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NOT THE TOP 10 LIST

Cars you’d be foolish to buy

Reliability, satisfaction, and test scores knock out these contenders

Published: April 01, 2015 10:15 AM
Fiat 500L

When you're in the market for your next car, there's a dizzying array of factors to consider. Road-test performance, fuel economy, safety, reliability, and price and owner costs are chief among them. These objective measures can help winnow down a field of prospects rather quickly, identifying a select few standout models. Here, we present the castaways—those models that you should filter out due to their exceptional shortcomings.

Based on our research and test drives, these are the 10 cars that you’d be a fool to buy.

Explore our various best and worst car lists and use our new-car selector interactive tool to see what other low-scoring models you can identify and check out the impressive models that top the lists.

Jeff Bartlett

Least reliable: Fiat 500L

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

Fiat-Chrysler sits at the bottom of the pack, with four of its brands—Dodge, Ram, Jeep, and Fiat—sweeping our least-reliable rankings. The Fiat 500L is currently the least reliable new car, with a predicted reliability score that is 219 percent worse than average. Looked at another way, the 500L has about 16 times the problem rate of the most reliable car, the long-in-the tooth but ironclad Scion xB. (The smaller Fiat 500 is better, but it still scores poor for reliability.) In case you’re still tempted by this unique Italian hatchback, a 50-point overall road test score should further discourage you from adding this model to your shopping list.

Read the complete Fiat 500L road test.

Photo: AJ Mueller

Lowest owner satisfaction: Jeep Compass

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

Despite a recent freshening, the Jeep Compass remains outdated and uncompetitive. But don’t just take our word for it: Owners have given the Compass the lowest satisfaction rating of all current cars, with just 43 percent stating that they would get this same car if they had to do it all over again. The satisfaction details show the areas that disappointed most are comfort and fuel economy, followed by drive experience, features, and cargo space. (Key lesson here: Most of those elements could be readily evaluated on a test drive.) The fuel economy is understandable, as that is likely a key draw for an affordable four-cylinder SUV and the real-world performance is far from stellar. In our tests, the Compass returned 22 mpg overall, putting it at the thirsty end for its class, while also being among the slowest small SUVs with a 0-60 mph crawl at 10.3 seconds. Not a satisfying combination. To top it off, Compass reliability has dropped to well below average.

Read the complete Jeep Compass road test.

Lowest-scoring car: 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, vibrating three-cylinder engine. Its handling is so clumsy, it leans in corners like a drunken sailor. 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.

Read the complete Mitsubishi Mirage road test.

Photo: A.J. Mueller

Lowest-scoring SUV: 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.

Despite the front face mimicking the look of the impressive Grand Cherokee, the Compass is a mediocre car. The engine is noisy and lacks punch. Handling is unimpressive, the seats are second-rate, and the driving position is flawed. The cabin feels claustrophobic, visibility is problematic, and access is hampered by a tall sill. On the credit side, road noise is low, the ride is absorbent, and controls are simple and straightforward. However, at 52 points out of 100 in our battery of tests, the Compass scores too low to be recommended. (Technically, the lowest SUV score belongs to the Jeep Wrangler at a mere 20 points. But given that most potential buyers would be drawn to the off-road ability or nostalgia factor, we realize it has some redeeming factors. So we awarded the dubious distinction to the lowest-scoring conventional crossover or SUV.)

Read the complete Jeep Compass road test.

Lowest-scoring truck: 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.

Read the complete Toyota Tacoma road test.

Most expensive to own midsized sedan: Volkswagen Passat (V6)

Base MSRP price range: $21,340 - $35,995

The midsized Passat sedan has a lot going for it, including generous interior space, responsive handling, and a comfortable, quiet ride. The primary powertrain is an energetic 1.8-liter turbo four-cylinder and a six-speed automatic. High-end versions use a powerful 3.6-liter V6. Front seats are accommodating but very firm. Extra-spacious rear seats are a big plus, and the trunk is huge. But, this appealing package comes at a price. The owner costs (factoring depreciation, interest, insurance, sales tax, fuel, maintenance, and repair) make it the most expensive midsized sedan to own, costing an estimated $44,750 to own for five years. The best in the class is the Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE at $31,250. This is a clear reminder to look beyond the purchase price in figuring out if a car fits your budget.

Read the complete Volkswagen Passat road test.

Photo: Nissan

Worst value midsized sedan: Nissan Altima V6

Base MSRP price range: $22,300 - $31,950

The well-rounded, roomy Altima delivers excellent fuel economy. But it is a poor value, ranking dead last among midsized sedans. To assess value, we factor overall road-test scores, predicted reliability, and five-year cost ownership. This results in a value score relative to the average value for all vehicles. Among midsized sedans, the Altima V6 is the only model ranked below average. Simply put: All competitors deliver more for the money. A key element in this calculation, the Altima V6 is the only model in the class with much-worse-than-average predicted reliability.

Read the complete Nissan Altima road test.

Worst value small SUV: Jeep Cherokee

Base MSRP price range: $22,995 - $30,795

This small SUV could be a contender, but the Dodge Dart-based Cherokee is too underdeveloped and unrefined. If you have your heart set on one, get the 3.2-liter V6 in Limited trim. It has a much higher overall road test score, and it is all around more pleasant. However, it ranks at the bottom of the class for value. The bottom four small SUVs are (in descending order) the Jeep Patriot, Cherokee V6, Compass, and Cherokee 4-cyl. Feels like a pattern. The Cherokee four-cylinder is slow and gets lousy fuel economy for the class. Factor in a lowly 58-point test score and much-worse-than-average predicted reliability, and the value tale is a sad one. At least owner costs are better than average, but that can’t make up for the shortcomings. Owners agree, giving the Cherokee a below-average satisfaction score.

Read the complete Jeep Cherokee road test.

 

Photo: Nissan

Worst fuel economy: Nissan Armada—13 mpg overall

Base MSRP price range: $38,060 - $53,330

As the name implies, the Nissan Armada is a massive vehicle that requires an entire fleet to service is fuel needs. Ancient in its class, the Armada’s 5.6-liter V8 ingests regular gasoline at a rate of 13 mpg overall. Around town, expect just 9 mpg. Yes, single digits. It is as if this peculiarly styled behemoth were on a singular mission to extract every last drop of dino juice from the ground. Fortunately, the Armada has a generous 28-gallon fuel tank, giving it a 370-mile cruising range. For a typical driver, the Armada will gulp 905 gallons a year. By contrast, the Chevrolet Tahoe is relatively frugal at 16 mpg overall and an annual consumption of 755 gallons. Looking at the bigger picture, the Armada has a five-year owner cost of $67,250, which translates to $1.12 per mile. Plan your errands accordingly…

Read the complete Nissan Armada road test.

Worst used car: Mini Cooper S

When it comes to choosing a used car, you can put the odds on your side by choosing a model that performed well when new and has a great reliability track record. Of course, reliability hiccups can happen with any used car, but the Mini Cooper S has the worst history among all cars we have tracked over the past decade. Sure, the car is cute and delightfully entertaining, but year after year, the likelihood of having a problem that requires a repair is heartbreaking. And among the 17 trouble spots we track, engine major, engine minor, engine cooling, fuel system, body integrity, and body hardware have issues at an alarming rate. Although Consumer Reports often recommends skipping an extended warranty, the Mini Cooper S is a case where the investment would be a good hedge against potential problems. Joining the Mini Cooper S as among the worst used cars are the Chevrolet Cruze 1.4T and Ford Fiesta—although these models have fewer model years to anchor their position among the worst of the worst.

Read the complete Mini Cooper road test.

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