If you ever look at U.S. autos sales, you might be surprised to see how many poorly reviewed vehicles log 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 help keep it afloat. So many vehicles that eventually became one of the most hated cars of all time somehow managed to pull in somewhat decent sales records.
Even with that built-in advantage, there are many cars that eventually 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 lose favor with consumers. However, a true lemon won’t be able to escape its problems for long. American consumers are nothing if not discerning.
In some cases, the love affair is short and not sweet. These uniquely terrible cars left their mark, and a notably bad taste, in the minds, mouths, and hearts of thousands of Americans as the most hated cars of all time.
Even if you aren’t the kind of person who can easily identify cars by glancing at them, you can probably conjure up a vivid image of the Pontiac Aztek just from hearing its name. The plastic-heavy lemon from GM had a particularly polarizing design that only a mother could love. While GM likely expected the Aztek would be considered edgy, the vehicle wasn’t received well by American consumers. It also suffered from a multitude of problems ranging from transmission issues to various fluid leaks. Those that bought into the wacky design were ultimately disappointed, and probably a little angered.
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 the Cimarron was, straight down to the engine generating a minuscule 88 hp. 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.
While the Chrysler Sebring was the much beloved company lease of Michael Scott from The Office, American consumers didn’t share his love of the vehicle — not unlike Assistant to the Regional Manager Dwight Schrute and Ryan the temp. The Sebring represented everything that was bad about pre-Recession Detroit. From its third-rate drive character to an even worse fourth-rate styling, Sebring often came last on the listen when anyone spoke about mid-size cars. Americans grew tired of the offering from Chrysler and eventually stopped buying the model in 2009, which was the final nail in its coffin.
You’d think it would be obvious 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 somehow got even less than what they paid for.
Most Jeep fans tend to be life-long loyalists but the Compass may have had many people rethinking their stance prior to the redesign for 2017. This model ranked worst in its class for reliability and had the worst satisfaction rating of any SUV on sale in America in a 2016 Consumer Reports survey. Among the litany of things consumers hated about the Compass, common complaints included that the vehicle was uncomfortable, loud, bad on gas, and even worse for visibility. All in all, 58% of buyers said they regretted their purchase. That’s saying something for Jeep which has a reputation for being just as much a lifestyle as it is a brand.
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 Martin’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.
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?
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.
It’s not unusual for a car to have a bad resale value and while that’s disappointing, it’s not enough for it to earn a reputation as one of the most hated cars of all time. The Kia Spectra also suffered from a terrible safety record, which is a much bigger concern for drivers. Those who bought into the Spectra had to deal with a less-than-stellar drivetrain and a terrible fuel economy, which ultimately made it expensive to maintain. Kia’s problem-riddled Spectra ultimately defeated the purpose of buying a Kia in the first place (read: affordability) and Americans stopped buying the car by 2004. The manufacturer ultimately replaced the car with superior Forte.
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. The Yugo was doomed to fail and destined to be hated which begs the question, what was the point?
To be fair, there were a lot of Hummer loyalists, and some still remain to this day. But even they couldn’t love the H2. For those that hated Hummers all together, the list of things to loathe about the H2 was miles long starting with fuel economy and ending with probably a lot of choice words. For those that loved the Hummer brand, it felt like Hummer was apologizing for the space the H1 took up. While the H2 was longer than its predecessor, it had less ground clearance, and it wasn’t as wide.
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.
For a car that was on the market for barely two years (2002-04), it’s almost overwhelming how much can be said about the Axiom. At the same time, it left a lot of people speechless. A Car and Driver review mused that Isuzu might have been “downloading design suggestions from the Klingon Empire” when imagining up the Axiom, and that’s being generous. Even during peak auto sales, no one would buy this car and considering the absolute disasters Americans have bought into, that’s saying a lot. The Axiom was one of the final junk masterpieces Isuzu offered American consumers before it officially fled the market in 2009.
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 BMW in recent history and the personality disorder to match. Sure, making an SUV feel like a coupe eventually became a normal practice, 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.”
With all of the decoration on the Dodge Coronet, this was the car for attention-seekers because you certainly weren’t going to be flying under the radar ever. The back fins went out of style almost as soon as it rolled off the production line and by the end of the 1950s, the Coronet was a joke. Much like the red cars of today, the Coronet was going to draw the attention of police so if you had a lead foot or otherwise wanted to avoid unwanted attention, this wasn’t the car for you.
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. Kia didn’t give up on its budget offering and appears to possible corrected problems present in older model years. So far, minimal complaints have been reported in newer model years according to consumer reporting sites like CarComplaints.com. Is it enough to erase such a horrible reputation? Only time will tell.
The Ford Pinto is one of the most tragically terrible cars ever made. So much so that it’s questionable if Ford will ever truly escape the shame of the Pinto. The American automaker was actually prosecuted on homicide charges for selling this car, a first for any automaker, after a large number of consumers died while driving a Pinto. People came to hate this car in a way no other car was or ever has been hated and it didn’t come as a huge shock when Americans started buying Japanese vehicles.
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.
The Sudebaker Wagonaire was a textbook case of what not to do. Its retractable roof leaked water, which would make any consumer upset to begin with, but the fact that his was the primary selling point of the vehicle makes it completely unacceptable and a little absurd. Studebaker was an American institution for wagons, having sold and produced them since 1852, but the Wagonaire, which debuted in 1963, proved to be a mistake big enough to bring it all crumbling down. The company only lasted three more years before folding.
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.
By the end of the 1950s, American culture was all about excess and opulence. Ford made a big promise to delivery the most excessive vehicles America had ever seen with the Edsel line. When a big name like Ford makes such a grandiose promise, people expect the automaker to actually deliver. After all of the money that went into developing the line and all of the hype that went into promoting it, the Edsel turned out to be nothing more than an ugly Mercury. Today, the Edsel seems at home among the more absurd cars of the period. But people flat out refused to buy when it was first released.
Saturn may have started out as an ambitious concept from GM executives, but cars like the Ion ensured it would not stick around for long. Its 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 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.”
It’s hard to imagine that much could go wrong building a car for people who are primarily looking for something that’s cheap and little, but Fiat managed to alienate an entire sector of consumers with the Strada. But what else could you expect when the tagline for the Strada was “handbuilt by robots?” Anyone who got inside a Strada in the late ‘70s might have wondered if it was a test for how low quality could sink in the early days of automation. It’s almost a wonder that people didn’t revolt against automation after it produced one of the most hated cars of all time. The automaker eventually closed its U.S. operation and retreated back to Europe in 1983.
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. 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.
The rise of Toyota, Honda, and other Japanese automakers didn’t happen overnight. Along the way, there were cars Americans came to loathe. The 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. Unlike many other automakers, Toyota survived making one of the most hated cars of all time and still dominates in the American market today.
Bridget DeMeis also contributed to this post.