By on March 13, 2019

SAAB 9-5 Aero Wagon, Image: Saab

I hinted at today’s QOTD last week, when the original post for this line of questioning got the ball rolling. Last time we asked which non-luxury vehicles of 2019 were the most overpriced. The subsequent comments reflected a wide variety of nuanced opinions, ranging from “Everything over $25,000 is overpriced” to “Cars should come used from the factory.” Just kidding (maybe).

Today we step back over a decade and talk about everyone’s favorite rounded and cheap plastic era: the 2000s.

As the Nineties said goodbye, the Golden Era of this and that faded from view. Cost-cutting became more apparent, styling entered a bubble-cum-retro phase, and interior buttons for many vehicles were sourced from Fisher-Price. Corny pixelated displays arrived, reflecting climate controls which were once directed by buttons. Satellite navigation was the hot new luxury option, allowing your car to yell at you while you were lost in a bad part of town. At least the satellite connection brought with it much music and entertainment for car journeys.

Amid all the chaos of emerging infotainment and accountant-engineers, some vehicles were certainly overpriced. Have a look at this dandy.

I’m picking on Ford again for this special offering. Five years after the demise of the prior generation, Ford decided to reincarnate its Thunderbird in an all-new retro style, as was the fashion in the early 2000s. Returning to traditional form, rear seats vanished. The convertible which was absent through prior generations returned, with an optional hard top to make things coupe-like. Jaguar contributed its 3.9-liter V8, and the Lincoln LS was the bin used for the underwhelming interior.

The first year models sold well, and Motor Trend even awarded Thunderbird its North American Car of the Year award. Speaking of sales, we should check the pricing. Prices ranged between $36,960 and $38,890 (about $50,000 in 2019 dollars), before any additional dealer markup — which was, at times, considerable. It was an opportunistic sell based upon retro styling and a legendary nameplate. Sales dropped off soon after, and 2007 was the coffin year for Thunderbird. Good riddance.

Let’s hear your picks for overpriced rides of the 2000s.

[Images: Saab, Ford]

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99 Comments on “QOTD: Most Overpriced Non-luxury Vehicle of the 2000s?...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Toyota, no particular model, but I always found them to be pricey for what they were. They were rarely discounted and replacement parts were very expensive.

    BTW, a lot of people would consider that Thunderbird as being pretty luxurious

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Yeah I’d call the Thunderbird a luxury car for sure. And looking at it now, I find it really attractive. Would be a fun summer cruiser, something to take the wife out to dinner in and valet.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        I always liked it and never really understood why it was such a bomb considering the success of cars like the PT Cruiser

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          If memory serves, Bryan Nesbitt’s PT Cruiser was aimed at young people but ended up being purchased by a lot of older people because it had reasonable headroom, relatively good entry/egress and pretty good storage. And because older people have money.

          The HHR (‘Heritage High Roof’) that Nesbitt went on to design at GM was one of the worst vehicles that I have ever driven (rental during collision repair).

          • 0 avatar

            You get 1,000 points for talking about Bryan Nesbitt at this location.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            A coworker had an HHR, I agree, a truly horrid vehicle, the nadir of GM interiors for sure. We had a similar era PT Cruiser as a rental once (post ownership Diamler refresh) and even that wasn’t quite as bad.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            Still have a sick fascination with the HHR SS manual transmission.

            But only if I could find one that was being sold on an estate sale with dealer service records and a family that didn’t know that Grandpa was a secret boost freak.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            I’d much rather buy a Cobalt SS. Yes the Cobalt is a notable upgrade in interior aesthetics and quality.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            @gtem…

            Style man, style. ;-)

            Bonus points for HHR SS panel van… >_<

            Yes I'm aware I have a sickness.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            I couldn’t suffer the bad visibility and atrocious interior I’d be staring at 99% of the time for the 1% of the time I’d be walking up to it (and it was ugly to my eyes anyhow).

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            I’ve decided PrincipalDan is Bob Lutz pretending to be a younger man.

            (JohnTaurus might be William Clay Ford Jr… uncertain.)

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            @ToolGuy

            https://tinyurl.com/y58ny4eq

            I’ll own that.

