A Veteran Auto Journo’s List of Most Disappointing Rides

At the start of my career, one of my editors said bluntly, “Mate, all cars are shitboxes until proven otherwise.” Around the same time, a veteran colleague suggested an alternative: “I want every car to be beautiful,” he said. “And I’m disappointed if they aren’t.”

Glass half full, not half empty; passion, with pragmatism. This struck a chord, and in addition to considering to what extent a vehicle fulfills the function intended by its creators, it remains a fundamental principle of my approach to test and evaluate new cars, trucks and SUVs.

Here are the ones that have disappointed me the most over the past 35 years.

Pontiac Trans-Am GTA

The last doubts evaporated when the brakes actually caught fire down the Angeles Crest Highway this sunny afternoon in mid-1989: the Pontiac Firebird Trans-AM GTA was all hat, no cattle. I was used to muscular Australian cars like HSV Holden Commodores which stopped and steered and turned around corners with almost European levels of precision and control.

The GTA, on the other hand, was an awkward and awkward mess at anything above cruising speeds on anything but a straight road. And even then, the ride was crappy. This Pontiac had the torsional rigidity of an overcooked linguine, the T-shaped roof and the giant tailgate alternately rattled and groaned as the whole car twisted and flexed. The shock absorbers overheated with the effort of trying to limit creeping body movements, and the extra-flat, rock-hard Goodyear Eagle tires did little more than keep European-style alloys on the road.

The original Pontiac Firebird had been a pioneer of pony cars, one of a new kind of uniquely American performance vehicle that excited enthusiasts around the world. The third generation Trans-Am GTA was nothing more than a tired parody.

Lada Samara

OK, it’s like drawing fish from a barrel: a Lada Samara will of course be on the worst car list of all the testers who drove one. Launched in Russia in late 1984 under the name of VAZ-2108, the Samara was the Soviet Union’s attempt to build a modern sedan in the style of a Volkswagen Golf.

On paper, it had most of the good stuff, including a Porsche-designed 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine that drove the front wheels through a five-speed manual transmission. It had front struts and coil springs and a torsion beam rear axle. Also rack-and-pinion steering. But the reality was pure Soviet steampunk.

The Samara that I tested in Australia at the end of 1988 was slow and noisy and coarse, with a rigid and notched gear change, heavy steering and spongy brakes. You can drive a Buick ’49 through the gaps in the exterior panel. The interior was a sinister plastic gulag of jagged flashing, mismatched joints, and differences in color and texture. The Lada Samara exposed the clay feet of the Soviet Union: it could build spacecraft and nuclear missiles and fighter planes. But he couldn’t build a golf course.

Holden Piazza Turbo

Made by Isuzu, but launched as Holden in Australia in 1987, the glamorous Piazza coupe (badged Impulse in the United States) looked like an incredibly faithful reproduction of the superb Ace of Clubs concept car designed by Giugiaro. Below, however, was GM’s T-car (Chevy Chevette) platform, which dates back to 1975.

It drove like a Japanese car from the mid-70s, with an excruciatingly direct rear axle steering with coil springs plotting with crash noises at the front to make your life miserable behind the wheel. Mid-way bumps of all kinds resulted in disconcerting corkscrew movements and a chassis balance that alternated between roll oversteer and chronic understeer. Heavy braking resulted in massive locking of the front or rear wheels – you can never be sure who – the latter often spitting the car sideways without warning.

In the wet, the Piazza was really devilish, the sudden clutch and the surprising low-end growl of the 2.0-liter turbo-four of 147 horsepower under the hood causing instant skating. Next to the Mazda RX-7 of the time, with the Toyota Supra and Celica and the Nissan 300 ZX Turbo, the Holden Piazza was an unforgivable gross aircraft.

Lincoln Town Car

My first trip to Detroit took place in 1991, as part of a contingent of Australian automotive journalists hosted by Ford Motor Company during a “ world tour to present the various products and capabilities of the company . I’m not sure we are going to the Dearborn Proving Ground in a Lincoln Town Car that conforms to the mission statement of the trip.

We have all driven the serene and beautifully built Lexus LS400 from Toyota in the past 12 months, and we have all gotten out of the Lincoln wondering if anyone at Ford had even seen a Lexus. It wasn’t just that the Lincoln was wallowing around the track like a drunken water buffalo, the asthmatic V-8 hissing under the hood. It was the depressing and cynical debasement of the American dream it represented.

