Americans love their cars, and that love might sometimes seem unconditional.
If you ever check the sales charts, you’ll be surprised to see poorly reviewed vehicles logging tens of thousands of sales in a year. No matter how many problems a car has, the sheer volume of the U.S. market can keep it afloat.
Even with that built-in advantage, there are many cars that wear out their welcome. American consumers will turn on ugly cars quickly, but an attractive ride that’s dangerous to drive could take years to expose. However, you can rest assured a lemon will show its true colors eventually.
In some cases, the love affair is short and not sweet. Let’s take a quick look at the 25 most hated cars of all time, including the worst ownership experience of the century (No. 11).
1. Saturn Ion
Saturn may have started out as an ambitious concept from GM executives, but cars like Ion ensured it would not stick around for long. Ion’s dull looks were nothing compared to the grating driving experience or countless quality issues. Among the many stupid things found in an Ion, the speedometer’s spot above the center console really stands out. It forced you to look about 18 inches to the right to see how fast you were going.
Throw in a dozen recalls — ignition switch concerns, fuel pump leaks, etc. — and the brand became a punchline by the time of its death in 2009. Justin Bieber even took a stab at the brand during his Comedy Central roast in 2015: “I’ve been driving recklessly, getting arrested, smoking weed, abandoning monkeys, and urinating publicly. But my biggest regret is plowing my Maserati into Jeff Ross’s Saturn in the parking lot.”
2. Dodge Omni
As with any hated car, the Dodge Omni had some fans, and the debut model sold well as Chrysler teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. However, once people settled into their Omnis, they began seeing the econo-box’s many weaknesses. Consumer Reports slammed it for terrible build quality and frighteningly low safety standards, making Omni one of its worst-rated cars of all time. Millions learned to hate this car through the 1980s, and we suggest running away in the unlikely event you see one on the street.
3. Hummer H2
If a Most Hated Hall of Fame ever opens, a Hummer H2 would be the perfect vehicle for shuttling visitors between exhibits. It’s amazing how people shudder at the sight of this monstrosity, and the loathing seems to be universal. There are so many reasons to hate Hummers: their fuel economy, the space they take up, the insecurity their owners project, the list goes on. All you have to do is pick one.
4. Isuzu Axiom
Before fleeing the U.S. market in 2009, Isuzu built some junk masterpieces for American consumers, and Axiom was among them. At one of the all-time peaks of auto sales, no one would buy this car. It barely lasted two years (2002-04) before Isuzu pulled the plug and looked in other directions. For a hint of Axiom’s reception, we cite a contemporary Car and Driver review that guessed Isuzu was “downloading design suggestions from the Klingon Empire.”
5. Kia Rio
When you search for rental cars using the “lowest price” filter, Kia Rio pops up first. The reason is no one can drive this car for more than a few days before walking away in anger. Many years ago, Rio cooked up the formula of cheap, boring, lackluster on the highway, and insanely dangerous. Not much has changed since. Maybe the 2018 model that appeared at the New York Auto Show will shift the narrative, but for the time being this car is as unpopular as they come.
6. Fiat Strada
Ask people about the most embarrassing cars ever made and they’ll point out the bug-eyed Fiat Multipla. Nevertheless, anyone who got inside a Fiat Strada in the late 1970s seemed to hate this car more. Strada was sort of a test car for how low build quality could sink in the early days of automation, and its tag line was even “handbuilt by robots.” Fiat managed to infuriate folks who just wanted a cheap little car, and in 1983 the brand packed up its U.S. operation and retreated to Europe.
7. Nissan Cube
If cars could speak, Nissan Cube would ask, “Why was I born?” There was no need to put such a bulbous mess between two straight lines, and anyone who drives one is usually subject to ridicule. Nissan seemed to anticipate the hate when its marketing department described Cube’s front end as inspired by “a bulldog wearing shades.” Fittingly, Americans voted it one of the most embarrassing cars on Earth in 2013.
8. Cadillac Cimarron
Imagine it was the 1980s and you saved up enough money to buy your first Cadillac, but instead you got a Chevy Cavalier with a fancy emblem. That’s exactly what Cimarron was, straight down to the engine generating a minuscule 88 horsepower. Instead of a Caddie, consumers got the ugliest side of GM in a Cimarron. Adding insult to injury, Cadillac charged double the price of a Cavalier ($30,300 in 2017 dollars) for it. Hate might not be a strong enough word for the feeling this car provoked.
9. Smart fortwo
In 2013, Americans said the Smart fortwo was the most embarrassing car on the market. People considered its shape a joke, as if half the car had been surgically removed. Those who actually drove the car learned it was one of the poorest performers out there, too, as you’d suffer minor trauma every time you crossed a pothole. So maybe this dud of a half-car was truly economical? Actually, it had a base price of $14,000 and wasn’t especially good on gas, either.
10. Chevrolet HHR
If you hate recalls, you could never love the Chevrolet HHR. This retro crap-mobile only managed to sell about a million units in its six years on the market, but it generated over 6 million recall notices during that time. Those forced to drive one as a rental car knew to never approach HHR again; those who bought one likely endured the worst ownership experience of the century. Did we mention how ugly it is?
11. Coda Electric Sedan
Back in 2012, people were just starting to hear about electric cars, and models like the Coda Electric Sedan painted an ugly picture of the future. Coda presented a cheap shell of an EV as its debut product, and the market instantly rejected it. It’s easy to see why. People had expectations for an MSRP of $38,145 in 2012, just as they do today. For a Chinese-made flop like this one, the automaker asked buyers to suspend reality to drive green. Coda went bankrupt before selling 120 of them.