            (Now where’d I put that GD cigar?)

          • 0 avatar
            blackEldo

            It seems the Buick Encore has picked up where the PT left off: intended to spark sales with hip, younger buyers only to become the darling of the retirement community.

        • 0 avatar
          jeoff

          The PT was a practical car, made interesting by going retro, not much about the T-Bird was practical.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        It’s just like the Ranger being over priced because its directly in line with the less capable, less refined, less economical, and less powerful Tacoma. This is over priced because its nothing but a lame mainstream car with unique styling.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          The T-bird wasn’t a bad piece, but it was a square peg. It was too expensive to be something you’d buy just for fun, and wasn’t fast enough to be fun in the first place. They went for Corvette money, and didn’t have anything close to Corvette performance. Plus, the Audi TT had already staked a claim to the retro two-seater category, and was a lot more fun to drive.

          The interiors on these were also really plain for the money. I’m not surprised it failed. Still, I’d love to have one as a Sunday afternoon cruiser.

          • 0 avatar
            A Scientist

            Agree with all of this. Well, except for having one. I guess I wouldn’t decline one if it were given to me, but I’m not paying for it lol

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          John you’re going to overdose on your own sassy snark one of these days!

  • avatar
    jack4x

    Speaking of retro, wasn’t the SSR like $50,000?

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Base price of $41k.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I had a Great Uncle who had one (SSR) but that was mostly because it had been sitting on the dealer’s lot for 2 years and the dealer was desperate to get rid of it.

        Man never could pass up a bargain. Luckily it was just him and his wife in the house at that point, he didn’t have to worry much about practicality.

        • 0 avatar
          jack4x

          For some reason, around me anyways, these things are still holding an absurd amount of value. Most are $20K or more, even with higher miles and the weaksauce 5.3L. GTOs of the same vintage are quite a bit less, 2005-06 Mustang GTs less than half as much. I don’t get it but maybe there are still some people out there that think their 100K mile SSR will be a collector item one day?

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            @jack4x, wishful thinking I believe.

            I think there was a strong overlap in the Venn Diagram between “stereotypical” Corvette customer and SSR customer.

            Boomers with more money than sense who think they are buying a “collectible”

            AKA: “I know what I got!”

          • 0 avatar
            jack4x

            Agreed.

            The other big one at local cars shows is the multitude of “special” edition Challengers, each complete with a dash plaque, custom “1 of XXX” posters/graphics, and a middle aged or elderly owner who puts 500 miles a year on it.

            Hey, to each their own and enjoy your car however you see fit, but I don’t think your kids are going to retire off your pristine “Furious Fuchsia” edition in 2050…

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      I recall seeing a new SSR priced higher than a new C5 Z06 on a dealer lot.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    My wife loved the looks – and probably still does – of the retro Thunderbird.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      I can sometimes tell if a new model is going to crash and burn based on my brother-in-law’s fondness for it (inverse correlation).

      Don’t tell him I said that…

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    I wouldn’t call this a luxury vehicle by any stretch of the imagination, but I recall the Hummer H2 being grossly overpriced for what it offered.

    And wasn’t the late 2000s when our beloved (and I miss them A LOT) Lancer Evo went from cheap speed to “are you kidding me???” sticker prices? I’d put that in the getting overpriced category as well.

    Back in 2004, I had a rental Thunderbird during my Los Angeles-living days. It was a nice cruiser on the interstates and the PCH, but not made for the fun stuff (mountain and canyon roads). I remember thinking that it did feel like a parts-bin car…a grabbag of Lincoln, Jaguar, and Ford parts that didn’t feel as one, and priced to match the European models. Nice idea, poor execution.

  • avatar
    Dan

    Merc Marauder. The $35K Crown Vic. Who were they kidding? That was Mustang Cobra money then. It’d have been justified, and a better car besides, if they’d put on the Cobra supercharger to go with it.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    The Chevy SSR comes to mind.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Ace of Base BMW 3-Series. Polizei car and TJ taxi to European fleet buyers.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I didn’t even think of BMW 3-Series, definitely overpriced for what they are

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        “Overpriced” doesn’t even begin to explain. They QUIETLY spit out almost equal total pre-tax profit as total F-series production while selling ONLY a tiny fraction of those trucks.