Successful Germans could buy a Mercedes S-Class. Successful British could buy a Bentley. But the successful Americans were simply offered an oily, bumpy old Ford in a nylon ball gown. But hey, it was cheaper than a Mercedes, and on the other side of a Kmart parking lot, it looked like the room. More worryingly, however, Ford executives in Dearborn thought it was pretty good.

Subaru XT Turbo

I almost liked the original Subaru XT Turbo. Until the moment he tried to kill me. Strongly pleated corner with an airy greenhouse and retractable headlights, the XT Turbo seemed to have been taken straight out of a concept car studio. The high-style ethos was transported inside, in particular with an avant-garde asymmetrical steering wheel with two branches framed on each side by pods mounted on a column dotted with buttons to control the functions generally controlled by rods.

And these are the reasons why the XT Turbo and I had a fundamental disagreement. Late at night, in the middle of a right turn downhill on a dark country road, I was doing my usual fast 60 km / h through the turn, the high beams, when an oncoming car jumped on the ridge. I reached for the left basket to dim the lights …

… and press the wrong button, turning them off instead. Fortunately, I knew the route well and I was able to maintain the correct line while I was trying to turn on the lights. I can forgive a faulty design. But not a design whose faults could be fatal.

View of Saturn

General Motors president and chief executive officer Roger B. Smith said Saturn will change the way GM builds cars. In 1985 Smith had committed $ 5 billion to launch the first new GM division in 67 years, with grand visions of an army of robots in silent and dark factories, tirelessly producing small, high-quality cars at low cost. that would spin the Japanese.

It didn’t happen, and when I drove my first Saturn – 20 years and $ 15 billion in experience – I immediately understood why. The 2006 Saturn Vue Red Line looked and felt hopelessly inexpensive; gaps in the panels you could see from Mars outside, acres of grim synths inside.

But the obvious lack of attention to detail bothered me the most. The twisted lock for the Vue tailgate was one example: the lock worked great, but each time I opened the tailgate, I saw only a shiny, off-center piece of metal, as irritating as the spinach stuck in it. the smile of a model. I remember wondering if anyone at Saturn noticed it. And if they noticed it, why didn’t they care?

TVR Tamora

Remember the episode of The Queen, in which a young Prince Charles is dispatched to his father’s old school, Gordonstoun, Scotland, to endure a dark regime of cold showers and strict discipline? The British called schools like this character building. Driving the Tamora TVR was also an element of character.

Founded in 1946, TVR had become, at the start of the 21st century, one of those eccentric English sports car companies legendary for its ancient approach to the art of automobile manufacturing. The Tamora, launched in 2002, didn’t even have airbags, let alone anti-lock brakes. What he had was a bespoke 3.6-liter inline six-cylinder bonkers developing 350 hp, which, in a car weighing 2,200 pounds, delivered a time of 0 to 60 mph in the 4 second low rack and a top speed of 175 mph.

At least that happened while the Tamora was on the road: the Speed ​​Six engine was notoriously unreliable, and the car itself looked like a collection of flying parts in close formation rather than something bolted. The bits dropped, other bits just didn’t work. He reeked of glue and fiberglass. Character building, indeed.

Dodge Avenger SXT

According to the accompanying Monroney, the 2008 Dodge Avenger SXT was the “official NASCAR passenger car”. And it gets even more confusing from there. The Avenger SXT looked like a retractable Dodge Charger, except that the short dashboard at the axle of its front-wheel drive platform made the schtick of the 1960s sports car almost impossible to remove.

And with less sheet metal to play on, the other loader design signals clashed awkwardly for space. The Avenger’s look might have been forgiven if the rest of the car had been a winner, but an interior covered with acres of hard, gray plastic, combined with low-rent mechanical hardware, made it slightly more desirable than a 15-year-old Toyota Corolla vehicle.

While many of its rivals offered 200 horsepower and five- or six-speed automatic transmissions, the Avenger’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder whistled 173 horsepower and went through a lethargic four-speed automatic transmission. It was so slow, you barely noticed it had no disc brakes in the back. I’m pretty sure the only time anyone from NASCAR approached a Dodge Avenger SXT kicked him out of the rental property.

Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

The 2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross drove me to despair. Literally. The shameless 1.5 liter engine. The lethargic and winding CVT transmission. A chassis which rolled, plunged and pitched at the slightest provocation. Inconsistent brake pedal.

Over the years, I’ve driven dozens of Mitsubishis – punchy Cordia and Starion Turbos, Monteros that looked like affordable all-terrain Range Rovers, the spacious sedans and wagons of the Australian-designed Magna (Diamante) family, the four-wheel drive and four-wheel drive Galant VR4, each generation of Lancer Evo They have almost always been impressed with their ability to deliver an exceptional driving experience in a beautiful package at an affordable price.

