It all started with the Jeep. The American General Purpose Vehicle (called the GP, which quickly became “jeep”) was a stalwart of the allied armed forces during World War II. It was on the front lines in every theater of war, and was used during active combat, for reconnaissance, to ferry wounded soldiers off the lines and bring fresh troops to the fight, and for just about every other conceivable purpose. Before the Jeep, there was no single vehicle on earth that boasted such versatile on-road and off-road capabilities. In the years following WWII, companies developed several such vehicles, all of which were inspired by the original GP. In the seven decades that have elapsed since that war ended, we have seen plenty of vehicles that were perhaps inspired by the Jeep, but are indeed uninspired themselves.
The term SUV, generally accepted to stand for Sport Utility Vehicle (some might say it means Suburban Utility Vehicle, and they have the right to be wrong), does not refer to any one specific type of automobile. Rather the acronym is broadly applied to a range of vehicles, many of which are essentially trucks with added cabin seating, others that are more like compact cars that have extra cargo space (if not added carrying capacity). Some SUVs admirably serve their purpose by balancing passenger accommodations with rugged abilities, such as off-road and towing capabilities. Other SUVs are more like overgrown luxury cars that drive well despite their size. Still others are veritable train wrecks of design flaw and have no business on the road.
15. The Suzuki Samurai
The Suzuki Samurai first took to the American roadways in the 1980s. It was intended to serve as an alternative to the classic Jeep Wrangler, and was priced competitively. The Samurai was considered reliable and rugged by some people, and looked poised to take over some of the Jeep’s market share. Then Consumer Reports came out with a truly damming report that said the Samurai was essentially unsafe at any speed, being prone to potentially fatal rollovers. Not only was the Samurai model hurt by the report, but in fact the larger Suzuki brand lost untold millions in sales.
14. The Cadillac Escalade
If your only goal in life is to show off your conspicuous wealth and make clear the fact that you’re unencumbered by social grace, then by all means purchase and drive a Cadillac Escalade. And hey, go ahead and get the extra-large ESV model, too. Most Escalade models get around 15 miles per gallon (early models got closer to 11, which is just appalling, really) and a current Escalade will cost you around $75,000 at the base model. You will rapidly approach a six-figure price tag as you start to add features like flashy rims, entertainment systems, and so forth.
13. The Dodge Nitro
You know the old adage about how if you can’t find something nice to say, it’s best to say nothing at all? Yeah, if we were going to follow that advice we’d have to stop writing about the Dodge Nitro right now. This vehicular belch came out in 2007 right before the American auto industry essentially tripped and fell flat on its face. The Nitro has an underpowered motor, handling that was described as non-responsive, and a cramped, awkwardly laid out interior. The vehicle was produced for five long, painful years before finally being taken out behind the proverbial barn.
12. The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
If you are on a tight budget but you want a car with a bit of extra storage capacity, then the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is not a bad option, really. Just don’t plan to use this ostensible SUV for any towing, and don’t plan to put much cargo inside, either. The base model has less than 150 horsepower and will bog down if overloaded. It also doesn’t offer much power up hills or off-road, both things you might (fairly) expect from an SUV. All that said, it does have an MSRP under $20,000 for the most basic configuration.
11. The FIAT 500X
FIAT is known for making small cars. Some might even call their automobiles laughably small — I would never editorialize in this context, so we’ll just leave it there. However what must be said is that the FIAT 500X, which bills itself as a crossover — meaning it is larger than most cars but smaller than most SUVs — is probably best left out of your driveway. For truth be told, this car, at least in its base model, is woefully inadequate as anything approximating an SUV (two-wheel drive, small wheels, etc.) and if you want a car, just get a car.
10. The Land Rover Discovery Sport
As so often happens when a luxury auto brand tries to develop a vehicle they can sell at a much lower price point than usual, the Land Rover Discovery Sport is a vehicle that should not have been developed and should not be sold. (Or, in your case, should not be purchased.) The Discovery Sport has an erratic four-cylinder engine that tends to respond sluggishly and then suddenly deliver too much power as the turbo kicks in. Its steering is stiff and clunky, and the vehicle is overall no fun to drive. For the same price, you can get a hybrid Toyota Highlander and enjoy one of the best-rated vehicles of the day.
9. The Chevy Avalanche
There, on the road! Is it a truck? Is it an SUV? No! It’s… sort of an SUV-truck thingy! The Chevrolet Avalanche proved the conventional wisdom that you can’t be all things to all people. The vehicle was designed to offer the comfort and amenities of a refined SUV but to also have an exposed bed like a pickup truck. The vehicle was sold for more than a decade, in fact, but sales steadily declined over the years and its production was halted in 2013. Also, side note, aren’t avalanches generally to be avoided, not celebrated?
