For those who remember earlier eras, the cars on this "worst" list will seem laughable. They won't turn to rust at the first sign of rain, spontaneous combustion is improbable and plowing into another car at 40 mph isn't automatically a death sentence.
However, this is not the 1970s, '80s or even '90s. The bar has soared higher with progress, and with it, cars that are otherwise safe and reliable end up among the Worst Cars You Can Buy. If we declare "class leaders" and "best-in-segments," we must also conclude that with a finite number of possibilities, there are "class losers" and "worst-in-segments." It's simple logic.
In many cases, picking the cars below was easy, as fellow segment ugly ducklings have transformed into swans in recent years. Ultimately, that's a good thing for car buyers since it means that a vast majority of cars are easily clearing the bar set for 2013.
Worst Subcompact Car: 2013 Smart Fortwo
You can buy a Smart car for a very reasonable $12,420, but you'll do without power steering, power windows, air-conditioning or a radio. Adding those common items brings the cost to $15,160, a price greater than other similarly equipped subcompacts that include a backseat.
Then there's the matter of driving it. The Smart needs 14.1 seconds to get to 60 mph and once there feels as if it'll be blown off the road by every passing tractor-trailer. Its three-cylinder engine returns a frugal EPA-estimated 36 mpg combined, but requires premium fuel. Its tiny dimensions allow it to squeeze into parking spots nothing else could attempt, but its horrible single-clutch automated manual transmission makes doing so a herky-jerky and potentially bumper-tapping experience. Once under way, that slow-shifting transmission will have you bobbing forward with every upshift as if a first-time driver is rowing the gears.
You'll note we haven't yet mentioned the clown car styling, but why bother? On paper and in practice, the Smart is an oxymoron.
Worst Compact Sedan: 2014 Mitsubishi Lancer
With Toyota's recent radical overhaul of its best-selling but thoroughly crummy Corolla, the Mitsubishi Lancer finds itself alone at the bottom. Though its edgy shape and shark-inspired nose look fierce when gussied up on the Evolution X, the volume-selling regular Lancer's small steel wheels, less aggressive styling and single exhaust transform this compact sedan from rally champ to rental chump.
If anything, however, styling is actually the Lancer's best attribute. The cabin is burdened with an uninspiring design, cheap hard plastic, a tilt-only steering wheel and insufficiently adjustable seats. The base engine is thrashy, gutless and less efficient than its competitors, while the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) saps power and produces noises more typically associated with calf-bearing bovines. The optional engine is more powerful and can be equipped with all-wheel drive, but its fuel economy remains subpar.
The Lancer's biggest problem, though, is a result of its advanced age in a segment that's progressing rapidly in recent years.
Worst Midsize Sedan: 2014 Dodge Avenger
The Dodge Avenger was given a thorough overhaul for 2011 that dramatically improved it in virtually every respect, yet it easily remains the worst midsize sedan. Chiefly, this speaks to the abysmal depths in which this Caliber-based family car once resided. It also shows how good midsize sedans have become. Drive a new Ford Fusion and then drive a Dodge Avenger. We challenge you to not laugh out loud at the idea that they are supposedly competitors.
Beyond its admittedly cool name and gutsy optional V6, the Avenger has little going for it. The base four-cylinder is unrefined and attached to a four-speed automatic. The backseat and trunk are tiny. Common features like a rearview camera are unavailable, the cabin design is rudimentary and the tall seating position forces its driver's head into the roof. True, the price is low, but frankly it should be.
Dishonorable mention goes to the closely related Chrysler 200.
Worst Full-Size Sedan: 2014 Ford Taurus
This segment used to be rife with stinkers, yet after the impressive redesign of the Chevrolet Impala, there is no clear bottom dweller and we're left with a "worst" choice that is far from bad. The Ford Taurus quite simply isn't as good as its competitors.
Yes, MyFord Touch can be difficult to use and the visibility makes it a bit cumbersome to drive, but it's hard to pinpoint things the Taurus truly does poorly. At the same time, however, it's also hard to identify reasons beyond its colossal, class-leading trunk that would warrant buying one instead of a Buick LaCrosse, Chrysler 300, Hyundai Azera, Toyota Avalon, Volkswagen Passat or that revised Impala. Heck, it's hard to think of a reason someone would choose a Taurus over the Fusion sitting just a few feet away in a Ford showroom.