But the Eclipse Cross confirmed that something had gone very wrong at Mitsubishi. Especially since the disappointment did not end with my passage behind the wheel. The interior was remarkably generic, with a user interface touchpad that looked like it had been glued to the center console. And depending on where I was, the exterior design looked like two different cars crushed together, neither. The Eclipse Cross made me wonder what had happened to the feat, the passion, which had once created great Mitsubishis.

BMW 525e (E28)

BMW tends to go down blind alleys. The thoughtless attempt to enter the luxury segment in the 1950s with the 503 and 507; EV and PHEV i3 and i8 with high carbon fiber intensity. Hopefully the current obsession with grotesque oversized grilles is just another that, over time, will see BMW pull back and back off.

In the 1980s, the blind aisle was the Eta engine. The low-speed, low-compression 2.7-liter Eta in-line six-cylinder was developed to cope with low-octane fuel and higher emission standards. It was a piece of intelligent engineering, developed with all the care and thought that BMW put into a Formula 1 engine. And it was sleek and economical.

But it was excruciatingly dull to drive, especially in the mid-size E28 5 series with an automatic transmission. Admittedly, I didn’t launch the 4500 rpm red line forever like I had in the 325th manual, but the 525e was 1.5 seconds slower over the quarter mile than a Toyota Cressida 2.8 liters double cam. No BMW deserved the Eta engine.

Ford EcoSport Titanium FWD

The problem started with the name. Ford’s baby crossover has not proven particularly eco-friendly, with EPA figures for cities and highways overtaken by several larger and more accomplished rivals. And there was certainly no sport.

With 123 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque, the 1.0-liter turbocharged I-3 had its work cut out to transport the 3134-pound Ford to the MotorTrend test track, taking 10.7 seconds to reach 60 mph and 17.9 seconds to discover the quarter mile, with a trap speed of only 77.2 mph. There was nothing else to congratulate in terms of driving experience either. The steering was light and poorly communicative, and there was a ton of pitching diagonally around the corners.

A body high on tiny wheels gave EcoSport the impression that it had been drawn by a 3-year-old child. And the tester I was driving looked like it was built by one, with an obviously bad panel that fits everywhere. The interior looked more mature, but it was awash with hard, brittle plastics, the seats were uncomfortable, and the big bump between the floor and the rear seatbacks suggested that carrying bulky items would be a chore. Cynical? Or desperate? Either way, the 2018 Ford EcoSport Titanium FWD looked like a Third World crossover.

Alfa Romeo 33

Launched in 1971, the Alfasud, Alfa Romeo’s very first small front-wheel drive car, rewrote the rulebook for performance and dynamics in the segment. Even when the Golf GTI arrived in 1976 and quickly became the benchmark for the emerging hot hatch segment, the Alfa baby was still adored for the fluidity of its chassis, the precision of its steering and the free-rotation nature of its flat -oven. engine. The Alfa 33 threw it all.

The 33 was bigger, duller, more clumsy. The steering was lead, the shifter rubbery, and although the flat-oven had been reduced to 1.7 liters (it had started at 1.2 liters), it had lost its sparkling responsiveness, but added in the direction of couple. The 33 was also destroyed by a fragile plastic lining that broke or fell, a misanthropic riding position with an uncomfortable seat and pedals spaced too close together.

The Alfasud, built in the same factory near Naples, had its share of quality issues – on quiet evenings you could hear the first cars rusting in your driveway – but it was such a pleasure to drive, it charmed you the heart. The 33 was absolutely charming.

Lexus RX

“The Lexus is a magnificent machine, beautifully designed and carefully assembled”, I wrote these words 30 years ago after having voted the Lexus LS 400 of the year for Australia. wheels magazine. “Surprisingly smooth and quiet, it is now the benchmark against which all other luxury cars are to be judged. But more importantly, it sets new standards for mass production …”

I am known around MT Towers as a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to Lexus, but my review of the luxury division of Toyota is contextualized by the first generation LS 400. Then look at the 2016 Lexus RX. The exterior is a brutalist mess; a hodgepodge of lines and surfaces dominated by an ugly and oversized grille.

Inside, there’s nothing of the silent precision and attention to detail that made the LS 400 a game changer; the interior of the RX looks like leather and technology slapped on a substrate of a much cheaper car. It also drives like a cheaper car. The smoothness, the silence and the refinement with which the LS 400 shocked the establishment of luxury cars are clearly absent. Not because Toyota can’t do it, but because it chooses not to do it.

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