8. The Studebaker Wagonaire
The Studebaker Corporation was in business for more than 100 years. They started off making wagons in the 1850s, and they went out of business shortly after releasing the Wagonaire in the 1960s. This proto-SUV (it was kind of like a station wagon with an overly tall cabin) essentially failed coming out of the gate. There was nothing notably good about the car, but there was one awkward feature worth remarking upon: the Wagonaire has a semi-retractable roof that was designed to allow the vehicle to tote large objects around in its trunk. Of course a much better approach would have been to simply get a pickup truck.
7. The GMC Envoy XUV
Remember that Studebaker Wagonaire we talked about a few seconds ago? Remember how it had that retractable roof designed to make the cargo area effectively larger? Well, about 40 years after Wagonaire production was mercifully cancelled, GMC tried its hand at a vehicle with a retractable roof in the form of the Envoy XUV. This was essentially a large SUV with a plastic liner in the cargo area and a rear roof section that slid forward. It was meant to create pickup truck qualities in a closed SUV, but there’s a good reason most pickup truck beds are not surrounded by breakable glass windows…
6. The Bentley Bentayga
The brand new Bentley Bentayga SUV is probably a hell of a lot of fun to drive, and is surely remarkably smooth and comfortable whether you are flying down the highway or taking it rambling off the road (sure, people will do that). But at nearly $230,000 per vehicle (that’s the basic model) this SUV is so stupidly expensive that we hope it fails and disappears immediately. Rather than talk about the Bentyaga, instead let’s talk about other things you could buy with a quarter of a million dollars. You could have: Six well-loaded 2018 VV Atlases. A home in most states. 5,000 or so fine steak dinners…and the list goes on.
5. The Jeep Renegade
Jeeps have never been known for their massive size; in fact, sheer size and the attributes that usually go with it, such as towing capacity and cargo space, are hardly the point of the Jeep. Jeeps, rather, were traditionally designed to get people wherever they needed to go, regardless of the terrain ahead. The Jeep Renegade, the smallest vehicle in the family, takes things a step too far, though: this vehicle is just too small and too underpowered. It can tow a maximum load of 2,000 pounds and has a very small trunk when its second row is set up; you would do just as well with a sedan.
4. The Range Rover Evoque
Did you know that the same company that makes Jaguar luxury vehicles also makes Range Rovers? And you know all those mechanical issues that seem to plague Jaguars? Well, there are often the same issues with this relative newcomer to the SUV market; many owners find that their Evoque spends less time crawling over rocks and rubble than it does in the repair shop due to transmission issues. Also, why the weird spelling, Range Rover? Just call it “Evoke” and move on. And one more thing: seriously avoid the convertible edition of the Evoque, because it just looks like the worst thing ever.
3. The Chevy Tahoe
The Chevrolet Tahoe is one of the best-selling full-sized SUVs on the market, and is generally considered to be both attractive and capable by most owners. So what’s the problem? Well, according to safety experts like the NHTSA (that’s the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), it is also one of the most likely SUVs to flip over while driving. The Tahoe only got a two star rating from that august body, which is a piss poor rating, FYI. The system is, after all, out of five stars total. If you drive a Tahoe, be sure to avoid all sharp turns.
2. The Ford Excursion
The Ford Explorer is a fine size of an SUV; it’s large enough to haul around plenty of cargo and multiple passengers but still fits into any standard parking space. The Ford Expedition is a bit too large for practical use in the city, but for the suburban or rural family who really needs lots of hauling capacity, it’s not beyond the pale. The Ford Excursion, on the other hand, was an insultingly large behemoth that is all but impossible to justify. This hulking lump of a vehicle was plopped onto a Ford F-250 Super Duty truck frame and, fortunately, was discontinued many years ago after just six years in production.
1. The Pontiac Aztek
You saw this coming a mile away, of course, but there’s just no way around it: the Pontiac Aztek (AKA the Happy Spaceman Mobile) is just about the worst thing ever, and I include the Spanish Flu epidemic in there. Roundly panned as the ugliest vehicle ever made, the Aztek added injury to the insult by also not handling very well on or off road. There was nothing at all to praise about this thing and there was plenty to deride. In fact, the only saving grace of this vehicle at all is that it was prominently featured in the hit TV show Breaking Bad.
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