        • 0 avatar
          Dan

          “They QUIETLY spit out almost equal total pre-tax profit as total F-series production while selling ONLY a tiny fraction of those trucks.”

          Not as tiny a fraction as you’d think. They’re angry little toys with an absurd badge premium here but in Europe they’re just another regular car and BMW sells a chitload of them. In the range of a half million per year with another 300,000 5s.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Half million verse around 900,000 F-series? OK that’s no tiny fraction, but still F-series get all the attention for its obscene profits, but you never hear about 3-series mad profits, clearly way more per car, almost 2X.

            But as far as 3-series go, buyer perception aside, reliability aside, resale value aside, OEM insane profits aside, vinyl interior, decontented base models aside, I don’t see it, looks way overpriced to me.

    • 0 avatar
      ThomasSchiffer

      Nowhere in Europe is the BMW 3er used as a taxi; too small.

      It does make an excellent police car, though.

      • 0 avatar
        WallMeerkat

        In the UK at least I’ve seen 5 serieses used as taxis, but you’re right I can’t remember seeing the 3 as a taxi, and usually all midsize sedans end up doing taxi duty – Mondeos (Fusion), Insignias (Regal), Octavias, Passats etc.

        Even saw an Infiniti Q50 as a taxi and they’re as rare as hens teeth.

        The 3 series tended to be the fleet car handed out to photocopier salesmen, where the Sierra and Cavalier used to sit. (See also A4)

        The UK Police tend towards the 5 series for space and performance (after the Lotus Omega they’re fond of fast cars)

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I’d also nominate the Grand Prix GXP. A midsizer with a V-8 was a great idea. But I have no idea how GM figured it could sell a car that would go for BMW 3-series money ($40,000-$45,000 today) with an interior so bad that it’d get shamed by a Tata Nano.

    • 0 avatar

      Bonneville GXP! Even more expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      The LS4 cars at least had faster acceleration than any 3-Series not wearing an “M” badge. They could actually run a tick in front of the Charger R/T of that time. Of course, in hindsight the transmission gets turned to dust and the cylinder deactivation consumes unacceptable amounts of oil.

      The Northstar Pontiac and Buick were slower and even more expensive. Although, hilariously, they are likely more reliable.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      My dad had one as a GXP rental around ’07 or ’08 ish that he let me take for a spin. Man the Series III 3800 with the supercharger is a sweet setup, and makes cool sounds. But yes the interior was the worst of GM both in materials and design.

    • 0 avatar
      cbrworm

      The GXP was interesting to drive, but that big front wheel drive (transverse) V8 car could not hook up to save its life, and it would try to rip the wheel out of your hands whenever possible. Even the SSEi was too strong in first gear for the tires. If it were RWD like the later G8 and then SS, it would probably have been more successful – or maybe not, but at least it could have driven like a true sports sedan. I believe that the GXP may have been the car that had wider front tires than in the rear?

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Any Volvo of that era.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Plymouth Prowler was available in the 2000s and by 2000 the MSRP was $43,000 for a car with a weak sauce V6.

    • 0 avatar

      Prowler was a good candidate for my example too. But it seems more special than the Thunderbird.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Not enough effort on Chrysler’s part.

        Should have at least supercharged the V6 if they couldn’t be bothered on V8. Heck even a balanced and blueprinted hand-assembled (ala AMG) 4.7 Magnum would have been an improvement.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          An interesting retrospective on the Prowler:

          https://www.roadandtrack.com/car-culture/car-design/a27637/the-secret-history-of-the-plymouth-prowler/

          Sounds like there was a packaging issue fitting a V8. But I agree, supercharging the V6 should have been the way forward then.

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            gtem,

            Good article, thanks. My take on Tom Gale’s comments: ‘This company knows how to engineer vehicles, so to prove it we’ll form a small team which operates completely differently than anything we normally do.’

    • 0 avatar
      A Scientist

      Indeed. Take everything people are saying about the Thunderbird above and multiply it x10 for the Prowler.

