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The worst cars of 2012

The worst cars of 2012

As the year winds to a close, it is natural to look back and recall the high points. But, it is also useful to remember the lows, including those cars that disappointed. Here, we commemorate the worst models in our ratings.

These are current vehicles that have the lowest overall test score, based on our more than 50 tests conducted at our 327-acre facility. A few have been around for years, while others have no such excuse, being new models that simply don’t measure up from the get-go.

The list presents the vehicles in ascending rank order, starting with the lowest-scoring vehicle in our ratings.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited: Jeep continues to update the Wrangler, adding more civility to the military-inspired off-roader. The latest Wrangler Unlimited we tested saw an increase in its overall test score, but it still earns just 20 out of 100 points. Key demerits are fuel economy (17 mpg), ride, handling, braking, wind noise, access, driving position, seat comfort, fit and finish, visibility, fuel economy, and reliability. That said, it does hold its value well and owners report a high level of satisfaction. But that legendary off-road reputation comes with numerous compromises compared against better-rated midsized SUVs.

Jeep Liberty:
Mercifully, this model is discontinued. It actually scores worse than its predecessor and is the lowest-rated vehicle in its category. Its ride is unsettled, handling is clumsy, and the noisy engine guzzles gas. Its cramped interior is uncomfortable and sloppily finished. And if that isn’t enough to turn you away from the remaining 2012 models, the Liberty carries a high depreciation rate, low predicted reliability, and owners are dissatisfied with it.

Smart ForTwo: Beyond head-turning proportions, quirky two-tone coloring, and ease of parking, there is little positive to say about this unique car. Smart it ain’t. While the ForTwo returns 39 mpg overall in our fuel economy tests, it requires premium fuel negating some fuel savings in a truly head-scratching way. The 1.0-liter engine is adequate with urban traffic, but it is seriously challenged on highways. The ride is harsh, handling clumsy, and the transmission jerky. There are not only better cars for the price, but roomier, more comfortable, and more powerful choices.

2012-Scion-iQ-ATD-track.jpgScion iQ: Toyota’s clever take on the microcar brings notable innovations in packaging, but the car overall comes up short. Slow, noisy, and uncomfortable, the iQ’s few positives include exceptionally easy parking, and its very good 34-mpg overall fuel economy. The extremely tiny rear seats won’t make anyone riding in the second row happy, and the numb and overly quick steering makes the iQ less-than-enjoyable to drive. The iQ makes little sense unless you spend all of your time driving in a crowded city. Plenty of much-nicer cars cost about the same, get comparable fuel economy, and don’t beat you up.

Mitsubishi iMIEV: Distinguished as the cheapest all-electric car available, the iMIEV comes across as a battery-powered compromise, where the Ford Focus EV and Nissan Leaf delight. With its tight turning circle and zero emissions, this EV may be a good fit in a tight urban environment, but the jarring ride and lack of handling agility count against it. The short range means you won’t spend much time in the narrow cabin with its very basic furnishings and uncomfortable seats. And in cold weather, you’ll immediately notice the very weak cabin heat. The iMIEV makes a strong case for spending a bit extra for a more refined competitor.

Chevrolet Spark: A brand-new model heralded by a seemingly endless string of auto show appearances, the Chevrolet Spark is a tiny, disappointing city car. Sold worldwide, it feels out of its element in America where it replaces the unloved Aveo. The Spark measures 20 inches shorter than a Honda Fit. That’s small. Its dinky 84-hp, 1.2-liter four-cylinder and jerky four-speed automatic combine to provide slow acceleration; the standard manual transmission delivers better performance. The Spark’s cabin is cramped and relentlessly noisy, the ride is stiff and jittery, and fuel economy of 32 mpg overall isn’t that impressive. While it isn’t exciting to drive, the Spark is certainly maneuverable, exceptionally easy to park, and boasts a rear seat that is actually usable by adults. It receives a paltry overall score in our road test, and it is quite apparent there are competing models that are better in practically every measure and overlap the pricing.

Toyota-FJ-Cruiser.jpgToyota FJ Cruiser: A modern interpretation of the classic FJ40 off-roader is an appealing concept, but the execution is flawed. Sure, the FJ Cruiser’s off-road prowess is impressive, reliability has been good, and depreciation is less than most vehicles, but that’s where the praise ends. The emphasis on styling brings seriously compromised visibility, far more aligned with an armored personnel carrier than its Jeep-like predecessor. The worst offense is the thin glass strip that counts as a rear window,. Further compromises are seen with the rear-hinged rear doors that provide poor cabin access and are difficult to close. The FJ has clumsy handling and jiggly ride, rendering it unpleasant to command on pavement. Plus, it can be disconcerting at its limits, although the stability control keeps it secure enough.

Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon:
These small truck twins were disappointing when introduced a full decade ago, and they haven’t gained charm in the years since. The competition shames these vehicles. Predicted reliability, owner satisfaction, fuel economy, ride quality, accident avoidance, and crash-test protection are all below average. Despite the horsepower figures, the inline four- and five-cylinder engines provide anemic performance. The best thing we can say about these trucks is that promising replacements are expected in the year ahead.

Toyota Yaris:
With the latest Yaris, Toyota continues its struggle to offer a truly competitive sub-compact car. Sure, it gets good fuel economy at 32 mpg overall and the rear seat is relatively roomy, but it lacks refinement overall. Handling is ho-hum and acceleration is slow. The car is noisy, with a choppy ride. Seating is uncomfortable. The radio is needlessly awkward. At least the speedometer is positioned in front of the driver with this generation.

Dodge Avenger: Despite measurable improvements made in 2011, the Avenger remains an outdated and uncompetitive design that trails all other midsized sedans. On the plus side, the ride is compliant and the optional V6 is strong and smooth. The noisy and unrefined 173-hp four-cylinder gets only 21 mpg overall, the same as the 283-hp V6. The slow-shifting six-speed automatic isn’t particularly smooth. Although the soft suspension provides decent isolation, it also allows frequent body motions, and handling lacks agility. Rear visibility is lousy. Most controls are straightforward and interior quality acceptable. In a reinvigorated segment featuring the redesigned Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, and Nissan Altima, the Avenger doesn’t feel like it is competing for more than fleet sales.

Many of these cars sell in significant volumes. But the harsh reality is they are not competitive models, reminding of the importance of researching your next new or used car purchase. Even a few minutes scanning our comprehensive test and survey results can steer you toward the better models.

See our complete collection of Best and Worst cars lists.

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