhuUoc

      The last one is during the end of the run in the 90s during a football game advertising 0.00% financing, but isn’t very different from a current commercial, so it’s not worth linking to.

      • 0 avatar
        cargogh

        I wanted the 827 SLi. The hatchback version. In Triton (lime) green with tan/light brown leather and a manual. I was around 25 when these came out they were beautiful. I always liked the Rover 3500′s appearance, but we didn’t get those. And Mazda’s 626 hatchback wasn’t as sleek.
        It only took a few months before the word got around to skip the hatchback, or any Sterling, and go for the Acura. Wood and leather didn’t matter; they were junk. The Acura coupe was pretty, but looks wise, I thought the 825 was much sharper than a Legend.

    • 0 avatar

      We’ll have to agree to disagree on the G20. In fact, I’m having to do that with virtually every single person in this thread. So maybe I’m wrong. (This would not surprise regular readers.)

      I completely agree on the Sterling, though. Handsome car – though I, like cargogh, preferred the hatchback. Regardless of bodystyle, all were awful.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        G20s are cabs in Ghana so there is some truth to its agricultural roots. But its a dynamic beast. Second only to the likes of DWB DOHC VTEC Hondas for FWD driving fun. I believe it was called the best handling FWD car in the world by some reputable organization. SR20 is solid, suspension is good, car is relatively small and light. These days, that goes pretty far.

  • avatar
    davew833

    In typical British fashion, Rover Sterling ironed out many of the quality issues toward the later years of the Sterling 827′s US run. (Actually 1987-88 were 825s, 1989-91 were 827s) By then, however, the damage had been done and nobody wanted the much-improved cars Rover Sterling was producing by 1990-91. I purchased a one-owner 1990 Sterling 827SL Oxford special edition in 2004 and owned it for about 5 years. It wasn’t any less reliable than the comparable Acuras I’ve owned. It did have some annoying electrical quirks, particularly the alarm and the power door locks, which had a mind of their own. It was a good-looking car- the paint held up well, and the leather interior was not only beautiful but bulletproof. Parts were typically interchangeable with Acura Legend parts with the exception of brakes and some electrical components. I learned to scavenge the self-serve wrecking yards and stockpile parts to keep it on the road.

  • avatar
    Joss

    NSU Ro 80 – das wankel wanker.
    Triumph Stag.
    Bricklin.

    TERRA NOVA’s after the sex of a Rex attack.

  • avatar
    Joss

    I’d like to nominate another little ditty. Though Farina-shrunk-in-the-wash, considered good looking is debatable. The Austin America: MG Vanden Plas. Can you say Cimarron 20 years sooner? My gawd what a pricey little BMC/BL piss pot. No wonder it sold small in Cali.

    Think I spy one briefly being fendered about 10 seconds in ‘Let the Wrecking Begin,’ Halicki’s Gone in 60 Seconds.

  • avatar
    becauseCAR

    I would have to nominate the worst car I have ever driven: The Mercedes-Benz SLK32 AMG. I took that car out, thinking it was going to be somewhat fun. Instead I find out the engine has no character (that supercharger does not help), the five-speed automatic is a horrible, the roof is creaking, the handling is non-existent, and you look like a complete tool driving the car.

    The kicker was that I drove a 9-3 Viggen that had a dash beeping sound that would not shut up which was testing my patience, the dashboard display was completely broken so I didn’t know what the problem was, and a broken front bumper. But I still preferred the Saab over the Benz. To this day, my test driving buddy and I have a running joke that no car can be as bad as the SLK32 AMG.

  • avatar
    alexndr333

    Amazing how few American cars made this list, inasmuch as “looks good, feels bad” seems endemic to the last 35 years of US automobile-dom. Let’s limit ourselves to GM: Someone mentioned the Pontiac Fiero. Good call. I had an ’86 GT 5-speed which was beautiful, quick and dead in a turn. Reliable, though. The 1992 and later Sevilles were pretty gorgeous sedans, but they were front-drive, and a mediocre V-8 was replaced in 1994 by the Northstar. Late ’70′s Chevy Monza hatch-back. Oldsmobile Aurora (both editions). All Camaros and Firebirds beginning in 1971 (except the overdone Trans-Ams, which was never good-looking). Someone else needs to list all the Fords and Chryslers.

    • 0 avatar
      Justice_Gustine

      Front wheel drive Monte Carlo. I likes the style, but it has all the ride quality of an Impala.