Worst Luxury Sedan: 2014 Lincoln MKS
For about $50,000 you can buy an Audi A6, BMW 5 Series or a loaded Lexus ES 350. Alternatively, you can buy a version of the car we just declared the worst full-size sedan, albeit with more equipment, fewer buttons and a grille inspired by the baleen of a right whale.
Lincoln's MKS is not the only luxury vehicle mechanically related to a non-luxury model. The Cadillac XTS shares a platform with the Buick LaCrosse, for instance, while the Lexus ES 350 shares its underbits with the Toyota Avalon. The difference is that those plebeian relatives are better than the Taurus, and there is a much greater distinction between them. You'd be hard-pressed to spot their genetic similarities whether behind their wheel or simply eyeing them from the curb. The MKS, on the other hand, is pure Taurus: similar shape, driving experience, interior space, compromised visibility and engines.
Many of the same complaints can be leveled against the Ford Fusion-based Lincoln MKZ, but it's dipping into a more gifted gene pool.
Worst Convertible: 2012 Ferrari California
Let's say someone dangles two keys in our faces and says, "We're giving you a free car! Would you like this Chrysler 200 Convertible or a Ferrari California?" That's not exactly Sophie's choice. Of course we'd take the Ferrari, but only because we'd end up with more money when we immediately traded it on a convertible that isn't a completely hideous poseur's car.
Otherwise, if we were to keep the California, everyone who saw us driving it would automatically assume we had purchased it instead of an Aston Martin DB9 Volante, Audi R8, Bentley Continental GTC, BMW M6, Maserati GranTurismo, Mercedes-Benz SLS, Porsche 911 or any number of cheaper performance and/or luxury convertibles. Perhaps some folks would assume we got it for that glorious Ferrari V8 wail or the admittedly impressive handling, but they would inevitably remember a Ferrari 458 Spider exists. They'd think we're insane. And they would be right.
Finally, astute bystanders may snicker that our fancy-pants Ferrari has the same crummy touchscreen navigation system as the Chrysler 200 Convertible they drove on vacation in Ft. Lauderdale. Just because something's hugely expensive doesn't make it good. In this case, it's a big reason that the Ferrari California is the worst.
Worst Coupe: 2013 Nissan Altima
A coupe should look better than its sedan counterpart. It should be better to drive as well. We'd actually prefer it to be downright fun, but barring that, we'd settle for more spacious, comfortable and refined than more dedicated two-door sports cars. In other words, you should get something in return for the indignity of having your rear passengers slither in between the B-pillar and a flopped-forward front seat.
None of the above applies to the Nissan Altima Coupe. It's not especially attractive and it offers little dynamic improvement beyond the previous-generation sedan upon which it's based. Making things worse, a four-cylinder is the only engine offered, whereas you can get a V6 in the Honda Accord (let alone the cheaper Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang or more spacious Dodge Challenger). We would throw in that only a CVT is available, but we actually prefer it to the wonky six-speed manual that used to be offered.
Besides the coupes we've already mentioned, there are any number of other two-doors on the sporty or grand touring spectrum that are better choices.
Worst Hatchback: 2014 Scion iQ
This could've gone to the Smart as well, but in the interest of variety, the nearly-as-diminutive Scion iQ is still mightily deserving of this title. Now, we will certainly commend Toyota for its engineering abilities here, as the iQ truly is a marvel of vehicle packaging. By moving the passenger-side dash and firewall forward, there's theoretically enough room for two passengers to occupy the right-side seats in this "2+1" hatchback. There is also something to be said for its ability to fit in many of the same tiny parking spots as the Smart does, but with a proper transmission.
Nevertheless, there's something about the iQ that's utterly terrifying. The crash ratings and generous airbag count indicate it's safe, but we don't live in the crowded confines of Tokyo. Here in America, even the most congested urban areas are filled with irate Crown Victoria-driving cabbies and oblivious Suburban-driving soccer moms waiting to pulverize this little Scion like the bug it resembles. On the highway, should you dare to venture, the iQ lacks the stability and substantial feeling of other pocket cars like the Fiat 500 and Mini Cooper.
Let us also not forget that the iQ spawned the Aston Martin Cygnet, which is a crime against all that is dignified in this world.
