This Thanksgiving, the Daily News Autos is giving thanks to ten cars and trucks that have gotten a bum rap for not living up to lofty expectations. These are the vehicles that have been stuck with a spot at the kids table, so to speak, and we don’t think it’s fair.
Don’t get us wrong, these cars aren’t perfect. Like your odd but hilarious cousin, the one who still lives in his parents’ basement and dreams of starting a death metal jazz quintet, the vehicles we chose have a fair amount of pros and cons. Some, like the Mazda Millennia, were great cars saddled with really bad timing.
Others, like the Isuzu VehiCROSS and Subaru SVX, were just plain weird – and that’s why we love ‘em! So take a step back from that roasted bird sitting on the table and spare a thought for these, our favorite automotive ‘turkeys’ of all time.
Volkswagen Phaeton – A Bentley with a VW badge
From the start, it seemed Volkswagen’s highly-ambitious Phaeton super luxury sedan was doomed, but that didn’t stop them from building it. Leveraging technology, parts, and materials from the fairly recent acquisition of Bentley, Volkswagen decided to trot out a British luxury car with the famous people’s car badge. Fitted with a V-8 or an optional W-12, the Phaeton was as fast and serene as it was anonymous-looking, and VW went ahead with the plan full steam. What resulted were low sales, high maintenance costs, and a whole lot of head scratching from confused potential customers. But the fact remains that the Phaeton is one of the great luxury bargains of all time, even more so now with rapid depreciation. Pick one up on the used market if you want Bentley tech for used Volkswagen prices.
Mazda Millennia – A luxury sedan in search of a brand
Remember, our definition of “automotive turkey” is covering a lot of ground here. The Mazda Millennia was an attractive and efficient sedan…but it also represents Mazda’s failed attempt to create its own luxury brand. Can you guess what it was going to be called? If you said “Amati,” you’d be correct. You also might want to consider getting out more often. The Millennia was meant to be a part of Mazda’s foray into the luxury car field, where it would have taken on the likes of Infiniti and Lexus. By 1993, however, a sinking economy put an end to Amati before the brand could officially launch. So in a bizarre twist, the Millennia became the luxury Mazda, minus the luxury nameplate it was meant to have.
Pontiac G8 – Australia’s best 4-door muscle car
Pontiac was in a bad way leading up to the recession of 2008 onwards, so for help, GM looked to their strong market Down Under. What resulted was the G8, a rip-roaring, rear-drive sedan that could go toe-to-toe with some of the best of its day, especially in GXP guise. With a maximum output of 415-horsepower from a 6.2-liter LS3 V-8, the G8 was the predecessor to the current Australian-bred Chevrolet SS, a sedan that we fear will also go the way of Pontiac. While the concept of a four-door Corvette sounds like music to our ears, clearly buyers didn’t agree, and GM saw fit to give Pontiac the axe.
Jaguar XJ220 – The world’s most beautiful failure
The Jaguar XJ220 remains an incredibly gorgeous supercar, despite being an absolute sales disaster when it was a new. Built from 1992 to 1994, the XJ220 was originally supposed to offer a V-12 engine mounted behind the passenger compartment. By the time it reached production, a twin-turbo V-6 had taken its place. This engine had a strong racing heritage, albeit in Rover-badged cars. Imagine marketing a Ferrari with a Fiat engine – even a truly great Fiat engine – and you get the point. The XJ220 also couldn’t quite reach the 220 mph top speed that its name promised. Do we still love it? Oh yes, we do! And we’re pulling for Jag to give the production green-light to the next generation of British supercar goodness.
Isuzu VehiCROSS – The SUV from Mars
Strange name, even stranger looks. The Isuzu VehiCROSS remains one of the great automotive oddballs if not just in name and styling alone. As a competitor to the popular Wrangler, this two-door off-roader was meant to appeal to a new, younger generation of buyers, but there are some faces only a mother can love. Sharing a platform with the formidable Trooper and a V-6 engine too, the 4-wheel-drive VehiCROSS was a sales flop, but we can’t help but love it for its wacky styling and willingness to take some risks. Only 5,958 were produced over the course of 5 years, so used ones are hard to come by but cheap if you can get them. And why wouldn’t you? There aren’t many cars from the turn of the millennium that turn as many heads as this beast.
AMC Eagle – A crossover before crossovers were cool
If little American Motors had hung around a few more years, it could have been the company to spark the sport-utility and crossover boom. Instead, the high-riding and four-wheel-drive AMC Eagle range is relegated to the ‘what could have been’ chapter of automotive history. The Eagle was available in a wide range of body styles, though we’re partial to station-wagons – with wood vinyl appliques on the side, thank you very much. Available with a choice of inline-4 or inline-6 cylinder engine, the Eagle wasn’t a powerhouse, but it was a perfect choice of vehicle for people living in snowy climates – or for college professors who wanted to stand out from the Saab and Volvo crowd. The Eagle finally flew off into the sunset, as production ended once the entire AMC brand was absorbed by Chrysler.
Volvo C30 – The Swedish hatch that was too ‘pickled herring’ for America
As many Volvo C30 owners will tell you, they absolutely love their cars… good luck finding one, though. Over its 8-year run, the odd-looking C30 sold about 18,000 units in the States, which is by no means super rare but isn’t common, either. With a cool-but-inconvenient rear glass hatch, two doors and seating for only four, the C30 was fighting an uphill battle from the start in the face of the reinvented Volkswagen GTI and company. With a near-premium price tag, this lovable little hatch was too European for American tastes, and fell by the wayside in 2013. We wish Volvo would bring it back, but a small sedan is more likely. Shame.
GM EV1 – Pulling the plug on the electric car
General Motors was early to the electric car party, but the American auto giant then pulled the bad houseguest equivalent of snooping in the medicine cabinets and stealing silverware. Available only via lease, once it became clear the electric-powered EV1 wasn’t reaching a wide audience, GM not only pulled the plug on its EV, it systematically went about destroying all evidence that it had existed in the first place. The vast majority of the roughly 1,100 EV1s went to the crusher once the leases expired and it became clear GM had no interest in building a successor – not to mention building parts to maintain the ones on the road. That’s a crying shame, since this futuristic 2-seater had tons of promise. It would take more than a decade for other automakers – including GM itself – to once again take the EV market seriously.
Toyota MR2 Spyder – A mid-engine oddball we’ll never see again
Not so long ago, Toyota – makers of the sturdy-but-boring Camry and Corolla – were building a drop-top, mid-engine sports car for the price of a Mazda Miata. Powered by a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder, the MR2 Spyder was not the barn burning turbocharged rocket from the previous generation, but was still an enticing, fun-to-drive option on a budget. And did we mention it only weighed 2,200-lbs.? Unfortunately, cost-cutting and weak sales in the face of the Miata and new Porsche Boxster spelled the demise of the MR2, and all signs are pointing to a permanent grave. Who knows, maybe Toyota will surprise us with a reboot? Car enthusiasts can dream, after all.
Subaru SVX – Subaru learns weird doesn’t always work
Would you pay about $25,000 for a new Subaru? Sure, that sounds totally reasonable. Problem is, Subaru asked that question back in 1992, when the SVX sport coupe burst onto the scene. That was a serious wad of cash for a Subaru, much less one that had a wedge-shaped body with window-in-window design. Looking like the awkward love child of a DeLorean and a Forester wagon (Spoiler alert: Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Subie’s designer, also penned the DeLorean), the SVX was a dashing departure for Subaru, a brand that had built its rep on stoic, affordable and all-wheel-drive hardware. The SVX had AWD, of course, along with a 3.3-liter flat-6 cylinder engine under the hood. More of a luxury coupe than all-out sports car, the SVX stood out a little bit too much from the crowd. We still love it, even if we can’t always explain why.
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