    • 0 avatar
      zeus01

      I recall quite a few duds in the durability/reliability department from the big three that were good looking rides: Dodge Daytona/Plymouth Laser, Chevrolet Vega, Chrysler Intrepid, Pontiac Fiero, Ford Tempo (no wait, that one was ugly too), Pontiac Sunfire, Pontiac Grand Am, Dodge Neon and 3rd-generation Camaros and Firebirds. (One auto journalist back in the day, in a review of the ’82 Firebird and its high sales numbers, summed it up quite succinctly: “If the ’82 Firebird proved anything, it’s that we’re all suckers for a great body.”)

  • avatar
    mr_muttonchops

    Kia Amanti.

    [/thread]

  • avatar
    mkirk

    You’re crazy. The first gen Explorer was the only one that was any good. Still enough Ranger under there that if you didn’t load them up they we pretty honest trucks and I have seen a few 5 speed models still around if you don’t like the auto and they still had a real front axle to boot. One of the last of the “modern” SUVs that can be built into a capable rig IMHO.

    • 0 avatar

      You’ve been hypnotized by Jurassic Park.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      They do seem to last fairly long for the most part, but I’ve never found them to be particularly good vehicles. High fuel consumption, not big enough inside to be really useful, not very powerful, can’t really tow anything significant.

      They do sell though. Any one I’ve ever had sold in 2 weeks or less. Just proves the market truly picks the winners, and it’s usually not the best car.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    BMW 850?

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    I must confess one of my late night indulgences really is a package of comfort food and the Auto Trader iPad app. I usually dig up cars I once was interested enough to collect car brochures on or fantasized about adding to my garage.

    It’s cheap entertainment looking at cars I once lusted for that have lost 50-90% of their value; that eventually developed reputations or merely reinforced them; game changers that were really the same-old same-old; and playing the “they can’t all be bad” game with various European marques.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Rover SD1, a car that needs no introduction.

  • avatar
    Lordbeezel

    No Audi 5000 Love?

    I owned two, TWO of those horror shows. I brought the first as a low mile used after they cratered due to the whole unintended acceleration thingy. I’d had only American iron to that point. There was this one blighted stretch of road that used to make me fear for my kneecaps as I watched the dash on my then current land yacht oscillate like the Tacoma Narrows bridge whenever I traversed it. I swear the fuzzy dice would rattle. I rode in a 5000 as a passenger on the same stretch and….NOTHING! A muted thumping sound that could have been Vinny struggling in the trunk (this road was in Bayonne NJ, by the way) and that was it. I was SOLD! I was half convinced the car was from Krypton such was the difference. I tracked down a clean, lowish mileage 5000 automatic in “Austin Power’s teeth” Ivory. LOVED driving it, for oh, say 6 months. Then the steering rack. Then the cracked exhaust manifold. The cracked IN HALF exhaust manifold, apparently a common problem for the oh so smooth 5cyl. Then the steering rack again (note to self, don’t get the next one from the junk yard). That apparently required Unicorn semen for fluid. Then the loud snapping sound in the door handle at 1:00 in the morning at 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Then 1265 other small things. And finally, the pulling of the trannie dip stick, the puzzled look on my face as I try to identify the color, the sniff, the slow realization that I was smelling gear fluid (fast zoom to the eyes, cue the Shat light). Then the trade in, all of 1 year, 4 months later. I won’t even count the 0-60 time of … actually I can’t swear it ever hit 60.

    So what do I do? 4 yrs later I BUY ANOTHER ONE! IN THE SAME UGLY ASS COLOR! In my defense it was dirt cheap and I needed an “airport” car. I paid half in singles. To this day I don’t remember why I had all those singles, but I remember the suspicious look on the sellers face. Then the steering rack…

    Oh, and that unintended acceleration thing? Yeah, happened to me. Seems the gas pedal and brake pedal were on the exact same plane, very close, of similar resistance, and size 11′s in winter boots were guaranteed to give you a thrill now and then. The second one had the interlock.

    But DAMN they looked good.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      I had an ’85 5000S 5-speed. I put about 15K miles on it while I had it. It may not have been FAST, but it would indicate 120 mph and cruise at 110 mph without much effort. I didn’t have the problems you did, but I suffered a complete hydraulic brake failure. I drove the car back from Radford to Virginia Tech with only the ineffective hand brake, lower gears, and artfully applied yaw to slow me down. I also had the driver’s power window mechanism fail. Twice. The dealer told me the easiest way to fix it was with a new door.

      When the master cylinder was working, I glazed the brake pads while racing a friend over about five miles of winding roads. I pulled out a lead, parked, and hopped out to lean triumphantly against my car when my friend caught up. I was engulfed in acrid black smoke that was billowing from the wheels. The next day the car had a hard brake pedal but no perceptible deceleration. I took it to a shop and they laughed as they told me I’d gotten the brake pads hot enough to turn them to glass.

