- Jul 31, 2013
Unsuccessful Cars Our Editors Liked Anyway
They can't all be winners. Over the years, carmakers have produced some real duds, unloved by critics, consumers and, sometimes, both at the same time.
Our editors, however, have their guilty pleasures when it comes to such vehicles, and we were able to coerce some confessions out of them. Yes, these may be the cars that automakers would rather forget. But for some reason our editors have a soft spot for this automotive island of misfit toys.
Some are ugly, while others are underpowered, or uncomfortable. But in some way, each has touched one or more of our editors who want you to discover what is lovable and worth buying about each one. In fact, some of these cars are downright nifty and cool, and can represent huge bargains at dealerships. Click through our gallery to see which of these unloved vehicles our editors would still love to drive.
The Chevy SSR was a mistake, a decision made by General Motors in haste. Shortly after General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner took over the automaker in 2000, critics said the new boss was a "numbers guy" with no passion for the sheet metal.
The SSR, a roadster-pickup, had been a concept vehicle at the auto show and no one thought it would get built. But Wagoner's PR department had an idea as the new boss was about to give an industry speech: let's green-light the SSR, and "show 'em."
The SSR, indeed, was built. Later models had plenty of power when GM dumped the 5.3-liter V8 in favor of the 6-liter LS2 V8 from the Chevy Corvette and Pontiac GTO. But the interior bits, pieces and switchgear were cheapish, having been borrowed, we think, from the Pontiac Grand Am and Sunfire. Ugh.
Still, some of the editors on our staff put the SSR on the list of failed vehicles we care about because it was an audacious move by GM--even if done for PR reasons--and it always gets our attention when we see one on the road. No question that it will be a mainstay at car collector gatherings for decades to come. Only a bit more than 24,000 were sold. And we think half of those were to GM employees and retirees.
It's hard for editors like us not to have some respect for a truck that won the North American Truck of the Year Award, an annual honor presented by a jury of journalists in the U.S. and Canada. But we have certainly tried with the Ridgeline.
The Ridgeline is what Honda came up with to answer its dealers' desire for a pickup without really building a pickup. The Ridgeline is built on the same platform as the Odyssey minivan and Pilot SUV. The "truck" is a bit odd looking for out taste. Do you agree?
It is not playing in the same arena as the Ford F Series, Chevy Silverado, Ram or even Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan. Rather than the vehicle we'd choose to tow a trailer or boat, we'd be inclined to maybe pull a U-haul container big enough to move a studio apartment full of stuff, or a load of entirely too much Ikea furniture. A load of dirt or mulch for the garden comes to mind as well.
Despite its lack of brawn, there is a role for those trucks. In this way, the Ridgeline is an awfully nice replacement for the defunct Dodge Dakota and Ford Ranger, and offers more comfort and load space than either of those compact trucks. Call our like of the Ridgeline "grudging respect."
The Lincoln LS debuted in 1999 with the idea that it would appeal to younger buyers (Lincoln's average age buyer was over 70) and provide a real alternative to German rear-drive luxury cars.
It's tough to remember a car so good, and yet so doomed to be a failure. The Lincoln LS shared a rear-drive platform with the Jaguar S-Type and Ford Thunderbird, and was sold from 1998 to 2006. We were frankly amazed that it had had an eight-year run.
Terrific to drive, the LS was plagued from the start. The Lincoln brand was in decline when this sedan was launched severely limiting its draw, and also mauling its resale value. The LS, as non descriptor a name as one could possibly invent in the brainstorming meeting at Ford, was also the name of en entirely forgettable, awful sedan sold by Saturn at the same time.
Prices for the LS from the 2000 to 2004 model years ranged from just over $30,000 for a base V6 model in 1999, to around $45,000 for fully equipped Special Edition V8 LSE trims in 2004.
Ford sold just 5,024 Lincoln MKT's in 2011, making it the company's worst-selling model by a large margin. Autoblog called the MKT "a big girl with a toothy grin and a weird hump." The New York Times said that "one look at the new Lincoln MKT will cause confusion, consternation, maybe even stomach cramps."
