We've counted down the greatest cars of the past 25 years… but what about the models that didn’t hit the mark? Makers don’t always get it right, and here we look at some of the cars that deserve a thumbs-down. Whether it’s shocking styling, dreadful dynamics or poor performance, our Chamber of Horrors has it all.
Rover CityRover (2003)
As Rover suffered a long, painful death on the negligent watch of the discredited consortium the Phoenix Four, the famous old badge suffered its final ignominy when the CityRover was launched in 2003. It was a sign of how far the company had fallen from its fifties and sixties heyday that rebadging India’s Tata Indica supermini was viewed as a wise move. Despite a bargain sub-£7,000 price at launch, the CityRover was poorly received from the off, with its lamentable build quality coming in for particular criticism. The CityRover’s time in showrooms was brief; by April 2005 it had gone as Rover production was stopped.
Daihatsu Move (1997)
It says a lot about a car when even the ad campaign acknowledges its drawbacks. “Weird on the outside, clever on the inside,” was how Daihatsu marketed the Move. It arrived in the UK in 1997 and was no worse than many Japanese K cars to drive. It was reliable and cheap to run, too, but the bizarre ‘mini-hearse’ styling ensured it remained a rare sight here.
Mitsubishi Carisma (1995)
Naming a car is a dark art. Call it Carisma, though, and you’re asking for trouble. This anonymous Ford Mondeo-sized hatch earns its place on our list due to Mitsubishi’s ill-fated attempt to attract European buyers with a funky badge. The Carisma was practical and reliable, but became an object of derision as it failed to deliver a drive to live up to its name.
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Suzuki X-90 (1995)
Suzuki enjoyed success in the nineties mining then niche markets with the Vitara SUV and Cappuccino roadster. But the oddball X-90 was a niche too far. This targa-topped two-seat mini-SUV suffered poor handling, limited off-road ability and criminally ugly styling, so sales were slow – and the X-90 remained in production for only a couple of years.
Renault Avantime (2001)
An unfair inclusion? Arguably. The innovative coupé-cum-MPV still has many fans, and Auto Express called the Avantime “surprisingly fun to drive” at launch in 2002. But sales were dismal. The styling was too extrovert for luxury car buyers, and a high price hindered it further. Renault sold 4,500 in 18 months, and hasn’t built a convincing big car since.
Skoda Estelle (1988)
The Estelle was reaching the end of its life when Auto Express launched in 1988, but was still selling reasonably well. Younger readers would find the car unrecognisable from today’s Skodas, with a dreadful image, outdated tech and grim handling. Value and reliability were its saving graces. In 1991, VW bought its first stake in Skoda, and the turnaround began.
Lexus,SC 430 (2001)
Even the best get it wrong sometimes. Lexus, named manufacturer of the decade by Auto Express readers in 2011, took an ill-advised turn with 2001’s SC 430. Designed to inject some flair into Lexus’ dull but worthy line-up, it failed to impress with its bulbous styling and ludicrously cramped rear seats. Yet the biggest disappointment was the way it drove.
Nissan Serena (1992)
Nobody buys an MPV for its performance, but the Serena gained notoriety as the slowest-accelerating vehicle on sale. The 2.3-litre diesel covered 0-62mph in a barely believable 27.8 seconds. Even by people carrier standards it was no looker, and fared poorly in Euro NCAP crash tests, too. Still, eight people rather than the usual seven could enjoy the leisurely pace.
Citroen C3 Pluriel (2003)
Thanks to removable roof rails, you could drop the canvas hood on the four-seat C3 Pluriel convertible anywhere... in theory. In reality, detaching the rails took a lot of muscle, and there was nowhere to store them inside the car – a problem when you reached your destination with the top down. Many roofs leaked, and the cabin plastics were flimsy, too.
Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible (2005)
The PT Cruiser was divisive enough before Chrysler chopped the top off in 2005. And removing the roof swayed the argument in the critics’ favour – the Convertible might have worked in the US’s sunshine states, but in rain-soaked Blighty it looked daft. Add in a lack of refinement, quality and driver enjoyment, and you had a novelty car that was no fun at all.
Obviously, we’ve stuck to the more mainstream manufacturers for our top 10. But there’ve been some shockers from more niche players over the past 25 years, too. Poland’s FSO Polonez was a rebodied Fiat 125p that was cheap, performed poorly and lacked any desirability. UK imports halted in 1997, by which time FSO had teamed up with Daewoo. The Korean marque promised to shake up the UK market, but failed miserably – partly due to its poor rebadged GM product. Yugo was another East European brand that used old Fiat tech with little success here, while Lada left Britain with its tail between its legs after poor sales of its shocking Samara hatch.