      I once roadtripped from Blacksburg, VA to NYC in the winter. The climate control decided to try to kill me. It ran full cold at maximum fan speed no matter how many times I hit the off button or tried to change the settings. Today, I would pull a fuse. For some reason it didn’t dawn on me that day, perhaps because I was looking to lower my record for the 500 miles from 7 hours and 15 minutes to something under 7 hours, or perhaps for reasons I shouldn’t publish. I wasn’t a big fan of stopping, and that car could make the trip on one tank. I think it held 21 gallons and averaged 30 mpg on the highway at elevated speeds.

      A friend was driving when the master cylinder died. He kept saying the brakes felt weird, and I kept telling him about the hydraulic pressure booster used in only the BMW 733i and Audi 5000S. I was at once impressed that he found the difference to a vacuum booster system so dramatic and smug that the strangeness he detected was actually superiority. The next morning I got in the car to find the brake pedal on the floor.

  • avatar
    smallenginesmakemesad

    Old Bentleys.

    My friend (until quite recently had a Turbo R. It was so comfortable, quiet, powerful etc. I loved driving it.

    My best analogy was with scuba diving. When you are diving, you kind of ‘think about’ going up – and you do it. With the Bentley – you think about going faster and with no sensation of acceleration or your own personal input – you ride a wave of torque and you are going faster.
    It was lovely.

    But a $15,000 service bill?????

  • avatar
    xantia10000

    I vote for the original Touareg – gorgeous exterior & Bentley-grade (or Phaeton-grade) interior. But I think VW decided to let its customers share in the durability testing phase of vehicle development. Weirdo electronics malfunctions (like the alarm going off every time you used the remote keyless fob) paled in comparison to all the drivetrain hardware issues. My favorite anecdote: my friend worked for JDPA when Touareg launched. The car had so many customer-reported problems that they had to change scale on their normal templates just to fit the Touareg data!

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Any Mercedes made after about 1995, when found on the used market.

  • avatar
    JSF22

    Doug, this is one of your best ideas and best articles ever — keep them coming. I logged on too late, so the Best and the Brightest have everything covered. I can only amplify the comments of everyone who nominated pretty much any Audi or Volkswagen product from the mid 80s through about last week. Cars like the A4 generation Jetta; B5 generation Passat; any New Beetle; and any big Audi ever, were all so attractive, and seemed to drive so nicely for the first week or so, that they sucked in every auto writer, and hundreds of thousands of actual customers, then kicked most of them right in the balls. Window regulators, steering racks, oil sludge, ignition coils, A/C systems, etc., etc. all have been well addressed here. But how about the gorgeous C5 generation Audi A6 (the one with the tucked-under trunk that to me still looks good today, and with the interior design that really started making Audi a standout), which had fuel tank level sensors that corroded the moment gasoline touched them, and that then defaulted to the “F” reading?! I think the VW Group has to win your prize, because nobody else built such a wide range of incredibly attractive but fundamentally lousy cars that had such a devastating effect on their business.

    • 0 avatar

      Hah! The pinnacle however was the RS6 and the B5 S4 – it just had to have been. But you’re right: this article could’ve been comprised solely of Volkswagens and it would’ve been accurate. (Plus, then it wouldn’t have included the Infiniti G20 and garnered so many complaints!)

      • 0 avatar
        ktm

        I loved my 2002 B5 S4, but it got to the point that every single time I got into the car I would mutter, “What’s going to go wrong today….”

        I had both snails replaced under warranty, instrument cluster, transmission control module, power window regulator, radio, radio again, etc. When it was working, it was sublime and one of my favorite cars ever.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Volvo. Any Volvo. Our S70 was horrific by 70k. I think the XC90 is perfectly proportioned…beautiful even….but I wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole.

  • avatar
    CarnotCycle

    Anyone remember Sterling Motor Cars? When I was young, I had 87′ 825 for a couple years – all the Honda bits were cool, all the British bits were…WTF? Like I still remember the ~60 some-odd vacuum relays in the vast Lucasian short-circuit that was the car’s electrical system. Or the shift-kit for the transmission that was like SLAM! on every shift. Finally transmission fluid got in the cooling circuit, producing a fantastic brown goo. Then I put a fork in it and got a real car.

    But it was fast, fun (when it ran), looked all shiny luxo-bomb and was great conversation starter every time somebody (especially a lady) got in the car. That Sterling was an odd car in that I loved owning it, was glad I did own it, yet don’t miss it one little bit today.

    • 0 avatar
      Towncar

      Yes, Carnot! Remember the Sterling well. A good friend of mine had one. It really was an odd duck–the outside was Hondanonymous, but inside they were going for Jaguar levels of wood and leather, and they got very close. Everyone was surprised it was so nice when they got in it. The transition from RHD to LHD wasn’t quite 100% done, though–the hood release was in the passenger’s footwell.