Worst Sports Car: 2013 Lotus Evora
"Wait, it costs how much?" While trying to identify the worst sports car, the number $78,600 might as well have been written in neon lights. That's the going rate for the top-of-the-line Lotus Evora S 2+2, which is essentially an enlarged, more refined Elise with a beefier engine.
Sounds like a good idea, but the Evora is still a tiny car with a laughable backseat. It may be more refined than an Elise, but that car never set the quality bar very high. The noise, materials quality, construction and general modernity still pale in comparison to a Porsche Cayman. That mid-mounted 3.5-liter V6 does produce a much healthier wallop than the Elise's four-banger, and with the S model's supercharger, it brings the Evora from zero to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds. However, it's sourced from Toyota, meaning your $80,000 sports car basically shares its engine with a Sienna minivan.
"But the Evora is one of the finest handling sports cars you can buy!" a tweed-wearing, Colin Chapman-worshiping bloke may argue, and he'd be correct. However, so, too, are the Cayman, BMW M3 and Chevy Corvette, which all cost far less than even the base $66,800 base model Evora and are significantly better in most other respects.
Worst Luxury Crossover: 2013 Acura ZDX
Sharing roughly the same footprint and weight as Acura's MDX, the ZDX features an aggressively raked roof that creates a far sleeker vehicle. Fair enough, as people are often willing to sacrifice some practicality to make a fashion statement, but probably not this much. That slashed roof yields a backseat that's friendly only for those who lack heads, while the chopped rear door openings may be the reason they lost them in the first place. The cargo area is meager for a vehicle its size and its 4,438-pound curb weight doesn't do the 300-horsepower V6 any favors. The ZDX is a full second slower from zero to 60 mph than the similarly shaped BMW X6.
Now, BMW's own coupe-crossover Frankenstein creation is hardly a bastion of buying sensibility, but unlike the ZDX, the BMW roundel is at least more likely to create that desired fashion statement than Acura's pinched A. Be it for fashion or transportation, we can't fathom why anyone would buy one.
Worst Five-Passenger SUV: 2013 Land Rover LR2
In Great Britain, the Land Rover LR2 is considered an alternative to compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. With its frugal diesel engine, a lower relative price and genuine off-road capability, it's a decent choice if you need a vehicle that can just as easily drive through a muddy pasture as it can cruise the grocery store parking lot. Plus, it's British, so why not fly the flag?
In the United States, the Land Rover LR2 is considered an alternative to compact luxury crossovers like the Audi Q5 and BMW X3. It may still have more off-road capability, but no amount of leather trim and fancy features can hide the fact that the LR2 is unsuccessfully trying to ford some very deep metaphorical water. Its new turbocharged four-cylinder engine is slow and inefficient for the segment, the cabin is comparatively stark in design, the cargo area is cramped, and unlike Land Rover's mechanically related Range Rover Evoque, nothing about the styling says luxury vehicle. Plus, we're American and there's this thing called a Jeep.
Worst Seven-Passenger SUV: 2013 Subaru Tribeca
The Subaru Tribeca was introduced as a 2008 model, but it seems so much older than that. Perhaps it's the center stack waterfall of mid-2000s silver plastic or the lack of a telescoping steering wheel. Perhaps it's the forgettable styling or the fact that virtually every other midsize crossover has been redesigned since its introduction. No matter, as the Tribeca wasn't appealing five years ago and it hasn't gotten any better.
Since we're talking about seven-passenger SUVs here, there's no better place to start than the third-row seat that can only accommodate children. Adults can fit in many of its competitors' rearmost spaces. Should you lower rows two and three, you're left with only 74.4 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity. That's about 30 less than a Mazda CX-9, and essentially equal to Subaru's own Outback, which is better to drive and far more efficient. In fact, the Tribeca's EPA estimates of 18 mpg combined and 16 city/21 highway match a V6-powered Ford F-150.
Even if you were to consider the Tribeca a five-passenger SUV with a pair of occasional-use extra seats, it would be a stinker.
Worst Small Pickup Truck: 2013 Honda Ridgeline
The number of small trucks on sale has fallen to a mere three choices as the Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon, Dodge Dakota, Mitsubishi Raider and Suzuki Equator have all been put out of their (and our) misery. As such, we're left with the Honda Ridgeline as the worst small pickup.
