It’s that time of year. Time for us to toss awards and raspberries at the automakers.
We’ll do the worst first, and the best later today, so that you can head into the holiday weekend on a positive note.
The rules are simple: It has to be a car at least one of us drove during the calendar year, even if only for a few minutes. It has to be a 2023 or 2024 model year, though we’d consider exceptions for unchanged 2022 models — and indeed, there is at least one.
Each contributor chose three worst and three best, with the option of including honorable mentions.
So, in no particular order, here we go:
From what I’ve read, the recent adage of “There are no bad cars anymore” is being tested by a certain Vietnamese automaker, but I’m not lucky (?) enough to be on their radar yet so I haven’t yet tested a Vinfast. But I’m convinced that while there are few “bad” cars that make it to production, some are quite clearly out of their element in their particular segment. This is in reverse order, from third worst to worst.
Lexus LX600: Not a bad car by any means, and there are likely plenty of buyers for it. But to me, it simply seems absurd to pay over $125k for a four-seat SUV that can in all likelihood go literally anywhere off-road…if you spend another couple thousand dollars on a set of wheels and tires that won’t break the sidewall bead the first time you encounter a pebble. That it’s such a massive vehicle and yet has but four seats is inexcusable, too.
Nissan Pathfinder: Argh. While it’s not as legendary of a nameplate as other icons of motoring, the Pathfinder was once a rugged body-on-frame SUV that could go just about anywhere, it’s now a minivan without the utility of a minivan. I was once a Pathfinder owner – a first-gen four-door. Unless Nissan radically redesigns it’s midsize so it’s no longer automotive ennui, I shall never be a Pathy owner again.
Toyota bZ4X: That the champion of hybrids can’t or won’t build a competitive EV probably shouldn’t be surprising. After driving it earlier this year, it feels that Toyota is planning a “look – nobody wants EVs” press release in about 18 months. It’s slow, it’s cramped, the driving position (especially in regards to the instrument panel seemingly designed to be obscured by that pesky steering wheel) is miserable. It’s a half-assed solution to something that probably needs a full ass.
No year-end article at TTAC is complete without some grousing from the rouge’s gallery of writers which make up our masthead. That’s why our fancy pants Managing Ed has instructed the lot of us to assemble a list of disappointing vehicles behind whose wheel we slid in 2023 – tempered, of course, with a few of the best. Here’s the view from Downtown Canada. These are my worst of the year. All are 2023s or 2024s.
Kia Carnival: To be clear, this writer isn’t criticizing the Carnival because it is a minivan, he is criticizing it because there fails to be any one standout trait. The front seats are not especially comfortable, the middle seats simply have an odd fore-aft sliding feature instead of vanishing into the floor like a Chrysler, and the rear seats leave unsightly bare anchors jutting from the deck like stanchions on a wharf. Engine power is adequate but it consumes nearly double the fuel of a Toyota Sienna. At least the Kia’s price point is attractive.
Chevrolet Equinox: Despite the reputation of this place, don’t view this selection as a wanton broadside swipe at General Motors. Rather, we encourage you to recall the present Equinox has a coarse and underpowered 1.5-liter engine as its sole powertrain choice, regardless of trim selection. This is acerbated by a six-speed automatic transmission, a number of cogs one may recognize from about 20 years ago. Rear three-quarter vision is terrible, as well.
Mazda Infotainment Systems: Most of the machines we drove in 2023 were at least able to clear the bar of expectations, but there remained occasions in which a feature or tech option left us with a series of ‘what were they thinking?’ moments. Ranking (and rankling) in this vein was any Mazda with that brand’s infuriating infotainment. In a sea of touchscreens, this one is designed not to be touched at all, while the likes of CarPlay had to be shoehorned in like a gallon of fertilizer into a quart bucket. Ed. note — This isn’t a car! What is it with people from the Maritimes and following directions? Sigh.
2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4XE Trailhawk: There are bad cars and then there are cars that aren’t bad in a vacuum, but fall short of expectations. That’s the case here. It costs too much and the hybrid transitions are simply not smooth enough. Oh, and it sucks that you have to get this powertrain if you want the Trailhawk trim. The good news here is that you still get Jeep off-road capability and one of the best interiors in the segment. If the price wasn’t so dear and if the hybrid system was smoother, this could easily be on the best list. Too bad it isn’t.
2022 Audi Q4 e-tron: This is the only one on my list that’s a ’22 MY, though I drove it in 2023. It doesn’t really change for 2023 or 2024. The problem here, like with the Jeep, isn’t that this car is bad. It’s that it’s overprice for what you get. I walked away thinking this would be a fine vehicle if the MSRP was significantly lower. That’s not a good thing, even when it comes to a luxury brand.
2023 Toyota bZ4X: Allow me to pile on. The bZ actually isn’t terrible in a vacuum, but it feels worlds behind the competition, and also feels like a slap-dash effort from an automaker that normally exhibits a baseline competence. Even Toyota’s most boring cars at least work as sensible transport. Not this one. That’s unfortunate, because Toyota can do better, and usually does.
The worst cars I’ve driven this year aren’t actually all that bad. It’s just that many new cars have gotten so good that the bar has to keep being raised. *Ed. note — Chris chose just two worst cars partly for this reason, and partly because of a smaller press fleet where he lives.
Toyota bZ4X: I enjoyed the bZ4X’s driving experience and its interior is very comfortable, but there were a few nagging issues. First, Toyota felt the need to redesign and completely over-engineer the gear selector, turning it into a confusing dial with poor ergonomics. Then, there’s the issue of range and charging, as the SUV maxes out at 228 miles with all-wheel drive ad 252 miles with front-wheel drive. It also charges slower than most rivals.
Dodge Hornet R/T: The Dodge Hornet looks great and has engaging driving dynamics, but it’s expensive, has a cramped cabin, and could use more standard features. I had issues with the oversized paddle shifters, which made steering annoying at times, and the back seat was almost too small for my seven- and 10-year-old kids.
*Yes I know the image is of a GT. I couldn’t find an R/T image I liked — Ed.
[Images: Manufacturers; © 2023 Tim Healey/TTAC.com]
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