Bottom of the Barrel
These are the vehicles to avoid if safety, power, reliability and fuel economy are of any concern to you.
Every list has a top and a bottom. Auto journalists spend a lot of time discussing the vehicles that peak the charts, be they the safest, fastest or most reliable or get the best gas mileage. There's reason for celebration on those fronts, because on average today's cars are safer, faster, better built and more efficient than ever before.
But little attention is paid to the vehicles that land on the bottom of those lists — the vehicles that scrape along in the rut where automakers invest just enough in improvements to avoid running afoul of government regulations.
Because plenty of brilliant vehicles are available at every price and in every automotive class, we think it's worth taking a moment to stop and wag an accusatory finger at the precarious, the slow, the untrustworthy and the wasteful vehicles that provide maximum disappointment.
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Crash Test Dummies
We'll start by saying that this assessment won't be entirely fair, since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash-test ratings that we mined for this list aren't fair. The agency smashes relatively few vehicles each year, and those that fall to the bottom should be viewed with the caveat that there may be far more dangerous vehicles that haven't yet been wired up with sensors and driven into a wall. Regardless, most vehicles that go through NHTSA's crash tests post impressive 4- and 5-star ratings, so we're still willing to huff out a hearty harrumph to any car that posts crash numbers below three stars.
We'll be honest; the Civic's results are confusing to us. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety cited this compact car as a top safety pick for 2011, but NHTSA's tests paint a darker picture. While the Civic gets a not-too-shabby 4-star rating for front-impact collisions, it gets a chilling two stars for side-impact collisions. For the sixth-best-selling vehicle in the United States, this is unacceptable.
Like the Civic, only worse, the affordable Versa hatchback gets only three stars from NHTSA for frontal collisions and a miserable two stars for side collisions. So basically you're screwed if you're in a head-on crash.
A perfect combination of rollover risk — three stars, while most trucks and SUVs get at least four — and terrible occupant protection — two stars — the Ranger pickup can turn an everyday collision into a dangerous double-whammy.
OK, just one look at this tall, cumbersome, road-going box should make it completely unsurprising that the thing is tippy. But still, this commercial van got a rollover rating of one star. That's the lowest NHTSA rating of any kind we could find. In fact, the next-lowest performer in the rollover tests, the Ford E-350 van, was given only a 30.6 percent risk of rolling over during NHTSA's tests, while the Sprinter received an astounding 84.3 percent risk. Don't take any tight turns at speed.
There was a time when our collective lust for horsepower knew no limits, when no red-blooded American would have chosen a thrifty 4-cylinder engine when a beefy V6 or V8 could deliver gobs of acceleration. But $4 a gallon for gasoline and a slow-motion environmental apocalypse has reset our priorities. However, it doesn't mean we should accept turtlelike performance. Many automakers have learned to engineer acceptable acceleration out of efficient vehicles; then again, some haven't, so let's make fun of the latter.
These tiny, 2-person, 3-cylinder, fuel-efficient coupes and cabriolets seem like a great idea until you drive them. Sure, they're easy to park, but with only 70 horsepower on tap, they are so slow that cyclists will pass you by. We know that these things are meant as city cars, and that highway driving is clearly not meant to be their forte, but zero to 60 mph in 13 seconds? Come on. The starting price of $12,490 for a fortwo sounds like a bargain, until you realize that for only $710 more, you can get a Ford Fiesta that carries four people, plus their bags, and has a 120-horsepower 4-cylinder engine that gets similar gas mileage, up to 40 mpg highway.
Ford Transit Connect
This affordable little utility van is a wonderfully useful work truck with a pathetically underpowered 2-liter 138-horsepower 4-cylinder engine. It offers stand-up interior space along with easy fold-up, second-row seats to maximize cargo capacity, as well as a host of options for storage. However, it takes this slug more than 12 seconds to reach 60 mph. Of course, nobody's drag-racing utility vans, but given that the design of the Transit Connect allows it to be loaded to the gills with heavy stuff, and that it has the same aerodynamic properties as a rhinoceros, a little more oomph under the hood would certainly be appreciated.
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Further, Sam Foley might have tried doing some actual research here and mention that the Dodge Nitro and Caliber won't be produced for the 2012 model year, begging the question why even bring up vehicles that are out of production or will be soon?
The biggest joke of all was when Foley criticized the high roof version of the Mercedes Sprinter for being top heavy and likely to roll over and should be driven with care while cornering. DUH! I guess Foley doesn't have enough brains to realize that there are plenty of top heavy commercial vehicles out there with a high center of gravity that don't handle like a family sedan and shouldn't be expected to. That doesn't mean they should be condemned. That just means fools shouldn't be allowed to get behind the wheel of one.
The Honda Odyssey can't pull a trailer, and cargo space is usable only if you don't overload the vehicle, again the Honda won't carry much more than it's passenger load and minimal baggage. In a frontal collision, or any collision, I would rather sit in the Chevy Suburban any day. I have had two persons hit me in the rear end of my 2001 Chevrolet Silverado, one car was a complete total, they change the tow hitch on my truck, and a Mercedes Benz hit my rear bumper doing $7000 damage to the Mercedes and none to my truck. The Chevrolet will turn 1800 rpm at 70 mph and the Honda will turn 3000 rpm at 70 mph. RPM is a major factor in how long an engine will last.
So you can have your wing ding dingers that if the vehicle is touched you have a minimum of $2000 damage. Go drive a Honda Fit and you will find it is put together like legos, all the parts snap together and half of the time they don't snap together. I'll take American Iron any day!!
You forgot to mention that most of the buyers of the SUBURBAN, YUKON,ESCALADE ,ETC. are the players in the NFL,NBA, and BASEBALL as no smaller lighter vehicle would be able to carry them and their "BLING" and lawyers and agents ! And it would kill these crybabies if GM dropped the line.