Let’s start with the vehicle everyone knows and buys in massive quantities every year: Ford F-150. The legendary F-Series sells over 700,000 trucks every year. Somehow, those millions of Americans who bought one since 2011 have not tapped the market. People will continue to drive them home until approximately 10% of the population has a new or used F-150 in the driveway. Those are the facts.
Other cars and trucks are not so lucky. Even when a respected brand puts out a striking new model with power, looks, and everything else consumers might want, sometimes they don’t sell. Certain cars seem to have a hex on them, like Volkswagen Eos, a convertible with solid reviews that entered the market at a great price point. This car will soon be a unicorn on U.S. roads, and we’re not sure if Jennifer Lawrence still has hers in the garage.
At the end of the day, there is no precise formula for making a hit car. Automakers can only do their best and hope people consider it before buying an Accord or Corolla. Here are 10 great cars that U.S. consumers don’t buy but deserve a better fate.
1. Jaguar F-Type
While a Jaguar is out of the price range of many consumers, the base F-Type Coupe starts at a more-than-possible $61,400. For that price, you get the striking looks, 340 horsepower, choice of manual or automatic transmission, and leather seats. So why did thousands more choose the Maserati Ghibli ($71,600) and Porsche 911 ($89,400) in 2016? Of course, we recommend the exhilarating 550-horsepower F-Type R, but you could easily deal with a minor mid-life crisis in the base coupe.
2. Subaru Legacy
U.S. consumers don’t exactly hate the Subaru Legacy, but at No. 80 on the sales charts in 2016 they don’t love it, either. Just about every midsize sedan — Camry, Accord, Fusion, Malibu, Optima, Altima — sells at least double what Legacy does. But how many of them come with standard all-wheel drive? None, other than Legacy. Subaru’s midsize offering also bests most in fuel economy, too. We get choosing a Fusion or Optima over Legacy for their looks, but that doesn’t work with Camry or Altima.
3. Ford Flex
Small cars and coupes have trouble on the U.S. market as it stands. What is the reason why consumers don’t buy the Ford Flex? Working with the same powertrains as Explorer, which sells over 200,000 units a year, the boxy Flex struggles to sell 20,000 models in 12 months. The minivan-meets-SUV style might not work for everyone, but at $30,025 with seating for seven, we don’t quite get why so many people ignore this one.
4. Volvo XC90
Speaking of excellent SUVs getting minimal love from U.S. consumers, the Volvo XC90 ranked at No. 128 in sales for 2016. This model starts at $47,750 with all-wheel drive, superior tech, and more awards from auto publications than we have time to list. So why is it outsold by Infiniti QX60 and other inferior SUVs? That question we cannot answer. The XC90 deserves better, as do the consumers ignoring it.
5. Chevrolet Volt
The second-generation Volt upped the ante in a big way with 53 miles of all-electric range and 106 MPGe. Yet somehow the original, frumpier, less capable model did better in its first two years of sales (2012 and 2013). First-gen Volt pulled off that feat at a higher price than this model, too. Consumers still have access to the $7,500 tax credit (plus state incentives) when buying a Volt. Maybe the nonexistent marketing by Chevy has something to do with it.
6. Kia K900
Out of the corner of your eye, you could mistake the Kia K900 for a new Lincoln Continental. Both have plenty of space, an attractive front fascia, and a stately way of rolling down the road. Now that the new Continental hit the market at a lower MSRP, we fear for what might happen to K900 sales. The well-reviewed full-size sedan ranked No. 264 on the U.S. charts in 2016. October seemed especially ominous, when the K900 (81 units) was outsold by the Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle (103 units).
By now, we’ve all heard about how well Mazda6 runs (“zoom zoom” or something) and we know it’s ridiculously economical for a midsize sedan that isn’t boring. So why do consumers buy more Dodge Darts — a discontinued model — than they do the 6? It’s an eternal mystery, like why anyone would voluntarily purchase a Chevy Sonic. These things just happen. Better to not analyze them than go crazy looking for answers.
8. Kia Optima Hybrid
When you consider the fuel economy (42 MPG), styling, and performance of the Kia Optima Hybrid ($25,995), you have to wonder how Toyota sells more than three times as many Camry Hybrids ($26,790). Maybe they enjoy getting poorer MPG ratings (40 combined) at higher prices? Or maybe they just aren’t concerned with fuel economy? Since we are discussing hybrids and that sounds preposterous, we are out of both questions and answers.
9. Subaru BRZ
Another year came and went, and it was another year of lackluster sales for the Subaru BRZ. The other half of the Toyota 86 duo fared much worse than Scion FR-S in 2016, and we remain mystified by the overall performance. At least 220 vehicles (out of 298) sold better than this rear-wheel drive Subaru, which remains on the market for 2017 while the Scion brand enters oblivion. Maybe BRZ will get a bump, then? Don’t bet on it.
10. Alfa Romeo 4C
We swear people were excited about the return of Alfa Romeo to the U.S. It wasn’t that long ago, and the flagship 4C was a car capable of living up to the hype. Then the market decided (incorrectly, according to some) that Alfa was better off staying in its place of origin. American consumers could care less about the 4C Coupe ($55,900) that hits 60 miles per hour in 4.1 seconds and turns heads on every corner. It ranks 273rd on U.S. charts, behind the Dodge Viper and obsolete Cadillac ELR.
Follow Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY.