Currently reading: The worst cars of the decade
A selection of clunkers from the past ten years
4 mins read
15 January 2010

You’d think that with more than a century’s worth of experience, ultra-sophisticated market research and multi-storey car parks’ worth of failures to look back on, the motor industry would be good at building cars that the public actually wants. But no.

Over the past decade thousands of misguided buyers and disappointed car firm shareholders have been left to survey the wreckage of broken dreams. The first 10 years of this century have turned out an impressive array of machines that have missed all kinds of targets.

Click here for a photo tour of the worst cars of the decade

Range Rover is Car of the Decade

Here, we list the worst of them:

Renault Vel Satis

On sale: 2002-2005Price: £21,195-£31,325 Sales target: 3500 annuallySales achieved: 595 peak in 2002, 1404 totalTaking on BMW, Mercedes and Audi is ambitious, taking them on in their heartland is bolder still and doing it with your weaponry compromised is downright reckless. But compromised (to say the least) was the Vel Satis, most obviously by over-sized headlamps and angled, egg-crate grilles that made it look narked, as well it might with its fat rump and back-flipping C-pillars. And this in an era when Renault’s styling was on good form.Verdict: Lumpy looks and a lumpy ride, for both the occupants and its maker.

Fiat Croma

On sale: 2005-2008Price: £15,745-£19,345Sales target: 5000-6000 annuallySales achieved: 827 peak in 2006, 1386 totalThe best crossovers combine a canny blend of features from various breeds and gift wrap them with a flourish; think Nissan Qashqai or Skoda Yeti. But for an example of how not to do it, remember the 2005 Fiat Croma, a tall estate whose arrival stood out like a raindrop in a thunderstorm. Verdict: Roomy enough to ring with the echo of wailing Fiat execs, but…

Peugeot 1007

On sale: 2005-2008Price: £10,850-£12,600Sales target: 17,000 annuallySales achieved: 3493 peak in 2006, 8036 totalLazy electric rear sliding doors, excess heft, weak engines, cramped rear quarters and a tiny boot punched holes in Peugeot’s hopes for this novel city car, which departed British showrooms after only three years.Verdict: Novel, but tripped up by sensible-shoes styling and a troubled door policy.

Maybach 57/62

On sale: 2003-presentPrice: £263,137-£345,687Sales target: Not revealedSales achieved: 23 peak in 2004, 89 to dateUber-saloon looks like a cross between an S-class and a stretched Rover 75, but without the elegance.Verdict: What happens when beating your rival gets out of hand.

Alfa Romeo Spider

On sale: 2003-presentPrice: £26,895-£32,395Sales target: Not revealed Sales achieved: 746 peak in 2007, 1616 to dateOverweight and underpowered, with a somewhat flexible chassis.Verdict: Sold moderately for two seasons before fading like a firework.


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Seat Toledo

On sale: 2005-2009Price: £13,350-£18,100Sales target: At least 2500 annuallySales achieved: 1853 peak in 2005, 3264 totalThe bustle-booted Toledo was essentially the same car as the Seat Altea, but with a distended rear end whose presence was easy to spot but hard to fathom.Verdict: Painful proof that bigger really isn’t better.

Vauxhall Signum

On sale: 2003-2008Price: £17,995-£28,750Sales target: 8000 annuallySales achieved: 5501 peak in 2004, 17,367 total Even Vauxhall struggled to explain what the Signum was for.Verdict: Cars with foggy reasons to exist tend to find few buyers.

Dodge Avenger

On sale: 2007-2009Price: £16,500-£18,400Sales target: Not revealedSales achieved: 732 peak in 2008, 1138 totalThese days there are few truly dire cars out there, but this was one.Verdict: Launched 2007, deleted 2009 - enough already of this abomination.

Jaguar X-Type

On sale: 2001-2009Price: £21,558-£32,080Sales target: Not revealedSales achieved: 20,889 peak in 2004, 120,930 totalHampered by a limited range, unconvincing retro styling and the fact that too many people knew it was based on a Ford Mondeo.Verdict: A good idea misguidedly executed on inappropriate hardware. Died in 2009.

