No, not depreciation — though that might come into play here, too. A great number of car models are lackluster, deficient in style, reliability or panache, or basically appeal to buyers only for their low cost of ownership. Some vehicles are simply appliances, nothing more.

Yet appliances stimulate little in the way of bad emotion. They’re not meant to. So, despite the blandness of some vehicles, you wouldn’t call them depressing. No, that term is reserved for a very specific cohort of rides. Which models are they?

The topic of this discussion arose from a movie debate, perhaps one sparked by CNN’s obsessive campaign against a certain flick your author had no intention of seeing, but now might shell out for a ticket. The movie looks a little grim. A little depressing in its subject matter and character arc.

Sure, lots of movies are downers, but few add weight to your bones and leave life a little less colorless hours, if not days, after watching. Then there’s movies like Ordinary People (great Olds, Donald) or The Deer Hunter. There’s that episode of Black Mirror about the U.S. college student and the shadowy UK video game developer that stuck with me for days. Films and shows like this leave a mark.

And so do some vehicles. Directors try to insert such vehicles into films to give a sense of what the characters’ lives must be like; to have the vehicle embody the type of person they are, or the situation the character finds themselves in. Remember the jobless, unravelling D FENS abandoning his 1978 Chevette on a crowded L.A. freeway and walking off into the city, (empty) briefcase in hand? Think of how different that scene — and character — would be if you instead watched Michael Douglas exiting a purple 1970 Barracuda 440.

You get the point.

Some vehicles simply lack almost any redeeming figure, and the passage of time isn’t likely to make such mediocrity cool or quirky again (in some unlikely cases, this isn’t the case. Oddball vehicles or grim crapwagons can experience a resurgence in popularity among the hipster contrarian set). And while your author might be more quick to find silver linings than others, the fact remains that the derisive descriptor “penalty box” exists for a reason. What car model, perhaps one you have personal dealings with, is simply irredeemable, leaving you feeling bad for anyone seen driving one?

[Image: Murilee Martin/TTAC]

Are you talking about the current gen Compass (Fiat 500 bones) or the old Patriot twin?

I just dont quite understand the hatred for the Malibu. I think it is a fine car for what it is. There aren’t too many modern cars that fit the bill as “depressing” but generally the base models of the least expensive cars on the market will typically draw some empathy from me with respect to their owners. The Dodge Journey for instance is a great example. I see someone in a new one and feel legitimately sorry for the owner.

I agree Mike. It’s not the best in midsize class, but it’s totally normal and competent.

Unload the brake pedal slightly when you see the cross traffic light go yellow.

So assuming you make your adjustments in your small car to race my 3.5ton truck, which is as ridiculous as it sounds from both angles. I’m still going to comfortably reach cruising speed at a 1/4 throttle while your wringing the tiny Malibu out to do the same. Your not winning me over, It’s a horrid drivetrain connected to a horrible car that does not react to throttle input as you would expect. It feels the further I get up in RPM the more the car bogs down. And there’s certainly no power at the bottom end.

Basically anything that passes from negligent owner to owner every few years and just gets sadder and sadder, amongst more recent vehicles the Compass/Patriot and Journey are the top suspects. They were both depressing when they were new because someone actually chose to buy them but now even more so since it’s out of necessity. Extra points for people who modify Patriots because they think they’re part of the “it’s a Jeep thing” crowd.

The last generation Dodge Dakota simply because of how awful the redesign of a once handsome truck was with no appreciable upgrade elsewhere. The interior of the 98-04 version was not something to reminisce about. The follow up was still not that great plus the exterior was much worse.

Saturn Outlook – my dad bought one at a low, low price when Saturn was going out of business. We took that car from Michigan to South Carolina and back. I learned to loathe that vehicle, mostly from the horrible seats. I could never get comfortable driving or riding and my back had all sorts of problems. That and the heavy weight made the whole vehicle feel rather ponderous, especially when trying to merge into a wall of Spring Break travelers.

@Flipper: which generation? Our Rogue gets better mileage than my MT Sonata. Averaging just better than 31 mpg if we are talking imperial. And the seats are among the very best I have ever experienced in 45 years of auto ownership. Even the back seats are very good with the ‘stepped’ seating and recline.

The Toyota Echo has always struck me as cheap without the cheerful. Something about the proportions and the tiny wheels and giant slab sides combines to make it look like it’s actively trying to be miserable.

Did a quick internet search and could not even find a new 300 listed in the GTA.

I’d chalk that up to operator error (parking brake on?)

[subcompact crossover] from [company]. If it’s an Audi Q3, BMW X1, or MB GLA, it’s absolutely pathetic trash with a garbage engine that people who can’t afford a real product from those brands scraped up enough cash to hit the lease payments.

Ford Aspire. Sad little crapbox in day-glo colors, 90’s-era tape graphics, styled by and like an egg, with three hamsters providing the power, and by far the most ironic name ever attached to a sad heap in the history of the auto industry. If a third-world econobox is what you “aspire” to, look for a good under warranty off-lease used car.

New- pretty much any Nissan. Nothing special about them. Rented a brand new Altima last week, felt like I was in a bathtub, just like the Camaro. Also, the tachometer starts at “2”. WTF is up with that?

“Also, the tachometer starts at “2”. WTF is up with that?”

For me the saddest was a little Chevy Aveo which Budget Rentals pawned off one me late one night some years ago. Whether it was the last car available because it had problems or was the last car available because it was just a horrible design remains unclear.

Cheap new cars might not be exciting, but just about any new one will get a person to work reliably for a number of years. BUT WAIT, for the same money as that new Sentra, you can get an out of warranty high-end luxury car!

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