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The worst car ever edition

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Mail’s here! Today we talk about really bad cars. Should be fun.

Got a question? Email me!

Question

I love the reviews, and I’ve read through most of them. It looks like the car you’ve rated the lowest is a 2 Series Gran Coupe.

I’m curious how that fits within the “real world”. How bad would a car have to be to score a one?

– Nate

Answer

Well Nate, really badly to be honest. I don’t think they make “one” cars in 2023, at least I hope not. Hyundai has moved upscale. GM has raised their bar. Maybe a Nissan Versa? I can’t condemn it if I haven’t tried it.

But we don’t need to go very far back to find some terrible cars.

One of my favorite Top Gear specials involves Clarkson and May searching for “The Worst Car in the History of the World”. At first, it goes as you’d expect. Clarkson brings along an FSO, a car made in Russia, that disintegrates as it’s being filmed. May has a Mahindra clone of a Jeep from WW2.

They are horrid.

So let’s start with that concept in mind.

The worst car ever (that I’ve driven)

Saturn-Ion
This, but with four doors. Photo: GM

The 2006 Saturn Ion. The Ion belonged to someone I used to date, so I spent a considerable amount of time behind the wheel. It had:

  • A body made from Tupperware
  • A Cyclopean dash that basically made you look into the glove box for your current speed.
  • The worst seats ever placed inside a car. Lateral support was…well it just wasn’t.
  • An engine that groaned like a cow giving birth, but produced acceleration on par with a bicycle.
  • The handling. Why. How can it ride so poorly? Shocks and springs made from wood?
  • The steering wheel design makes the yoke from Tesla look like a stroke of genius. You. Couldn’t. Grab. It.
  • So much road noise. It just seemed to echo on the highway. Not like the tires were wide either. No sound deadening.
ion_interior
Bad cars get bad photos. Photo: GM

At the time, I had a modified 350Z, a rough and crude thing that felt like a Lexus after driving around in that Ion. It’s not hard to figure out why the brand died.

The Ion would absolutely get a Soul Score of one. I haven’t driven one in over fifteen years, yet the terribleness has stayed with me.

But here’s the kicker – the Ion was cheap, and like Clarkson said in that special, cheap is a good thing. As basic transportation, a washing machine with wheels, it worked just fine. You got what you were expecting.

I think what you’re asking is, what car have I driven that I had high hopes for? That should feel special and come from someone who knows better…

The worst car ever (that I’ve driven) all things considered of all time (s0 far)

acura-rdx
Loved the color. They lured me with the blue.

I like to think of auto shows as pretend, a fantasy produced with bright lights and smiling girls and guys dedicated to perfectly reciting brochure copy. It’s easy to be fooled.

I first sat in an Acura RDX at the New York Auto Show. I liked it – looked good, especially in that beautiful Acura A-Spec blue. The inside had some high-quality bits too, and a sticker somewhere around 50k. I was impressed as I sat there. So when the time came to replace my wife’s 528, I suggested we look at one.

Once I actually took an RDX on a test drive, I became sad pretty fast. It’s nice enough inside, but the center stack layout was so convoluted it gave me anxiety just looking at it. Especially the transmission buttons – this is not a car you will be able to just hop in and go to escape baddies. Reverse is where?!

mailbag-banner-worst-car
What…how?!

Think of how many time over the course of ownership you use those buttons.

Despite its racy looks, the car was merely average. There wasn’t a sporting bone in its body. Acceleration, steering, braking – it presented like a normal car. Not a bad thing, but not what I was expecting by any means. And average is not good.

But the worst part was the ride. The way it crunched and bounded over ruts in the road like a Panzer tank. Road noise was a big issue too – it just wasn’t a premium experience.

The Price isn’t right

acura-rdx-a-spec
The RDX had a price that was higher than a comparable X3.

After that test drive, I was curious as to just how low the dealer would go to obtain one. They wouldn’t budge. At all. The RDX was more expensive than an X3.

An X3, even a 30i, has a rhythm about it that you can feel as you drive down the road. I happily left and went right to the BMW dealer across the street.

Now, is the Acura RDX as terrible as a Saturn Ion? Not at all. But for what you expect, and the price you’ll pay for one (Acura dealers seem to think they have gold on the lots), it wins the title for worst car I’ve driven, all things considered of all time…so far.

I hope that answers your question, Nate. It’s why you probably won’t ever see a review of a Toyota Camry SE (or whatever) on here. Cars should transport you and your soul. Not every one aspires to do so.

Don’t be fooled.

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