Yet there's an endearing quality to the MKT, Lincoln's version of the platform that underlies the Ford Flex people mover. Its looks hearken back to the classical Lincoln models of the 1950s and 1960s, with a good dose of vintage hearse thrown in. While it's certainly not for everyone, the MKT is one of the truly unique looking new vehicles on the road. You will see more of them around. Having mothballed the Town Car, the MKT is now going to be marketed to livery companies as the new "black car" for airport runs and the like. That won't help retail sales. But it has a comfy backseat.
The 2013 model offers an optional twin-turbocharged, 365-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 with a new Continuously Controlled Damping suspension system and all-wheel-drive. The MKT also has Ford's Active Park Assist, which can parallel park the car automatically.
The Saab 9-2x was either one of the great mongrel cars in history, or one of the greatest examples of automotive design we have seen in recent years.
Follow the plot here: General Motors in the 1990s and up until 2011 owned Swedish automaker Saab. For a time, GM also owned a stake in Fuji Heavy Industries, the parent company and manufacturer of Subaru. Saab was starved for new product. Both Subaru and Saab have somewhat quirky images and product line-ups.
The folks at GM had a brainstorm: Let's take the coolest Subaru product, the WRX -- a performance hot-hatch based on the Impreza -- give it some tweaking and accessorizing and let them sell it as a Saab.
The 9-2x was manufactured and sold from 2000-2007. As quirky as its bloodline is, we think it represents a very cool used car value. The tricky thing is where to get it serviced now that Saab is all but defunct in the U.S. But you ought to be in good shape at Subaru dealerships and other shops that service Subarus and Saabs.
It was a new direction for Ferrari: A 2 + 2 model with the engine up front. Today, most supercars would scoff at the idea, but for Ferrari, it was groundbreaking at the time.
The 412 was the last of these models. Built between 1985 and 1989, it came with a 4.9-liter engine mated to either a manual or automatic transmission. In the critics' world, the Ferrari was polarizing providing either people who loved it or hated it. But at least they had an opinion.
While there was no specific U.S. version, the 412 produced a whopping 340 horsepower and could go from 0 to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds. Back then, that was fast. Today, not so much.
The Saturn Ion was the vehicle that was going to rescue the ailing General Motors Corp brand. But the Ion never lifted the brand up, and instead became the symbol of neglect and decay. The compact Ion was introduced in 2003 and underwent a number of changes, including GM adding a performance "Red Line" model. The center mounted speedometer didn't add to the car's looks, which many customers rejected as confusing or difficult to follow.
Some of the features on the Ion include Quad Coupe style with suicide type doors, originally with just three doors and later four. But this car never caught the public's imagination and was replaced with the Saturn Astra, a car GM imported from its European Opel division.
So why did it make our list? Because the one thing you could always count on from Saturn was cheap and reliable transportation, which is why more than a couple Saturns passed through the garages of our staffers back in the day.
Toyota took three tries to get a minivan right. The current Sienna is a heckuva minivan, and its quality and ride is good enough to keep Chrysler engineers up at night worrying over losing their dominance of the market to Sienna or Honda Odyssey.
But in 1990, when Toyota launched the Previa, few thought the normally adept Toyota knew what they were doing. The Previa had a four-cylinder engine in a market that had clearly moved on to V6 engines. Open the hood, and there were more surprises. The engine was actually mounted beneath the front seats, though the engine driven accessories -- the alternator, power steering pump and the like -- were accessed under the hood.
Starting in 1994, Toyota solved the problem of being under-powered by offering a super-charger with an air-to-air intercooler, bringing the engine power up to a competitive 160 horsepower. A few of our editors said they had a soft spot for the Previa, especially the super-charged version.
Automotive critics love wagons. They also love powerful rear-wheel drive vehicles. The Dodge Magnum provided both of those attributes.
However, what critics love is not always what the public will buy. Even though the Dodge Magnum was met with great reviews and a cult-like following, the general public never bought into the idea that a wagon could be a big seller. Introduced in 2004, the Magnum never hit the sales numbers Dodge needed and was discontinued in 2008.
One area in which it was successful, though, was with police departments where a modified Magnum was sold to numerous police departments. Another favorite was the SRT8 Magnum, providing one of the more powerful station wagons ever. These cars dropped fast in resale value, so check them out online and at used car dealers for a great bargain.