  • avatar
    Robotdawn

    Saturn. I know everyone wanted to keep them around instead of Buick in 2009, but by the end they were overpriced Opels.
    I wanted a 5 door Astra stick in the worst way until I got a look at the sticker. I seem to remember 23k but that seems ridiculous for 2007-2008.

    • 0 avatar
      WallMeerkat

      In Europe Opel/Vauxhall are seen as cheap mainstream cars, perhaps as the US might see Chevy (which itself was briefly used in the 2000s to sell even cheaper GM Korea produts in Europe)

      The Astra is a car nobody this side of the pond get’s excited about, yet almost everyone has had one in the family.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      The Astra was exactly what we (enthusiasts) said we’d buy. Americans would gladly pay more for those European small cars. They’re so much better than what we get in this country, we said.

      We were wrong.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I want to say Toyota myself, expensive yet under optioned cars that were getting by largely just by the badge as quality was being dropped.

    But ultimately I’ll go with Saab, their cars were generally overpriced for their cheap interiors and ordinary underpinnings (one even shared a chassis with a much cheaper Saturn).
    Then you had the Saabaru, a Saab with all the fun of Subaru rust and headgaskets, and yet its still considered more reliable than the average Saab.

    Its interesting to compare the late 900 with say…an Infiniti G20, both were based on cars considered a bit mundane in Europe (Primera, Cavalier). At least the G20 had an interesting if not over done suspension and a nicer interior ignoring whatever junk Nissan used as leather.

    • 0 avatar

      I like the G20. I think it’s an underrated and forgotten compact luxury car. Hard to believe they were made through 2002 as well.

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        “compact luxury” = oxymoron

        • 0 avatar
          Maymar

          Why? Do I have to want a big car to want a nicer car?

          • 0 avatar
            slavuta

            Since I shopped for car in the last month or so, I can tell you… Lets say, Base RDX – there is no luxury in it. Leatherette seats, nothing really that make it any different. Sunroof? – my mazda3 has it. V6 engine with 285 HP or so – Honda Pilot has it. It doesn’t even have SHAWD. We had this discussion recently. Don’t call it luxury. Call it a “badge car”. There is NO luxury in it. If they would put rear power sunshades, special leather, high durability carpet. In fact, this car doesn’t even have reclining rear seats. And both, leather and leatherette in it are of questionable quality. show me the luxury

          • 0 avatar
            Maymar

            So your complaint isn’t that a small car *can’t* be luxurious, just that what we get sucks. It’s not an oxymoron (if nothing else, I’d point to the 190E – W201 if you’re a pedant – as an example of a luxury brand car that was reasonably the equal to its larger peers).

    • 0 avatar
      cbrworm

      The best part of the G20, though it doesn’t shine as brightly looking back, was its Sentra SE-R roots with added “luxury.”

      That sounds strange saying the best thing about a car was that it was based on a Sentra SE-R – but they were both good cars to drive for the time.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s strange to say because it’s not correct. Though it had the engine of the Sentra, its platform and roots were of the Euro market Primera.

        • 0 avatar
          cbrworm

          Huh. I always thought the G20 was based on the B13 Sentra. Every once and a while I learn something new.

          I guess then, the best thing about the G20 was the powertrain from the SE-R.

          • 0 avatar
            Raevoxx

            It was common, back in the day, to do a “red-top swap” on manual G20s; yanking the wonderful but underpowered standard SR20DE out, for the turbo SR20DE-T from Japan.

            At that point, you had the sleeper G20.

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            Nope, the Primera/G20 had a multi-link front suspension (the first application to a FWD car) while the Sentra used strut fronts.

            DET swaps were a thing for a while, but a lot of folks moved on to VE/T swap/builds once the VE engine prices came down some.

  • avatar
    jfk-usaf

    Ever been inside of a 2000s era Jeep Grand Cherokee? Recycled milk cartons I swear yet they wanted almost 40K in 2004 for a loaded non-SRT example. Chrysler products as a whole back then (and until very recently) had garbage interiors. Same with Lincoln. Up until very recently there was no justification to buy one over an optioned up Ford model. Literally the same damn thing. Acura back in the day had the same problem. Interior plastics were identical to Honda interiors. You paid more for a better engine and that was it. Early 2000s Land Rover Disco models looked great on the outside but were constructed of absolute horrible trash… Yet, for some reason, i’d love to have one.

