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Worst cars of 2014 in Consumer Reports' tests

These 7 cars are real stinkers

Published: December 20, 2014 09:30 AM

The Consumer Reports car-testing team gets to drive some wonderful cars every year. But along with all the noteworthy vehicles we drive come some memorable stinkers.

What makes a car bad? An insufferable, noisy cabin. A rock-hard ride. Miserable fuel economy. Wobbly tricycle-grade handling. Some cars even manage to have all of those downsides. Cars that are clearly deficient in multiple areas earn scores well below the norm for their class.

As you peruse the list of the seven lowest-scoring new cars in our rankings, it might seem as if we’re picking on small cars. We aren’t. In fact, a few small cars do well in our tests and are recommended, including the Kia Rio and Nissan Versa Note. But, inherently, small-budget models struggle to excel in our tests, due to typical packaging, noise, and performance shortcomings.

Several low-scoring models here are from Japanese manufacturers. Just because a car comes from a company with a reputation for performance or reliability doesn’t mean it automatically gets high scores in our evaluations. Even respected brands can have underachievers in the product line.

The cars listed here are true stinkers and have the lowest ratings in our tests. Regardless of reliability or owner satisfaction, none scored high enough to earn our recommendation. (Scores are on a scale of 1 to 100.)

To avoid these and other subpar cars, check all of our tested models.

—Mike Quincy

What do you think of these seven stinkers?

Let us know below.

Scion tC

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

Score: 44

Question: When is a sporty car not sporty at all? Answer: When it’s the Scion tC. It certainly looks inviting, and the Scion tC comes with lots of standard equipment, including a touch-screen audio system and a large sunroof. But that’s where the good news ends. The Scion tC’s stiff suspension and heavy steering shouldn’t fool you into thinking this is a performance machine. Handling is entirely humdrum, and even smooth roads produce a jarring ride. Granted, we don’t expect a car like the tC to be quiet, but the cabin produces a din of unpleasant engine drone and a tiresome exhaust howl. So it is neither a sport coupe that’s exciting to drive nor a stylish coupe for those just wanting to look good. Need more convincing that the tC belongs in the bottom rung of our tests? None of our drivers thought the Scion tC fit them well; sitting behind the wheel feels like you've descended into a cave. If you want something with a Toyota/Scion pedigree that’s truly fun to drive, check out the Scion FR-S. Its reliability may be in question, but its sports credentials sure aren’t.

Chevrolet Spark

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

Score: 42

You think that a car as small as the Chevrolet Spark would deliver stellar fuel economy, right? Spoiler alert: The Spark, with its dinky 84-hp, 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine, only returned 31 mpg overall in our tests—that’s even less than the midsized Mazda6. And to get that lackluster economy, you still have to put up with a ride that shakes your kidneys, a cabin noisier than a Metallica concert, and front seats so narrow and firm that it almost (we said almost) makes coach-class airline seats seem plush. Finally, the nail in the Chevrolet Spark’s coffin has to be the over-complicated MyLink Touch radio on higher trim levels: It has no knobs or traditional buttons…not even a volume knob. (LS models have a simple, mostly-well-designed radio.) And don’t let the low price “spark” your interest in buying one: The Chevrolet Spark is no winner in our owner satisfaction survey, either.

Scion iQ

Base MSRP price: $15,665

Score: 36

Despite a too-clever name, the puny Scion iQ isn’t the class valedictorian. Its 34 mpg overall fuel economy is decent, and it’s small enough to practically park in a shoe box. But these attributes are far outweighed by the iQ’s agonizingly brittle ride and handling that feels as darty as a hockey puck. Road, wind, and engine noise absolutely roar on the highway. And the two-person rear seat is among the biggest jokes in the automotive kingdom; it’s so small you have to step outside to change your mind. How’s the Scion iQ selling for Toyota? Not well. Industry reports show that just 1,935 units were sold during the first 11 months in 2014. Rumors say that it has one foot out the door of the U.S. market.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Base MSRP price: $22,995

Score: 35

Some electric cars have impressed us (Tesla Model S, Ford Focus Electric, Nissan Leaf), but Mitsubishi’s lackluster effort somehow feels short circuited in contrast. It’s not even because its meager 59-mile range and a six-hour recharge time (we averaged about 75 miles for a six-hour charge with the Nissan Leaf). It's that the ride is horrendous, acceleration is painfully slow, and the i-MiEV comes with an antiquated interior with fit and finish that feels decidedly third-world cheap. True, zero tailpipe emissions and low operating costs are pluses. But we’ve driven better golf carts than the Mitsubishi i-MiEV.

Mitsubishi Mirage

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

Score: 29

The Mitsubishi Mirage lives up to its name. While its low $16,000 sticker price and good fuel economy of 37 mpg overall may conjure up an inviting image of a good, economical runabout, that illusion quickly dissipates into the haze when you drive this tiny, regrettable car. The Mirage is a little hatchback that's built in Thailand and powered by a small 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. Tempted by the low price? Buy a good used car instead.

Smart ForTwo

Base MSRP price range: $13,270 - $17,930

Score: 25

There are few cars as tiny as the two-seater Smart ForTwo. Hence, its light weight and minimal footprint make it a snap to park and thrifty with fuel; we measured 39 mpg overall (on premium). Other than those seemingly admirable traits, the Smart ForTwo is a pretty dumb choice. It has among the worst transmissions we’ve ever tested, with frequent shifts that are slow and jerky enough to send the car and its occupants lurching back and forth. It’s also slow as a DMV license-renewal line: Reaching 60 mph takes an interminable 14.6 seconds. You also have to deal with a harsh and choppy ride that simply crashes over bumps. The Smart ForTwo is not a smart choice.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

Base MSRP price range: $22,695-$35,395

Score: 20

Meet the lowest-ranked vehicle in our tests, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. The Wrangler is one of those rare vehicles that basically bombs in our tests, but our subscribers still really like it. In fact, 74 percent of the owners in our most recent satisfaction survey said they’d buy one again. So what’s the problem? Driven daily on “normal” roads, the ride is punishing, handling is clumsy, and it drinks fuel like kids devour juice pouches (17 mpg overall). But there are few vehicles that have a “cool” factor as high as a Wrangler. We get that. We also get that it’s impressive off-road. But to use this as an everyday car? Literally, every other vehicle on the market is judged to be better.

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