11 new cars to avoid in 2012 - Forbes
Back in the 1970′s and ’80′s there were more than a few true clunkers that suffered from dubious engineering, poor build quality, vague fit and finish and uncertain durability. Component failure was not a simple matter of a “check engine” light illuminating on the instrument panel, it was of far greater magnitude, with engine blocks cracking, manifolds With the industry having made great strides over the last two decades in terms of design, performance and durability, it doesn’t take much for a new car to get slammed these days for what once would have been considered minor infractions.
Consider that Consumer Reports dropped the Honda Civic from its “recommended” list after its model-year 2012 redesign, not because it was an awful car, but because it wasn’t deemed as good as some of its competitors. “CR testers found the 2012 Civic to be less agile and with lower interior quality than its predecessor,” according to a press release. (Honda has since rushed a nominal redesign of the Civic for 2013 that seems to address most of its perceived deficiencies).
We scoured multiple sources, tempered with our own new-model test-driving experience, to come up with the proverbial rogues gallery of unlucky new cars across a broad spectrum of vehicle types that just don’t hold up under the glare of scrutiny. We checked Consumer Reports‘ ratings for performance, reliability and other factors and cross checked them against the latest Initial Quality, Vehicle Dependability and Performance, Execution and Layout Studies conducted by J.D. Power and Associates. We looked at residual value predictions for 2013 models compiled by Automotive Lease Guide and personal injury claims data from the Highway Loss Data Institute. Finally, we noted how well each vehicle performed in crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Here are the 11 new cars we feel are best avoided by discerning drivers.
Despite receiving a much-needed interior makeover and a new V-6 engine offering for a model-year 2011 revamp, and even in light of the Dodge Journey offering some clever features, such as in-floor storage bins, this midsize crossover SUV still lags behind the competition in terms of refinement and reliability. Though the aforementioned V-6 works admirably mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive, the base powertrain that comes with front-drive models – a disappointing 2.4-liter 173-hp four-cylinder engine and awkward-shifting four-speed automatic transmission – is just not up to snuff. Consumer Reports says it’s, “mediocre overall…its lack of agility makes it feel like it’s larger than it is.” CR gives the Journey low marks for reliability and satisfaction, and ranks it among the poorest performers among midsized SUVs. What’s more, J.D. Power ranks it below average in initial quality design/performance and reliability, and Automotive Lease Guide (ALG) estimates it will return below average resale value.
Jeep Compass / Jeep Patriot
These mechanically-related five-passenger crossover SUVs were upgraded with improved interiors for 2011; the Compass (pictured here) got an exterior makeover to make it look more like the larger Grand Cherokee, while the Patriot continues with its more-militaristic look. They’re still below-par performers, however, with lackluster four-cylinder engines and a choice of a clunky five-speed manual or a lazy and harsh-sounding gearless CVT automatic transmission. Consumer Reports rates them among the worst performing models in their class, they received only marginal side-impact performance in IIHS testing and the ALG predicts they’ll return rock-bottom resale value.
This brash SUV can trace its lineage to the original Jeeps from WWII, and it remains among the most off-road capable models on the market. While the Wrangler has received steady improvements over the years to help make it more civilized, even adding four-door Unlimited models to help broaden its appeal, it remains inferior to virtually all other vehicles in terms of sophistication, accommodations and on-road performance. According to Consumer Reports, “the ride rocks and jiggles constantly, and handling is very clumsy…wind noise becomes very loud at highway speeds…getting in and out is an awkward act…the interior is uncomfortable.” What’s more, the Wrangler performed “marginally” in side- and rear-crash performance in IIHS testing and received poor ratings for initial quality and reliability from J.D. Power.
Nissan Versa Hatchback
While the sedan version of the subcompact Versa was recently redesigned, the stubby tall-roofed hatchback version won’t get a makeover until next year, and so it trundles on in its current rental-car-quality rendition. It received the triple crown of below-average marks for initial quality, design/performance and reliability from J.D. Power, was cited for having among the highest injury-claim frequencies from the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) and received only three out of five stars in frontal-crash and two stars in side-impact crash protection from the National Highway Traffic safety Administration (NHTSA).
The midsize Xterra is a back-to-basics SUV that's outclassed by many other truck-based models and certainly most car-based crossovers. Since the Xterra’s part-time four-wheel-drive system must be manually engaged it’s not as useful under most circumstances as would be an automatic full-time system. The vehicle’s ride can get downright bouncy at times with the steering becoming unnerved over rough roads. Consumer Reports says it “feels crude” and lags the competition in terms of performance. It gets low marks for initial quality and design/performance from J.D. Power and far below average residual value from ALG.
This diminutive model is small even by microcar standards and is woefully underpowered. It's saddled by an eccentric-shifting transmission, is largely impractical with only two seats and negligible trunk space and delivers a rough and noisy ride. On the plus side it’s able to park in roughly half the space of a normal car. It’s among the worst performing models tested by Consumer Reports, and takes a leisurely 14.6 seconds to reach 60 mph. Fuel economy is decent (but not spectacular) at 34/38 mpg city/highway; unfortunately the ForTwo requires premium-grade fuel, which tends to siphon off any financial savings at the pump.
Suzuki Grand Vitara
Suzuki is soon to be a so-called orphan brand, with the automaker closing its U.S. new-vehicle distributorship and exiting the market in the coming months. While Suzuki says it will honor all warranties, its cars will likely become more difficult to service down the road and take a major hit in terms of resale value. The compact Grand Vitara SUV compounds those problems with uninspiring performance; Consumer Reports says it’s “noisy and sluggish…steering is somewhat vague and handling is reluctant.” It also gets low marks for initial quality and reliability from J.D. Power.
This modest midsize sedan is reasonably likeable, though it’s overshadowed by most other models in its segment. It will soon be orphaned along with the rest of the Suzuki line as the brand winds down its U.S. auto operations. J.D. Power gives it low grades for initial quality and long-term reliability, while Consumer Reports faults the Kizashi’s four-cylinder powertrain for being, “rather leisurely…the CVT (transmission) makes the engine work hard and noisily to keep up the pace.”
Suzuki SX4 Crossover
With Suzuki shuttering its U.S. car sales, this barely adequate subcompact sedan, four-door hatchback and mini-crossover combo becomes an even tougher sell. While it comes decently powered – at least on paper – with 150 horsepower, Consumer Reports says its four-cylinder engine, “drones on the highway and delivers slow acceleration…the ride is stiff and the cabin is noisy.” The interior is cramped for all but the shortest riders and the car gets unimpressive fuel economy at 23/30-mpg city/highway. It also gets just three stars out of five in NHTSA’s side impact crash tests, below average marks for design/performance and reliability from J.D. Power and is saddled with higher than average injury-claim frequencies according to HLDI.
Long in need of a redesign, the aging – and expensive – Volvo SX90 seven-passenger crossover SUV is big and heavy and feels as ungainly on the road as a roomier full-size truck based-model. Its only available engine, a 3.2-liter six-cylinder generates just a pokey 240 horsepower. Consumer Reports cites it for having much higher than average ownership costs and below average reliability, while J.D. Power gives it poor marks across the board for initial quality, design/performance and reliability