Since the calendar (usually) doesn’t lie, and unless you feel like having that tedious argument about how there was no year 0, we have to accept where we’re at: the end of a decade. So, let’s do what has to be done, and call out the worst cars of the two thousand teens. Because someone has to.
I’m not sure we’re even planning on doing a Best Cars of the Decade, and for some reason, I’m OK with that. This decade has brought many fantastic cars, in all kinds of categories, and I’m thankful for every fun-but-attainable GT86 or practical and useful Pacifica or revolutionary Tesla Model 3 or tough and adorable Jimny or any number of other well-realised machines zipping around our world.
Modern cars are, on the whole, staggeringly good. They’re fast and safe and efficient and jam-packed with electronics that would have made supercars a decade ago oil their car-panties.
But I’m going to let someone else sing their praises because being a pissy little fussbudget who complains about shit is so much more fun.
Here’s the criteria I worked with: the cars had to be introduced in 2010 or later, and while I don’t even require that these cars actually made it to full production, that at least should have been the intention. I’m not here to pick on some hand-made one-off by a tinkerer. All these cars were built by companies with the goals of actually producing them, whether they managed to or not.
Also, I may throw in one or two that aren’t strictly actual cars, but still automotive somethings in nature, and if I do that, I promise it’s because I had a good reason. And just because I have to go with what I know, this list is focused on cars in the American market. I’m sure there were many miserable shitboxes all over the world, but I had to give myself some constraints.
Sound good? These are in ascending order, with the least-worst first, and the worst-worst last. But I’ll number them in descending order, just to be absolutely certain my preferred level of confusion is maintained.
10. Nissan Versa (Second Gen, 2012)
Normally, I don’t like punching down to defecate upon really cheap cars, but there was something about the Versa’s 2012 redesign into an awkward little sedan that irked me. Especially in Charcoal Grey.
This version of the Versa represented a trend in the whole of the automotive market that pushed this relentless and depressing “aspirational” narrative, a pervasive belief that everything had to seem “premium” and self-serious and had to convey some kind of status instead of just being a good, unashamed cheap car.
This is a symptom of the same disease that makes actual colours in cars so rare, in favour of “sophisticated” grayscales and silvers and other non-colours.
These cars carried a designed-in sense of shame about what they were, and I just can’t abide that shit.
9. Dodge Dart (2013)
Man, what a sad, wet fart of a car. It wasn’t so much a terrible car (I mean, it wasn’t great, but still) as much as it was an incredible machine designed to transform liquid gasoline into apathy.
Maybe some people thought it could be an even better re-birth of the Neon, but those people soon had their hopes dashed, and from that moment on nobody gave a brace of BMs about this car, not car buyers and not even the company that built it. Its racing program vanished on air. Hell, they didn’t even bother to build it that long. The Dart got just a three-year run from 2013 to 2016, stopping when, I imagine, nobody at the factory bothered to show up.
I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the sales brochure for the Dart ends in mid-sentence, and half the pictures in there are of its sister vehicle the Chrysler 200, another car no one cared about.
8. Toyota Mirai (2014)
I feel like the design brief for the Mirai must have read “See if we can make something that demonstrates Toyota’s commitment to hydrogen without actually convincing anyone it’s a good idea. Also, make it breathtakingly ugly.”
If that was the goal, then Toyota sure managed to pull it off well, since the Mirai was deeply, lavishly ugly and sold absolutely nobody on the promise of hydrogen.
Of course, that’s not entirely the fault of the Mirai—really, a big part of why the Mirai is on this list is because of the dramatic failure of hydrogen to take off in any appreciable way this decade.
The first official hydrogen fuelling station for fuel cell vehicles opened in California in 2015, and while there’s some more now, the infrastructure is painfully and woefully inadequate.
And, even if it was better developed, hydrogen is still a questionable choice. Sure, on paper it seems great—it’s the most abundant element in the universe, the only emissions from a fuel cell are water vapour—but the truth is that here on Earth, right now, the only way to get hydrogen is by processing fossil fuels and it’s energy-intensive and expensive.
It costs more than gasoline by a huge margin, too—a dollar’s worth of gasoline will take you over nine miles, while a dollar’s worth of hydrogen will only take you three and a half. Maybe one day we’ll find a cheap, plentiful source of ready hydrogen, but it’s frustrating that we’re still in a place where none of this makes sense.
Also, damn that thing was ugly.
7. Buick Cascada (2016)
Finally, a car that answered the question everyone had: Can we take a boring, clunky Opel to the U.S., call it a Buick, and somehow make a convertible that’s equally joyless and uninspiring? Yes. Yes we can.
6. Ford EcoSport (2012)
The EcoSport makes this list because it’s a perfect example of why the whole National Delusion that everything needs to be a crossover or SUV is so misguided. The EcoSport is a crossover that would have been so much better if it was a wagon.
Forcing a vehicle like this to be a crossover turns what could have been a useful, decent little car into a bloated, homely weirdo that takes up too much space and provides little actual usable space in return.
It’s got 4WD for no reason, because nobody is off-roading these dorky gumdrops, it’s tall for no reason, its rear door opens awkwardly for no good reason, it just simply has no good reasons to be, period.
5. Bugatti Chiron (2016)
I fully realise that this is going to be by far the most controversial entry on this list (I think—unless all those EcoSport stans get on my arse), but it’s one I feel I need to stand by. So, let me make my case first with this statement: Fuck the Chiron.
If there were people out there who somehow didn’t believe that if you have zero limits on research and development resources and could charge millions of dollars for a car, you could make an absolutely amazing car, then I guess the Chiron served its purpose.
Except, wait, that stupid goal was already proven by its predecessor, the Veyron. This brings up the very valid question of just what really is the point of the Chiron?
