The Worst New Car I've Driven So Far

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler

Being asked “what car should I buy?” occurs on a weekly basis for me, but I’d rather field that question every day than listen to the recieved wisdom of a magazine racer just once more in my life. The most recent inquiry came from my Uncle Maurice, a kind and generous man who provided my brother and me with a near bottomless supply of Swiss Army knives when we were children.

Maurice owns the second worst car I’ve ever driven, a 2005 Buick Century. The Century is a relic of the bad years of GM when everybody was utterly indifferent to making a a quality vehicle. This example may be the best Buick Century ever; Maurice’s father-in-law was the previous owner and kept it in immaculate condition. Unfortunately, it drives like a stereotypical Buick, and the 3.1L V6 is somehow underpowered and horribly thirsty. Maurice recently emailed me, saying that he want to replace the Century with an American sedan that has a peerless ride, spacious rear seating and an easy ingress/egress for my Aunt. Naturally, I refereed him to Sajeev, who suggested a nearly-new Town Car Signature L. Needless to say, I cannot wait to head down to Florida this year and waft down the streets of Miami, while the bass-heavy music of Rick Ross rattles the Kleenex boxes and adjustable-back baseball hats mounted on the parcel shelf.

Which brings me to the worst vehicle I’ve ever driven; a 2011 Nissan Sentra. The Sentra belonged to Zipcar, a car sharing service that I have a membership with (paid for myself, not comped, if any integrity-minders want to know). I was stuck without a car recently and had to make a doctor’s appointment. With construction on the main areterial road, the already infrequent bus service would be even slower, and I didn’t feel like being crammed in with the other rides in that state. I fired up my Zipcar membership and got the cheapest car that was located within walking distance. At $9 per hour, it was a no brainer compared to the $13.50 per hour Mini Cooper they also had.

I’d used the Mini before, when it was winter time, the roads were freshly salted, and I didn’t want to drive my pristine, rust-free Miata. The Mini was an absolute hoot to drive, despite being low on power, and the lessons I learned at Tim O’Neil’s rally school could be put to work. The Sentra, on the other hand, was an utterly dismal drive.

With 21,000 miles on it, the Sentra didn’t feel rough or abused. It just wasn’t a good car. Any life that the QR20DE 2.0L4-cylinder had was immediately sapped by the poky CVT gearbox. The CVT, to its credit, didn’t display the typical “motorboat” behavior, and was good at keeping the revs suitably low around town – but that’s about it. Turns taken at moderate speed exhibited massive body roll, and the comically high driving position made me feel like I was sitting on a piece of playground apparatus.

At $18,878 plus $1,300 for the optional CVT gearbox, the Sentra is hardly the cheapest compact out there, not the most generously equipped. The $20,178 sticker also included $135 for the “Blueberry” paint, which was actually an attractive shade of Navy. There are so many good choices in all segments of the used car market that’s it’s pretty hard to buy a bad car, unless you really look hard. This is one of those instances. If you want something fun to drive, there’s the Ford Focus and the Mazda3. If you want something Korean that looks upscale, the Chevrolet Cruze and Hyundai Elantra are there for you, while the Kia Rio does a great imitation of a SEAT Ibiza from 5 years ago. All-wheel drive? The Subaru Impreza. Basic transportation? The Honda Civic, Volkswagen Jetta and Toyota Corolla are all vying for your money. Even Alex Dykes would recommend the Versa, the cheapest new car on sale today, over the Sentra.

Yes, I know these cars have their flaws, like exploding automatic gearboxes on the Focus. My point is that the quality differential between modern cars has largely disappeared to the point where differences in product are incremental and quality is largely equal (at the expense of character, which is a whole other discussion). But every now and then, you find something that is unreservedly at the back of the pack, hopelessly out of date and a reminder that while modern cars may be considered dull and uniform, they have come so far in just a few short years.

And on that note, I leave you with a classic bit from Louis C.K. that explains it better than I ever could.

Derek Kreindler
Derek Kreindler

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  • Stevejac Stevejac on Apr 24, 2012

    I recently got a sentra as a rental in Hawaii after the other car died... a chrysler 200. The sentra was head and shoulders above the chrysler in drivability, comfort, power, anything. I don't know if it had a cvt. I thought is was a reasonable if basic small car.

  • DaveL DaveL on Jun 21, 2012

    I'll borrow my grandma's Lincoln when I move back to Florida in August and we can cruise through Miami together playing Rick Ross! Let me know when your ready :)

  • Mike Beranek I wouldn't want to own this car. But I sure would love to borrow it.
  • CFS I can’t believe these comments aren’t 100% in favor of CarPlay/Android Auto. They don’t add much for music and other audio that you don’t get with just a Bluetooth connection, but they make navigation so so much better. Why is it better? Because inputting the destination address is so much easier. And I don’t need to think about updating my car’s maps. Plus, I can switch between Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps, or whatever else seems best suited for my trip. Hands-free calling features are OK, but not such a big deal for me.
  • TheEndlessEnigma I've owned a VW in the past and learned my lesson. Any kind of repair was absurdly expensive which I understand is typical of VW nowadays.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Interesting how Stellantis (and can we take a moment to acknowledge how piss-poor a company name this is - it invokes....what....MBA marketeers failing at their job) is pursuing cuts to reduce costs instead of, oh I don't know, designing-building-marketing vehicles people *WANT* to buy? What has Stella done with what was Chrysler? Suck off the cash flow generated by Chrysler brands, essentially kill the Chrysler brand by cancelling successful models, eliminate any market advantage Dodge had by killing successful models (G Caravan was the #1 minivan until it was killed, Charger & Challenger *were* profitable, etc,) and progressively and continually neuter Jeep all this while ignoring component and build quality. What's done in return? Push Fiat as the new and exciting brand then watch as it fails in North America (did you know ONLY 603 Fiats were sold in the US in 2023). All new Stellantis releases in North America are Euro designs......that then fail in North America because they are not design for our market. The Stellanis solution? Fire Fred, Hank, and Jim and replace them with Apu, Jose and Bernardo. Yup, that will work.
  • 3-On-The-Tree To say your people are total monsters is an unfair statement. You can judge the Japanese government but to say the citizens are culpable or responsible is wrong. That’s like saying every Caucasian person in the U.S is responsible for slavery or the civil rights era of violence and discrimination against African Americans and are benefiting from it. That’s 79 years ago, the average Japanese citizen born during WWII has nothing to do with what happened. Even my Japanese grandmother who was living in Yokohama whose home was firebombed was just trying to survive with 3 kids and a husband fighting in the war. Just like every war the citizens suffer, I saw it in Iraq. You can’t judge the people from the misdeeds of their government, my mom was born after the war, you really think she is responsible for what happened?