    • 0 avatar
      jimbob457

      I am a former owner of not one, but two Sterlings. Both were bought used in Dallas (where rust does not really exist) for very small money. An abortive attempt to keep Rover afloat, its Honda was good and its Rover basically bow wow, except for the interiors.

      The tipping point as whether a 125K mile useful life used car was good buy or a horror was the electicals. Early versions were terrible with (as I recall) Lucas. Later models had decent Bosch(?) stuff.

      The nice looking black four door made my wife look pretty good motivatin’ down the road. My personal silver 4 door hatchback looked a little odd, but it was very practical. Both cars scrapped out rather well because of their Honda V-6 and transmissions.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    I love the look of the Kia Forte Koup and Saturn Ion Red Line (both in metallic blue, of course), but I wouldn’t buy either one.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    It just goes to show you how subjective looks are. IMHO, none of the vehicles pictured are any better than “ehhhh” looking. The Volvo would be the best of the bunch, if a different color. The rest are pretty generic looking.

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    Geez. I once bought a slightly used RED PT Cruiser. If retro speaks to you at all, this is the all time second best example. The best being the Inca Gold PT Cruiser.

    Based on a third rate platform, it had some serious problems.
    1. The driver’s seat wrecked your back after about six hours of highway driving.
    2. It was too slow w/o a turbo, and I shudder at the prospect of owning the turbo version.
    3. Finally, it was only a 100k mile car. I took my well-maintained 110k car into my mechanic, and he said this car is a piece of junk. I said, “I love it. Will you at least try to fix it.” He said “OK”. The next day he dropped dead.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    I will echo others sentiments and add my ex B5 Passat to the list. I will also add the Volvo C30. What a disappointing drive.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      That’s a shame about the C30. The look clean and distinctive, which doesn’t seem to be easy to achieve in the current regulatory and design-talent-poor era. They also have the same platform as the old Mazda 3, which had a decent chassis in naturally-aspirated form. Would the C30 have benefited from being offered without the turbo?

  • avatar
    mshenzi

    I’m surprised at how lightly Jaguar has gotten off the hook: from family and friends’ history, I’ll nominate any XJ since they started making em, (my dad had an original V12 with four Weber carbs, don’t even ask how many days a tune-up held). So sweet, so constantly broken. Don’t know about the newest version, though.

  • avatar
    11ramsport

    04 SVT Focus

    Bought one low mileage and looked to be reasonably taken care of. Not super fast, but very fun to drive, if you can hold it together.

    On the way home, driver window fell into the door the second or third time I rolled it down, a few weeks later, the plastic clutch master cylinder gave out, the car seemed to eat swaybar endlinks for lunch, and swapping the alternator was a pain. 5,000 miles later, it had to go.

  • avatar
    Brunsworks

    I love your work, though I would definitely have skewed the results of your poll, since I didn’t like the look of the 1991-1994 Explorer any more than its reliability.

    • 0 avatar
      NeinNeinNein

      The VW and Audi’s are SOMETIMES a pain–thats for sure. But next time look around. You’ll see a LOT of them on the roads–at least the ones produced after 1999 and still there’s a fair amount of them from 94-1999 here in Southern California.
      The thing is with the VAG cars–you either get lucky or not.
      If you’re not you better be one of two types of people—one with a THICK wallet OR one with a box full of wrenches and the patience and intelligence and ambition to follow an online DIY.
      I look around and see a lot of average folks driving these vehicles to 200K+—so they’re either lucky or talented.
      Hopefully if you do buy one–you end up being one of those two types of people–because the driving experience of these cars (and probably BMW’s and Merc’s) as well is just sublime and makes driving a real pleasure.
      I never understood that driving could be so nice until we got into VW/Audi vehicles!

  • avatar
    davew833

    Later Sterlings (827s) had changed over to some Bosch electricals, and the but much of the chassis electrical system was still Lucas. I had a good-sized box of Lucas yellow and green relays, as well as alarm modules, headlight modules, power lock controllers, etc., long after the cars were gone.

  • avatar
    mvoss

    People will hate me saying this, but I test drove an S2000 and was really underwhelmed. For a car that gets so much raving, it was extremely cramped and the gear ratios are so close that you hit 6th gear and 3000 rpm at 45 mph. That means it must hover around 4500 rpm on mild highway speeds.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Naah, 3000 in 6th is about 55. 4000 is around 70. I’m a lean 6’2″ and I have juuuust enough room. It’s definitely not a car for the thicker folk.

  • avatar
    fluxcapacitor

    Doug–you forgot about the 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer. Great styling. Not much else.


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