I’m sure it’s amazing to drive, but at three million dollars, it sure as shit better be. Not that anyone who owns one of these is actually going to really drive it in any way that approaches any of its limits whatsoever.
Is it really more fun to drive than a $US150,000 ($214,817) Porsche or even a $US30,000 ($42,963) Subaru BRZ? I don’t think so. Sure, it’s a “production” car that can go 300 MPH, but who gives a shit? I bet we have more readers who have boned Amish 19-year-olds on Rumspringa than who have even sat in a Chiron, let alone will drive one at any speeds approaching 300 MPH.
These things will spend 99 per cent of their time sitting in climate-controlled garages or slowly tooling down Dubai or Beverly Hills boulevards so everyone can see that the people in them have a shitload of money.
It’s an engineering triumph the same way that a machine that can instantly cover a corn dog in 24K rose gold would be: technically impressive, but a fundamentally stupid and useless way to shout how rich you are.
4. Lexus LX570 (from 2012 facelift on)
Man, I really can’t stand this shitbox. The LX570 is one of the worst values in all of modern motoring—a $US100,000 ($143,212) lumbering mound of bad decisions, excess, and deep insecurities.
It’s heavy, cumbersome, and joyless to drive, has all the interior style of some rich guy’s dad in a bomber jacket and lots of gold chains, has a face that makes a rhinoceros’ anus look appealing, a shitty UI setup, cramped interior, Starsky and Hutch-era gas mileage, and even if it’s technically a capable off-roader, doing any off-roading beyond parking on your neighbour’s lawn will end up in thousands of dollars of damage to ugly plasticky fake chrome trim shit all over the car.
This is everything that’s wrong with SUVs, in one expensive, ugly-arse package. Bravo.
3. Fisker Karma (2012)
When it first came out, the Karma was pretty striking looking, with powerful proportions and an interesting, athletic stance. The front end, with its sleazebag mustache grille, wasn’t great, and the interior of the car was so shockingly cramped and tiny that it was officially classified as a subcompact, even though the exterior dimensions were huge.
This was essentially a $US100,000 ($143,212) Chevy Volt, complete with a GM engine, and while it could be quick, the build quality pretty shitty, it wasn’t nearly as efficient as it should have been, it wasn’t really comfortable, and, best of all, it would spit exhaust right in your face if you kept your driver’s window open.
It got a lot of hype, sure, but in the end, this was just a big disappointment and rendered pretty irrelevant by Tesla’s success.
2. Tesla Cultists
Speaking of Tesla, let’s get to the entry on the list that isn’t really a car: Tesla Cultists. Over this past decade, Tesla fans morphed from just a group of people excited about a particular kind of car into a toxic horde of dead-eyed worshippers of a very smart but deeply insecure billionaire.
I think Tesla makes some very well-designed cars; they have their flaws, sure, like any car, but when it comes to discussing them in any kind of realistic way, it’s nearly impossible to give any kind of criticism of either the cars or the man behind them without swarms of hyperintense Tesla freaks flooding in and freaking out, accusing you of hating the Earth and actively pushing for its destruction or suggesting that anything bad you may possibly say about Tesla is only because of some elaborate stock market money-making scheme you’re working.
If you thought Prius drivers were smug, you’ll have to come up with a whole new word for the kind of laser-focused, Adderall-fuelled weapons-grade smugness that hardcore Tesla freaks can generate.
It’s hard to find a coherent group more responsible for making automotive discourse more shitty than the Tesla Cult. Lately, I feel they’re becoming even more dangerous as they push the very, very false narrative that Tesla makes fully self-driving cars, which they most definitely do not, even though Tesla stans like to pretend, in public, around other people, that they do.
I know every group of hardcore single-interest automotive fans can be hard to take, but the Tesla Cult is by far the worst. And I think we’ll be seeing plenty more from them in the 2020s.
1. The Elio (never)
Elio started right at the beginning of this past decade and has managed to be one of the most consistent and reliable continual fuck-ups of the past ten years. The company is exiting the decade as likely to start producing their revolutionary three-wheeled commuter car as it was at the beginning of the decade, which is to say not fucking likely at all.
What’s most amazing about Elio is how it’s still around at all, in any way, prolonging these painful death throes with a stubborn tenacity that, were it actually applied to building cars, could have made them successful.
They were full of terrible ideas right from the start, the worst of which was its decision to design and build its own modernised version of the Geo Metro engine, a colossal boondoggle that burned through all its money and left them with absolutely nothing.
Last year Elio announced it’d partner with an OEM to buy engines, something the company should have done since day one but somehow didn’t seem to understand, even though that’s how small, low-volume carmakers like Lotus have been doing things for decades.
It’s not clear what it’d buy these engines with, since Elio pissed away all its money—most of it from deposits from poor saps who will very likely never see an actual car—and last we checked had they only around $US7,000 ($10,025) in the bank.
The Elio has been a ridiculous, costly boondoggle for the entirety of the 2010s. It’s been harmful to real people who were counting on the jobs the company promised, and there are all those people who put down real money for a car with dubious claims at efficiency and price who are very likely to be simply screwed.
I’m amazed I still get Elio emailed newsletters every month, written in a deliriously optimistic way that never once reveals that this car has been delayed by years and years and years and is in no way likely to just happen.
It’s so sad to see, like a child refusing to admit their father has a drinking problem as he lays passed out in a pool of his own sick in the middle of their birthday party, after punching out the clown.
Elio is the most pathetic automotive story of this past decade, and, at the rate they’re going, possibly will continue to be well into the 2020s.
Maybe I’ll be proven wrong? Somehow, I’m just not that worried.