The disappointing dozen: Cars that fail to measure up

Underperformers in Consumer Reports' testing

Last updated: March 24, 2015 09:30 AM
The Mitsubishi Mirage is the most disappointing of the dozen.

Look no further than our annual Top Picks list and you’ll see there are many great cars on the market today. At the other end of the spectrum are models that fall well short of being competitive. Here, we highlight our disappointing dozen—the cars Consumer Reports has recently tested with the lowest test scores.

In perusing these models, you'll find a wide range of car types—small cars, luxury cars, SUVs, and pickups. Likewise, there are several brands represented, with Fiat, Jeep, and Toyota each having more than one model to capture this undesirable distinction. At the corporate level, both Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Toyota Motor Sales each have four models on the list.

Our criticisms of these vehicles are often similar, with common shortcomings being poor ride, sloppy handling, tepid acceleration, too much engine noise, and an uncomfortable driving position. Sure, these models may be better than the old jalopy you're looking to trade in, but they do not hold up against the latest competition.

Whatever your car-buying budget might be, the key is to make an informed purchase decision, and we're here to tell you, there are better choices than these models.

Below, we present this year's disappointing dozen, ranked by overall test score, with accompanying highlights where they came up short. Overall score is based on a 0-to-100 scale.

Click the car names to read the full road test and to check reliability, owner satisfaction, and other key data.

Jeff Bartlett

Mitsubishi Mirage: 29 overall score

Base MSRP price range: $12,995 - $15,395

Lows: Clumsy handling, noise, vibration, acceleration, feels really cheap and insubstantial.

The Mitsubishi Mirage lives up to its name. While its low sticker price and good fuel economy of 37 mpg overall may conjure up an inviting image of an enticing, economical runabout, that illusion quickly dissipates into the haze when you drive this regrettable car.

Built in Thailand, this little hatchback is powered by a tiny and vibrating three-cylinder engine. To make it saleable, Mitsubishi primed the pump with a rather impressive list of standard features. But the car is way too slow and noisy, even for a cheap subcompact, to effectively compete in this competitive class. Further lowering its standing is its Poor score in the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety small-overlap crash test.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV: 35 overall score

Base MSRP price (with tax rebate): $22,995

Lows: Short range, long charging time, weak cabin heat, Spartan accommodations, acceleration, ride, agility, seats only four, complicated radio, headlights.

The i-MiEV is one of the cheapest all-electric cars available. But the trade-off is that it's slow, clumsy, stiff-riding, and quite utilitarian inside. It takes between 6 and 7 hours to charge on a 240-volt, Level 2 charger, or 21 hours on a standard 110-volt charger. Its range is EPA-rated at 62 miles, although we generally got around 56 miles. We measured its energy consumption at 111 mpg equivalent. The motor puts out a meager 66 hp. The i-MiEV fulfills its mission of being a very efficient and basic city transportation, costing less than 3 cents per mile, developing no tailpipe emissions, and making parking easy. But those attributes aren't enough to outweigh the considerable shortcomings.

Chevrolet Spark: 42 overall score

Base MSRP price range: $12,270 - $27,210

Lows: Noise, ride, acceleration, transmission, agility, front-seat comfort, complicated radio.

The Spark is a tiny car that's smaller than Chevy's subcompact Sonic and intended primarily to provide easy urban maneuverability and parking. But while its low price and rich feature list might be tempting for some entry-level buyers, the Spark's drawbacks can grate on your nerves in daily driving. It's painfully slow, relentlessly noisy, rides uncomfortably, and feels Spartan and insubstantial. You'd expect such a tiny car to deliver fabulous fuel economy, but we measured only 31 mpg overall, which is less than several larger, quicker, more substantial cars. Forget zippy or enjoyable handling in the Spark, too. Handling is secure enough, but it's neither agile nor engaging, especially for such a diminutive car.

Scion tC: 44 overall score

Base MSRP price range: $19,210 - $20,360

Lows: Ride, noise, visibility, lackluster handling, cheap interior, no rear wiper.

When we got beyond the surface appeal, we found the Scion tC to be a loud, cheap-feeling, uncomfortable car that doesn't really deliver anything notable beyond its convenient hatchback versatility. The tC's sporty looks write a check that the car's performance capabilities just can't cash. Handling is mundane at best and the ride is stiff and jittery. The transmission is poorly calibrated, forcing the engine to sometimes scream along after you're done accelerating. And it has a rev-matching feature that roars the engine on downshifts. Again, it may seem sporty at first, but it gets as tiresome as a kid endlessly shouting, "Vroom, vroom, VROOM!" Moreover, its loud exhaust boom also tries to imbue a sporty character, but it ends up creating a constant drone that also gets old quickly.And while fuel economy of 27 mpg overall isn't bad, plenty of larger midsized sedans with four-cylinder engines are more efficient. Add it all up, and the tC scores too low for us to recommend it.

Toyota Yaris: 47 overall score

Base MSRP price range: $14,845 - $17,620

Lows: Noise, ride, agility, driving position, front seat comfort, fit and finish, radio controls, rear visibility.

The Toyota Yaris, the company's impressively fuel-efficient and least expensive car, falls short of making the cut as a Consumer Reports-recommended model. Way short. For 2015, Toyota freshened the front appearance but that can’t hide the shortcomings. The powertrain remains a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 106 horsepower and hooked up to either a five-speed manual or vastly outdated four-speed automatic. But ultimately the Yaris remains barebones in an age of increasingly refined subcompacts. The Yaris is noisy, its ride is choppy, and its driving position is awkward with stretched arms and bent knees and the front seats are uncomfortable. Plus, handling lacks agility and acceleration is slow.