Fiat Stilo

On sale: 2002-2007Price: £10,064-£16,995Sales target: Not revealed Sales achieved: 15,166 peak in ’02, 44,507 totalFiat tried to build a Latin Golf with the five-door Stilo, but ended up with an updated Austin Maestro.Verdict: Semi-decent early sales, vanishing like a sandcastle at high tide in 2004

Mercedes-Benz R-Class

On sale: 2006-presentPrice: £38,780-£42,910Sales target: 1800 annuallySales achieved: 1154 peak in 2006, 3052 to dateToo hulking to appeal to anyone not blessed with a six-lane highway outside their front gate.Verdict: A great big cross-pollination of an idea that failed to germinate.

Subaru Tribeca

On sale: 2006-2008Price: £28,595-£33,490Sales target: 1000 annuallySales achieved: 277 peak in 2007, 746 totalA nightmare grille was just one of the B9 Tribeca’s troubles; mediocrity in too many other departments was another. Verdict: That astounding grille couldn’t have helped. Way off target.

Nissan Primera

On sale: 2002-2006Price: £12,795-£21,850Sales target: 24,000 annuallySales achieved: 13,511 peak in 2002, 47,093 totalInstead of hiding an excellent chassis and powertrain beneath dull, Euro-Nippon styling, Nissan eased back on dynamics and went for a radical look.Verdict: Odd styling helped to kill Nissan’s aspirations in this class

Peugeot 407 Coupe

On sale 2005-currentPrice £18,045-£27,490Sales target: 2500 in 2006Sales achieved: 1250 peak in 2007, 3173 to dateThe 406 Coupé was much admired - the bigger, pricier, edging-towards-ugly 407 Coupé has proved a resounding miss.Verdict: Too big, expensive and not pretty enough to sell like its predecessor.

Renault Avantime

On sale: 2002-2003Price: £24,050-£28,450Sales target: 1500 annuallySales achieved: 300 peak in 2002, 448 totalRenault truly lived up to its occasional reputation for weird cars with this: a rebodied, two-door Espace with no rear leg room.Verdict: Great, but too bold for its own good. In effect, it was a limited edition.

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Smart Roadster/smart Coupe

On sale: 2003-2006Price: £10,030-£17,905Sales target: 7000 combined annuallySales achieved: 3383 peak in 2004, 7449 totalA desperately frustrating automated manual gearbox, a chassis that was set up for understeer and a strangely styled nose doomed an intriguing sportster.Verdict: Snared by high prices and a clunky transmission. Not so smart, then…

Richard Bremner

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15 January 2010

I agree with most of these, apart from I very nearly bought a Vel Satis as my latest car. I wont bore you but getting over a broken knee, elbow & shoulder, comfort is my number one priority in a car, above handling, speed, acceleration etc, all the things a motor journalist finds important. I think the Vel Satis is a brilliant car, exactly what a luxury car should be, & an absolute steal 2ndhand.

Also, I would have to disagree on your comments re: the Nissan Primera.

"Instead of hiding an excellent chassis and powertrain beneath dull, Euro-Nippon styling, Nissan eased back on dynamics and went for a radical look. Verdict: Odd styling helped to kill Nissan’s aspirations in this class"

I would say ahead of its time, not odd. I think if the Primera was launched today it would be considerably more successful in this country than it was. The styling was just ahead of its time; the fact it was a Primera wasnt the problem, Britain showed that when we bought the (comparatively conservative) 1990s Primera in droves. I think it just was too futuristic, when you look at what Ford/VW were selling in 2002. I think it would sell well now.

15 January 2010

I am almost embaraced to say how many of these cars appeal to me in one way or another. Although in fairness i never bought any of them. Many of them were close to hitting the mark, but then just managed to miss.

The Vel Satis has poor suspension. It needed to ride better.

The 1007 was launched with underpowered engines which was stupid considering its weight so there wasnt a decent one in the range.

The Signum looked ok after the facelift, but lost the 3.2 V6. sad.