    • 0 avatar
      MLS

      Chrysler’s interiors weren’t bad in late 90s/early 2000s. Some were even quite pleasant. But once Daimler’s cost cutting really took hold, things got really bad really quickly. Compare, for example, the ’99-’04 Chrysler 300M interior to that of its successor, the ’05-’10 300. Or the ’99-’04 WJ Grand Cherokee to ’05-’10 WK. Putting technology aside, the interior quality and design of the latter era were clear steps backward. It wasn’t until Cerberus and then FIAT ordered emergency interior refreshes that things improved. Today, Chrysler’s interiors are fully competitive save for a few ancient models (e.g., Grand Caravan, Journey).

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        Yeah I was going to say, “2000s era Grand Cherokee” encompasses two generations, one with a perfectly fine interior (WJ) and one with a totally nasty one (WK1).

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Secretary has a WK but it was purchased heavily used, has a slight lift, aggressive all-terrains, and her husband is a mechanic.

          They wanted a cheap rig to get up to their hunting camp in the Chuska Mountains.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I have to say, ANY Mini

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    4Runner and Volvo C30

  • avatar
    scott25

    The answer, as ever, is the Smart.

    We Canadians got the 1st gen model from 2005-08 (which was never sold in US), and it cost $16,500 CAD at launch. It was even more compromised and more of a joke then than it is now, and I’m pretty sure it was only available with a 700cc diesel (!). with But like the Prowler and SSR, at least it still turns heads (since the 1st gen Smart was noticeably smaller than even the 2nd gen)

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    Non luxury huh? If I do it I’d throw VW and Volvo out of the luxury bin and call them overpriced.

    Plus almost every single SUV out there, like Chevy Tahoe, Toyota Sequoia, and Ford Expedition, but that’s just me.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      Pretty sure in the 2000s you could get sweet discounts and get a Tahoe in the mid-high $20k range.

      iirc there was a lot of overlap on Trailblazer pricing and Tahoe pricing, kinda in the way the full-size pickups overlapped with the midsize trucks.

      The only way that happens today is with the idiotic prices on the V6 minivans they’re passing off today.

    • 0 avatar
      jfk-usaf

      Sat in a Sequoia at a car show not long ago. Awful interior

  • avatar
    jfk-usaf

    Escalade was another absolute turd show inside and out back in the 2000s. Thin body steel, poor plastic interiors and over-chromed “Touch of Class license plate” type of styling. They wanted mid 50s for these things back in 2004 and they were hateful. Not as bad today but not interested. Old Navigators from the same time period also were over priced mediocrity. It looks like they did a great job with the new one though. Remember the bubble F150 generation and whatever you’d like to call its Blackwood cousin?

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      MIL’s Boss bought a Yukon Denali back when those were the newest, latest, and greatest thing but it turned out to be a lemon for him.

      He eventually started buying highly trimmed Expeditions and now has an Ecoboost King Ranch Edition. One bad GMC meant that Cadillac never even got to up sell him to the Escalade.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      Hateful? The value proposition was a kick in the balls, which is the point of a Cadillac at all, but the trucks themselves were great. All of the good of a Tahoe with the additional good of the 6.0 in lieu of the 5300, and the further additional good of selling to people who didn’t keep them long enough for the disposable interiors to fall off.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Cadillac Catera, the Caddy that Zigs!

    And…

    Cadillac XLR, the Chevy that Zigs!

  • avatar
    cook_diesel

    For me I would say the worst offenders regarding bloated prices during the 2000s would be the VW Touareg and the V6 version of the 06′ VW Passat.

  • avatar
    James Charles

    Pickup trucks, by 25%.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      @BAFO – Don’t be “chicken”, just say it! You gotta be dying to. OK, I’ll say it for you… CHICKEN TAX!!!

      It’s not like you’re fooling anyone with the new user name anyway, or that it would make it any less obvious you’re back from TTAC’s banned graveyard.


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