Now, the Ridgeline is admittedly filled with clever features like an under-bed storage compartment and a tailgate that both drops down and swings out. Its ride and handling are also superior to its Nissan and Toyota rivals, while the quality of its roomy and comfortable cabin is a cut above. So, what's the problem? Well, the Ridgeline is just barely a pickup truck. Yes it has an open bed, but it's built on a unibody platform shared with the second-generation Honda Odyssey. Consequently, there's only one cab style and bed length, its towing and off-roading abilities are significantly compromised, and you get to tell your friends that your truck is based on a minivan.
Worst Large Pickup Truck: 2013 Cadillac Escalade EXT
Isn't the fad over now? Do any rappers or Sunset Strip cruisers still think an Escalade quasi-pickup is cool? Furthermore, doesn't the presence of ultra-luxury, top-of-the-line real pickups like the Ford F-150 Platinum, GMC Sierra Denali and Ram 1500 Laramie Limited negate any other need and/or desire for this Cadillac version of Chevy's Avalanche?
Look beyond the absurdity of it all, and the Escalade still suffers the same issue as the Ridgeline: It's almost as much an SUV as a pickup. Now, its truncated bed can be extended using GM's trick "midgate" allowing for the transport of longer items, but this presents further problems. It allows whatever filth is in the bed to slosh forward into your leather-lined Cadillac interior, which is also left wide open for thieves to plunder when it's parked.
Thankfully, the announcement that there won't be a third-generation Avalanche pretty much seals the EXT's fate. Good riddance.
Worst Minivan: 2014 Kia Sedona
The Kia Sedona went away for 2013 but will be resurrected for 2014. Unfortunately for minivan buyers, it didn't really change in the process and is very much the same van that was introduced for 2006. Back then and in the subsequent model years, the Sedona was a smart alternative to the class-leading Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, while a clear step above Chrysler's vans. The Sedona offered loads of features for the money, a generous warranty, competitive interior space and commendable driving manners.
Those same virtues remain, but the minivan segment has moved forward with fresher designs, added features, more refinement and better fuel economy. Today's Odyssey and Sienna, plus the Nissan Quest and the heavily improved Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan, are ultimately stronger choices.
Worst Electric/Alternative-Fuel Vehicle: 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV
Yes, they really do sell the Mitsubishi i-MiEV in this country. Yes, you really can drive it places besides the 18th fairway or the controlled confines of the Shady Pines retirement village. Yes, it really is that terrible and embarrassing to drive.
Go beyond that, as well as the dime-store interior, and you'll find an electric vehicle with less range than every other solely battery-powered car. It can only go 62 miles on a full charge, which is roughly the distance-to-empty that triggers most drivers to start searching for the closest Shell. Plus, the i-MiEV takes longer to recharge than its rivals. True, this Mitsubishi city car is the least expensive EV on the market, but its price tag of $20,000 (including the $7,500 tax rebate) speaks to its cheapness rather than its value.
With cars like the Tesla Model S, Ford Focus Electric and Nissan Leaf, we know that electric vehicles can be viable. The i-MiEV gives them all a bad name.
Worst Hybrid Vehicle: 2013 Lexus LS 600h L
How can the most expensive hybrid on the market be the worst? It may be hard to believe since the new-for-2013 Lexus LS is indeed a thoroughly impressive luxury sedan. However, let's take a look at some numbers.
With its combination of a V8 engine and electric motors, the 438-hp LS 600h L is supposed to rival V12-powered flagship sedans. However, it goes from zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds. The V12-powered BMW 760Li does it in 4.5, while even the regular LS 460 does it in 6.1. As a hybrid, one would assume that the LS 600h L would be more efficient. Well, its 20 mpg combined is indeed better than the LS 460's: by 1 mpg. We wouldn't expect a thank-you card from Ed Begley, Jr. upon purchase. Rivals from outside the Lexus brand are quicker, more efficient and less expensive.
Then there's the price. At a shocking $120,000, the LS 600h L costs $25,000 more than a similarly equipped LS 460L. As a recap, that would be $25 grand for a slower car that manages only 1 mpg more. If you think that's a good deal, then perhaps we should introduce you to this Nigerian prince we know.