10 Highly Anticipated Cars That Were Complete Let-Downs
These cars should’ve fared better than they didby Kirby Garlitos, on LISTEN 12:59
There’s a saying in the auto industry that “every new idea is a good idea.” There’s a kernel of truth in that because the best and most popular cars are all born from ideas. But there’s a flip side to that saying, too. Just because every new idea is a good idea, it doesn’t mean that these good ideas end up as good products. Time and again, we’ve seen automakers take a promising concept and lose the plot completely when the production version comes out. Every company has experienced something along these lines, but we’ve singled out ten vehicles that serve as the best examples of highly anticipated cars that turned out to be let-downs. Granted, some of these vehicles had their moments in the sun, but those moments were fleeting. In the end, we all remember them for what they could’ve been. They’re not necessarily lemons, but they still leave a sour taste in our mouths.
History paints an unflattering picture of the 2001 Pontiac Aztek, but believe it or not, there was a time when hopes were high for the compact crossover. Pontiac introduced the concept version two years earlier in 1999 to positive reviews and it seemed like Pontiac had a potential hit on its hands.
Then the production model arrived and all the goodwill the concept version earned went down the toilet faster than my last bowel movement.
The production Aztek was hideous all the way around. It served as the go-to example of designers trying to do too much with what they had when they didn’t have to. It later emerged that the design of the production Aztek was tinkered with and fussed over to the extent that the entire aesthetic package was compromised until it became a total eyesore to anyone who laid eyes on it. Almost two decades later, the Aztek is still regarded as a disaster of epic proportions. Worse, the crossover’s fate could’ve been averted if the people responsible for its design didn’t try to outsmart themselves.
The Toyota 86 is arguably the poster child of cars that should’ve been better than what they turned into.
The 86 has been around for over six years, and if you remember, there was a frenzied hype surrounding this car with some even calling it the modern-day Celica.
The 86 — and the Subaru BRZ and the Scion FR-S — arrived shortly after and, for a while, it managed to live up to expectations even if most people thought that, with only 201 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque at its disposal, it was underpowered from the get-go. Unfortunately, Toyota never addressed that issue other than giving the 86 a token five-horsepower bump a few years ago. Since then, the 86 has soldiered on relatively unchanged from what it was six years ago, leading a lot of people, including us, to believe that Toyota could’ve squeezed more out of the 86 if it really wanted to.
Read our full review on the 2017 Toyota 86
Jaguar’s thriving these days, but there was once a time when it was in a rot, desperately trying to compete against the likes of Mercedes and BMW with barely anything to show for it.
The 2001 Jaguar X-Type is a classic example of a car that could’ve helped Jag ascend to the levels of Merc and Bimmer.
It had the makeup and the lineage of the British marquee, but Ford — Jag’s owner at that time — stumbled and fumbled in the car’s development by thinking that it could shortcut its way to success. It used the Mondeo platform on the X-Type, which made sense from a cost-cutting perspective because there was money to be saved there. Unfortunately, that approach came at the expensive of handicapping the X-Type’s platforming engineering, which ultimately became the black eye that tainted the sedan’s potential. The X-Type still turned out to be a decent car, but it was nowhere near the level of both the C-Class and the 3 Series. Ultimately, we remember the X-Type as the car that could’ve turned out a lot better it Ford didn’t penny pinch in its development.
Read our full review on the 2008 Jaguar X-Type
Has there ever been a vehicle that looked appealing, but came out at the worst possible time than the Hummer H2? I asked myself that question a few nights ago and I still couldn’t think of an answer. The Hummer H2 was, for all intents and purposes, the ultimate testosterone ride. It was massive beyond reason and had an arrogance to it that no car at that time had.
The H2 didn’t care that it chugged fuel like a dehydrated athlete — 10 miles per gallon, folks! — because all it wanted to was lord over the open road.
Unfortunately for the H2, it was introduced shortly after 9/11. The H2 became a victim of much bigger circumstances affecting the country at that time that it sent out al the wrong signals to American consumers. At a time when the country’s collective psyche was fragile, the H2’s arrogant appearance rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and it certainly didn’t help that it was openly scornful of the environment. The H2 was released at the worst possible time, and it suffered a predictable fate: the mountainous SUV had its moments, but ultimately, the Hummer H2 became a catastrophe for General Motors in more ways than one.
Read our full review on the 2008 Hummer H2
It’s funny how one misstep — just one — can torpedo an automaker’s stature in the industry. When Saturn arrived in 1985, it touted the “different kind of car company” tagline. It operated independently from parent company General Motors, but still had the financial backing of the mothership. Everything was set up for Saturn to succeed, and when the company found its opening to make a splash in the industry, it took its shot and launched the Ion compact sedan, believing that it could compare against two of the biggest titans of the business: the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Accord. Saturn pored over a lot of resources into the Ion before finally launching it in 2002 to a lot of fanfare.
Unfortunately, even Saturn’s best efforts couldn’t get the Ion over the hump, let alone reach the level of the Corolla and Accord.
It only lasted four years because American buyers were turned off by a substandard build that was further comprised by poor safety ratings. The Ion lasted until 2007 before it was discontinued, proving that just because you have an idea that you think can strike gold, it doesn’t mean that you have the tools to make it happen. The Ion’s failure ultimately led to Saturn’s downfall in 2010.