The Avenger has decent styling outside (unlike the Chrysler Sebring cousin) but had a joke interior, and no decent engines in the UK.

The 407 coupe was too heavy for the only decent engine and gearbox combo, the 3.0 V6 and the manual box, so it wasnt quick, but instead of developing it they dropped the petrol engines leaving the 'sport' coupe a diesel only car!! daft

The Avantime looked great, and drove just as badly. such a shame.

The Smart Roadster looked great, and the market needs a small fun car. So why did the stick it with that awful gearbox. I never understood why it couldnt be offered with a proper manual too.

15 January 2010

Autocar hardly gains points for consistency, with the Peugeot 407 Coupe on the list of top 5 coupes. And what about Richard Bremner's description of the car as "one of the finer things in life" at the conclusion of his long term test? Having had a 406 Coupe for 5 years, I chose a 407 HDI for greater performance, more room and better economy (35mpg average over 24,000 miles). It was also much better built than the 406. This was put to the test when an SUV ran a red light and hit me on the driver's side. Both vehicles were written off, but I escaped without even a bruise. I doubt that the 406 would have performed so well,and I am happy to be in another 407 Coupe. Autocar's list appears to be missing the BMW X6 and the 7 series. The latter must surely gain a place for the most spectacular levels of depreciation of the decade. Does BMW actually sell any or do they donate them directly to hire car fleets? As for the Range Rover as Car of the Decade, oh puhleese! Most Irrelevant perhaps along with the rest of the Land Rover brand. How any car with a kerb weight of more than 2.5 tons can even be considered remotely relevant to the last decade is completely beyond me. Whilst it has excellent ability, it is far too expensive and well appointed for any serious off road work, so why carry all that extra weight? Perhaps the next model can have some input from the designers of the Nano, rather than the designers of the Ford F150.

15 January 2010

To have a full verdict on a car you should write down the whole amount of sales - not only in the UK.

Fiat Croma, for example, is still being sold in Italy as well as in Eastern Europe, and with good results - it's side to side with VW Passat at the top of the category sales.

Anyway, I have some suggestions for other failures in the last ten years: Smart Forfour, VW Fox and Phaeton, Kia Rio hatchback, Cadillac BLS.

15 January 2010

So, who knows anyone who bought more than two of these cars from this list?

My neighbour's had a Croma and Stilo.

I remember the Croma arriving, and thinking that it was inoffensive but bland, and then thinking on how much it was losing as it sat outside every night. Through my work we get deals on Fiats and Alfas, and I remember seeing a monthly deal for £199 per month for two years on a Croma with a guaranteed value at the end i.e. £4,776 cost for two years, and thinking what the depreciation would be in that period - no wonder the banks went belly up.....

15 January 2010

As above, the CityRover. Also the Ssangyong Rodius; a car that hit every branch of the ugly tree.

15 January 2010

ive had 3 smart roadster and loved every one of them. I bought them all second hand so the high price wasnt an issue. The gearbox is something you learned to get one with, and once you did you could really exploit it. It was cheap to run, fuel economy was around 40mpg, best Ive seen is over 60. It wasnt quick, but it felt quicker as the engine was very lively and it was so light.

15 January 2010

I think that this list just demonstrates that there are no really terrible cars on sale these days... (Okay, Chrysler/Dodge excepted!)

Quite a change in just the last 10 years.

15 January 2010

I agree with most of the list, in my opinion you forgot BMW´s 7 series. The VelSatis sure was a bomb, too bad. It also really looks awful in show rooms, standing next to all those other Renaults, but on the street, it doesn´t look half bad, and the concept works, being designed from the inside out. But who wants to spend that much cash on a Renault? Now as a used car it´s a bargain, but here in Germany most of the cars come equipped with that awful 3 Liter Diesel engine, that doesn´t even last 100 Ks, so too bad.

15 January 2010

Alfa Spider? No, wait! The Alfa is an unsuccesful car for sure, but how could you say it's one of the 10 worst car of the decade? Such a beautiful car, with gorgeous interior quality. Ok, poor engine performances for an Alfa, but I can't say it's a bad car at all!


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