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February 14, 2012

News & Features

As autos get better, a look back at the worst of all time

Los Angeles Times

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The 2001 Pontiac Aztek was rated the worst car ever by all parties.

Americans are buying cars at the fastest pace in years and automakers are bringing out new vehicles that get rave reviews for safety and fuel economy.

Some analysts say the post-recession period may represent a new age for the industry, and that's made us a touch nostalgic for the days when the Detroit Three made more cars than they could sell and overseas companies thought American consumers were suckers for anything with a European name and styling.

In that vein, the Los Angeles Times asked the editors at auto information company Edmunds.com to put together a list of the 10 worst cars ever sold in America. The Times also asked David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports' automotive test center, to weigh in. And then we gave our online readers a chance to vote on a vehicle to add to the worst 10 list. That vehicle replaces a 1917 Chevrolet that only the folks at Edmunds seem to remember.

2001 Pontiac Aztek: This was the consensus pick for the worst car of all time.

"It's undeniable that the Aztek's utter hideousness drove the biggest and last nails into Pontiac's heavily side-clad, plastic coffin," says Edmunds.com Editor in Chief Scott Oldham. General Motors shuttered Pontiac as part of its 2009 bankruptcy and restructuring.

Champion noted that the Aztek's odd design made visibility especially poor. "With no rear wiper, it's even worse in inclement weather." He says the interior was particularly flimsy, the ride was uncomfortable and the handling cumbersome.

1974 Ford Mustang II: Oldham calls this essentially a rebadged Pinto. He said it was something of an abomination to the Mustang fans who identified the name with power and panache, calling it a "shrunken, malformed pony."

1987 Yugo: The low-price leader when it hit the U.S. market, this was a version of the Fiat 127 made in the former Yugoslavia. Think about that. This was a knockoff of a Fiat that already had a terrible reputation for reliability. The result was not pretty.

1971 Chevrolet Vega: Should have had the name of another Chevy model, the Nova, which in Spanish means, "doesn't go." Oldham recalls that the Vega's engine couldn't hold oil. It's "a car built with contempt for its buyers." The Vega also was significant because of how it drove consumers to buy far better Toyotas and Hondas.

2003 Saturn Ion: Here's another GM product that still elicits scorn from the auto cognoscenti. Champion of Consumer Reports says it had "a cramped interior, uncomfortable seats, insubstantial cabin furnishings, and uneven steering feel. The noisy engine delivers neither quick acceleration nor exceptional fuel economy."

1958 Edsel Corsair: Edmunds labels this vehicle "the legendary flop of all automotive flops," though you would have to be about retirement age to remember the vehicle. Oldham says it was a redecorated Mercury with no real market.

1982 Cadillac Cimarron: This was Caddy's attempt to fake a BMW-style sports sedan with a front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder Chevrolet Cavalier. The car's legacy represents trouble for Cadillac even now, as it readies the launch of the ATS, a true rear-wheel-drive compact sports sedan, later this year.

1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme diesel: An all-around poor car that contributed to the negative consumer perceptions of diesel engines that automakers are still attempting to reverse.

1917 Chevrolet Series D: Almost no one knows of Chevy's first model with a massively underpowered V-8 engine. The Times is replacing it with the following vehicle, which was picked by our online readers: the 1975 AMC Pacer.

1975 AMC Pacer: Just under 27 percent of the readers who voted said this car should join the list. It wasn't a great driving car and many people found it exceptionally ugly. Oldham of Edmunds offers a qualified opinion. AMC wasn't known for great products but "we felt the Pacer had a little bit of an interesting design. It stood out from the crowd and that was worth a half a point." In his view that's enough to lift the Pacer out of the bottom 10.

1971 Ford Pinto: No list of the worst cars in America would be complete without this sub-compact Ford. The automaker did everything it could to make it cheap, pricing the car at just $2,000. One of the cost cutting moves was to not design adequate protection for its rear-mounted fuel tank. That earned the Pinto "a reputation as a fire-prone death trap," Oldham says.

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