Read our full review on the 2005 Saturn Ion
Just because you have an iconic nameplate that’s sitting on the shelves and collecting the dust, it doesn’t mean you can dust it off and think that you’re going to strike gold with it the second time around. The Dodge Dart is a good example of this. The “Dart” nameplate was used by the automaker in the late 1950s on a sedan that was one of the most popular rides of the time. Production of that model lasted almost 20 years, spanning four different generations. The original Dart was, actually, a wildly successful car.
Fast forward to 2013, and when Dodge was looking to build a compact sedan that could compete against the Ford Focus, the automaker decided to bring the Dart nameplate back to life.
That announced was received positively by the public, in part because a lot of us thought that Dodge had something special in mind for the model. Instead, the automaker released a model that had so many problems, it barely lasted four years in the market. The rechristened Dart was plagued with a lot of issues, not the least of which included weak acceleration, uncomfortable seating, and subpar tech features. Worst of all, the new Dart didn’t capture our imaginations the way the OG model did. For a car carrying an iconic nameplate, it’s impossible to live up to expectations when the car whose lineage you’re drawing from is still considered as the better model. It didn’t take Dodge long to cut its losses on the Dart, discontinuing it in 2017 after almost four years of uneven performance.
Read our full review on the 2016 Dodge Dart
Does anyone even remember this tiny crossover? If you were old enough to drive in the early 1990’s, you might have seen this ride on the road on more than one occasion. The Geo Tracker was developed by CAMI, a joint venture between General Motors and Suzuki. It was advertised as an economy car, and while there was some appeal to that in a time when crossovers and SUVs weren’t as popular as they are today, the very nature of its “economic” build meant that there really wasn’t much to the Tracker.
It was developed alongside the Suzuki Sidekick, and like the Sidekick, the Tracker was trashed for its shady safety ratings and substandard performance capabilities.
The Tracker bombed in the U.S. market, but to GM’s credit, it found a new life for its tiny crossover in other markets around the world, most notably in Ecuador where the model had an incredible 20-year run from 1996 to 2016. Maybe our friends in that country had a special affinity for the Tracker, but the model barely registered a blip in the U.S. market. About the only thing the Geo Tracker can lay claim on is that it lasted longer than the Sidekick, which was discontinued to make room for its more popular successor, the Suzuki Vitara.
The Bricklin SV-1 was supposed to be a production sports car of epic proportions. It was the DeLorean before the DeLorean. Developed and designed by Malcolm Bricklin, the SV-1 featured sharp sports car looks and gullwing doors. It was powered by a 5.9-liter AMC V-8 engine that produced 220 horsepower 315 pound-feet of torque.
Everything was shaping up for the SV-1 to be the ultimate poster car on the walls of countless American households.
Not surprisingly, it was a huge hit when it made its debut in 1974. But just when it seemed like Bricklin was on its way to becoming a household name, production of the SV-1 took a turn for the worse when the cars’ fiberglass bodies kept cracking while still in their molds. That technical issue ended up being too much for the fledgling company to handle. Delays in production meant that the company couldn’t build cars fast enough to meet the demand for it. Soon thereafter, Bricklin went bankrupt in 1976, building only around 3,000 units of the SV-1. In the case of automotive what-could-have-beens, the story of Bricklin and the SV-1 ranks right up there on top of that list.
Like all the cars on this list, the Plymouth Prowler seemed like a great idea on paper. But the thing with these “great ideas” is that they don’t mean anything until we see something tangible come out of them. The retro machine was Plymouth’s attempt to build a cool hot rod straight out of the factory. It was a great idea all the way up to its actual execution. That’s when things fell apart for the Prowler.
To begin with, the model courted controversy because the incredible design of the Prowler was allegedly plagiarized from the design of Chip Foose.
That got the car off on the wrong foot. It didn’t get any better, too, when Plymouth — for reasons that are still unclear to this day — decided to slap a 250-horsepower V-6 engine under the car’s hood. For a car that was supposed to be a hot rod, it wasn’t up to snuff on the strip. If that flawed decision wasn’t enough, Plymouth also thought it would be a great idea to offer the Prowler with an automatic transmission, crushing the dreams of those people who wanted a manual transmission, even as an option. The Plymouth Prowler ended up taking the Chrysler Prowler name and over 11,000 units still sold in its single-generation run, but with such a good idea on its hands, it still feels like somebody dropped the ball on this one.
I can’t complete this list without mentioning Faraday Future and the FF91. If there was a company that represents the “all-hype-no-show” phenomenon in the auto industry today, it’s Faraday Future. The electric automaker made waves last year when it introduced the FF91 SUV at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show. The FF91 had the kind of showstopping debut that was hard to forget. Everything seemed to be falling into place for the startup. It even touted its ambitious plan of building a huge production facility in Nevada.
Since then, though, every time Faraday Future makes the news, it’s about the company’s never-ending run of struggles.
Name a problem, and it’s probably had it. The murky state of affairs has gotten so bad that a lot of the company’s executives have jumped ship, including one of its co-founders, Nick Sampson, who claimed earlier this month that the company is effectively insolvent and that it will “limp along for the foreseeable future.” Faraday has no future in the auto industry anymore, and whatever hopes and dreams we had of one day seeing the FF91 are now gone.
Read our full review on the 2018 Faraday Future FF91