Toyota Tacoma: 49 overall score

Base MSRP price range: $20,965 - $37,615

Lows: Ride, handling, driving position, high step-in, low rear seat.

With a punchy powertrain, the Toyota Tacoma excels for hauling, towing, and off-road use. But for everyday driving or commuting, the Tacoma feels dated and is uncomfortable. Clumsy handling makes it a chore to drive, and the rough ride is fatiguing, with constant jiggling and a rubbery feel over even small imperfections. The cabin's high floor and low roof make access tricky and compromise the driving position. The rust-free composite bed is a handy and practical feature. Options can easily drive up the price well into full-sized truck territory. Fair cornering capabilities and long stopping distances contributed to a low score in our testing. A redesigned Tacoma launches in the fall.

Fiat 500L: 50 overall score

Base MSRP price range: $19,295 - $24,595

Lows: Jerky transmission, stiff ride, touchy brake pedal, uncomfortable front seats, poor view of instruments, IIHS small overlap crash-test results, reliability.

Built on a different platform from the cute little 500, the two-foot longer 500L looks good on paper but is let down by a jerky "dual clutch" automatic, a stiff ride, flat seats, and odd driving position. Around town, the 500L feels sluggish and hesitant. Fortunately, choosing the new conventional automatic eliminates that problem. This quasi-wagon responds eagerly in turns and handles securely at its limits. But the driving position is odd, with a buslike steering-wheel rake and windshield pillars that hamper the view. A tiny 5-inch screen is used for the simple UConnect system. We like the 500L's easy access, commodious interior, and spacious backseat. But there are too many compromises, including reliability that is well below average and a Poor score in the IIHS small-overlap crash test.

Jeep Compass: 52 overall score

Base MSRP price range: $18,995 - $28,495

Lows: Engine noise, acceleration, driving position, front-seat comfort, rear visibility, cornering limits, braking, reliability.

In 2014 the Compass received a freshening that replaced the CVT with a six-speed automatic for most versions. But it remains outdated and uncompetitive. Its low-speed ride is composed, and handling is secure but not agile. The sluggish 2.4-liter four-cylinder returned 22-mpg overall. The upright front seats are narrow and are not particularly comfortable, and the cabin is cramped. Controls are straightforward, and the basic interior is austere. The high rear window makes the cabin feel claustrophobic, though, and the styling restricts visibility to the rear. Reliability has dropped to well below average.

Fiat 500: 52 overall score

Base MSRP price range: $16,745 - $31,800

Lows: Ride, noise, acceleration, front seat comfort, driving position, rear seat, controls, IIHS small-overlap crash-test results, reliability.

The retro-styled Fiat 500 has agile go-kart-like handling and a rev-happy engine—all adding up to make it fun to drive. Zippy around town and easy to park, this two-door subcompact seems the ideal urban runabout. However, its slow acceleration, choppy ride and noisy cabin detract from the fun. The two rear seats are very tight and hard to reach and the cargo area is tight. The 33 mpg overall we recorded looks terrific, but considering this car's minuscule size—more than three feet shorter and 400 pounds lighter than a 32-mpg Toyota Corolla—that fuel economy isn't so extraordinary. Although it's a fun city car, its flaws stack up against it and the 500 ultimately scores too low to be recommended. Plus, the 500 scored a poor in the IIHS small-overlap crash test.

Photo: Nissan

Nissan Versa sedan: 56 overall score

Base MSRP price range: $11,990 - $15,530

Lows: Agility, engine noise, front-seat comfort, fit and finish, IIHS small-overlap crash-test results.

Nissan's subcompact Versa sedan is unimpressive, with a noisy and cheap interior. The engine drones as the car gathers speed, and the continuously variable transmission exacerbates engine noise. Handling, though secure, lacks agility. The ride is compliant but jumpy. To its credit, the rear cabin is relatively roomy and fuel economy is commendable at 32-mpg overall. The Versa sedan scored a Poor in the IIHS small-overlap crash test. It also received one of the lowest scores in our Owner Satisfaction Survey.

Jeep Patriot: 56 overall score

Base MSRP price range: $16,795 - $26,695

Lows: Engine noise, acceleration, driving position, front-seat comfort, complicated optional radio, IIHS small overlap crash-test result.

Although the small Patriot SUV has a compliant ride and mostly simple controls, little else stands out. Even with its 2014 freshening, which included replacing the CVT with a six-speed automatic for most versions, it's pretty much outdated and outclassed. Handling lacks agility, and the sluggish 2.4-liter four-cylinder returned just 21-mpg overall. Once inside, passengers will notice the narrow cabin, wide center console, low-rent interior, and small windows, which give the car a closed-in feeling. On top of all that, the cargo area is small. Reliability has been average, but the Patriot scores too low for us to recommend it.

Lexus IS: 58 overall score

Base MSRP price range: $36,550 - $47,640

Lows: Acceleration, ride, road noise, lackluster handling, fuel economy, driving position, controls, tight quarters, access.

The IS fails as a sports sedan. Though the 250's small V6 is refined, performance is rather pokey, and its 21-mpg overall is unreasonably thirsty. The IS 350 is punchier but also underwhelming to drive. Handling is secure but not engaging enough to run with true sports sedans. Ride comfort is neither tied down nor plush. Even by the class's minimal standards, the IS interior is extremely cramped. Getting into and out of the vehicle is an ungraceful chore. Fit and finish is OK but not a standout. Controls use a mouselike controller, which takes too much attention away from driving. Reliability of the IS 350 is well above average; the IS 250 is average, but it scores too low to be recommended.

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