12. AMC Gremlin
You should know what you’re getting into when you buy a car called “Gremlin,” but many consumers in the 1970s did it anyway. Those unfortunate souls discovered a classic 20th century corporate money-saving scheme in the form of a motor vehicle. Everything about the Gremlin was cheap, from its sawed-off shape to its windshield wipers. It was the least expensive car on the market, and buyers got even less than what they paid for.
13. BMW X6
For many upwardly mobile
Americans citizens of the world, buying a BMW is a symbol you’ve made it. In the case of a BMW X6, you probably need to keep climbing. This Sport Activity Coupe (or “SAC”) had the worst styling of any Bimmer in memory and the personality disorder to match. Sure, making an SUV feel like a coupe is normal as of 2017, but BMW was still in the trial-and-error stages when it released X6 in 2008. With the trial part out of the way, the verdict on X6 was “error.”
14. Ford Edsel
By the late 1950s, American cars had taken design excess to ridiculous levels, and Ford cooked up the most excessive of all them with the Edsel line. So much money and hype went into the development of this car that people expected more than an ugly Mercury. Unfortunately, Edsel was just that. Navigating the streets of Havana in the 21st century, Edsel seems at home among the more absurd cars of the period, but upon its release people refused to buy it.
15. Pontiac Aztek
Of all the silly spectacles seen over the years at auto shows, nothing compares to the wild, stupid scene GM staged for the release of the Pontiac Aztek. The plastic-heavy lemon — likely the Edsel of the 21st century — inspired shock and loathing from everyone not hired by Pontiac for the event. Apparently, marketers believed Aztek would be considered edgy if there were a mosh pit and guys in clown wigs on the scene. That strategy failed almost as spectacularly as Aztek itself.
16. Ford Pinto
With the Pinto, Ford managed to alienate a large segment of the auto-buying public and kill a large number of consumers in the process. When we say “kill,” we don’t mean it as a figure of speech: Ford was actually prosecuted on homicide charges for selling this car. That was a first for an automaker, but the indictment could not bring back the hundreds of people who perished driving a Pinto. People came to hate this car with a passion, and no one was surprised when Americans started buying Japanese.
17. Toyota Tercel
The rise of Toyota, Honda, and other Japanese automakers didn’t happen overnight. Along the way, there were cars Americans came to loathe. Toyota Tercel is a prime example. Even for an econo-box, Tercel oozed boredom from every sharp angle, and the ’87 hatchback and wagon were contenders for ugliest cars of the decade. Later models did not win Toyota many new fans in America, and in 1999 Tercel waved goodbye to the auto landscape.
18. Studebaker Wagonaire
While there were selling points for a vehicle like the Studebaker Wagonaire, Americans were not willing to hear them. The primary issue was the retractable roof leaked water. In other words, the vehicle’s primary appeal was instantly negated by a factory defect. Studebaker had sold and produced wagons in America since 1852, but after the Wagonaire debuted in 1963 the company only lasted three more years before folding.
To see a Yugo was to hate it. Still, driving one of these cars lowered your opinion of the Yugoslavian auto industry even more. At $3,990, Americans considered them disposable contraptions — like something bought in a dollar store — thus ensuring they were never loved. After all, there was no point changing the oil regularly when you would ditch the car at your earliest convenience.
20. Dodge Coronet
Like many other American cars of the 1950s, the Dodge Coronet became a joke by the end of the decade. It featured more ornamentation than your average Christmas tree, and the back fins went out of style almost instantly. If you weren’t sick of this car in everyday life, you definitely hated it when you got caught speeding or otherwise attracted the attention of the cops.
21. Kia Spectra
During its nine-year run on the U.S. market, Kia Spectra combined a terrible safety record with terrible resale values. On the road, Spectra’s drivetrain grated on every driver who took the highway to work. Likewise, the car’s fuel economy made it expensive to maintain, thus defeating the purpose of someone buying a Kia in the early aughts. By 2004, Americans stopped buying this car and Kia replaced it with the superior Forte.
22. Chrysler Sebring
Sometimes, critical darlings are hated by the masses and vice versa. In the case of Chrysler Sebring, everyone agreed they wanted this car banished from civilization. Sebring represented everything that was bad about pre-Recession Detroit, from its third-rate drive character to its fourth-rate styling. Whenever someone drew up a list of mid-size cars, Chrysler’s entry always placed last. Consumers put the final nails in Sebring’s coffin around 2009 when they simply stopped buying it.
23. Aston Martin Cygnet
Though Aston Martin never released Cygnet in America, the hate for this minicar transcended the continental divide. Consumers who were excited about Aston’s city car got a Scion IQ with a nice paint job and leather seats for around $40,000. The idea was to tackle European air regulations in a proactive way, but the result was an embarrassment. Those few hundred people who bought one quickly learned Aston shouldn’t try to do economical. On the bright side, no one ever tried to stuff James Bond inside a Cygnet.
24. Jeep Compass
Prior to the Compass redesign for 2017, this Jeep model received a tremendous amount of hate from consumers. In a Consumer Reports survey for 2016, Compass ranked worst in reliability in its class and featured the worst satisfaction rating of any SUV on sale in America. People found it loud, uncomfortable, bad on gas, and worse on visibility. That made 58% of buyers say they regretted purchasing a Compass.
25. Chevrolet Aveo
When GM took over Daewoo in 2002, it grabbed the automaker’s Kalos and slapped a Chevy badge on it, dubbing it Aveo. That word is Latin for “desire,” but the primary emotion Aveo inspired was hate. Maybe it was the 14-inch wheels, or the world’s-worst transmission, or just the sight of the car in profile. Later, Aveo changed a bit for the better and eventually became Sonic.
See more of the auto industry’s best and worst at The Cheat Sheet.