Cars to Avoid for 2021 & What to Buy Instead

The most loyal of my readers will remember a post I wrote last year in which I named five cars available in 2020 to avoid, with a more competent alternative for each. Of those named last year, three of them are still available in 2021 (the Acura ILX, Ford EcoSport, and Mitsubishi Mirage), and each one is still unworthy of your consideration. So, along with those three carryovers, allow me to add three more models to avoid to this list of shame.

As I said last year, most of those cars aren’t horrible. I’m sure that each vehicle has owners who have found their needs adequately met. And even if some of these choices have poor average predicted reliability, I bet there are many owners who have enjoyed a trouble-free ownership experience. But in an automotive marketplace as competitive as today’s, I see no reason to put up with a subpar choice when many superior options are available.

Land Rover Discovery Sport

Image of the Land Rover Discovery Sport, one of 2021's cars to avoid
Image courtesy of Land Rover

The Land Rover Discovery Sport borrows styling cues from larger Land Rover models, including the beautiful Range Rover. The Discovery Sport does have some off-road prowess, more so than most in this class. However, I’d be interested in seeing the percentage of Discovery Sport owners who use their SUVs off-road. I bet it’s awfully close to 0%. Otherwise, you’ll find middling performance: lackluster acceleration, cumbersome handling, a loud and uncomfortable ride, and poor fuel economy. And predicted reliability is poor in Consumer Reports survey data. Owner satisfaction ratings are one of the lowest in the class, reinforcing my belief that the Land Rover badge promises an experience that the lousy Discovery Sport fails to deliver.

Consider Instead: Volvo XC40

Image of 2021 Volvo XC40
Image courtesy of Volvo

This little Volvo doesn’t have the off-road credentials the Land Rover does, but most shopping for the Discovery Sport are attracted to its looks rather than its capability anyway. Volvo’s XC40 is a stylish little SUV that does nearly everything else better. The Volvo is smaller than the Land Rover in both length and width, but thanks to smart packaging, you won’t feel much of a difference inside. Passenger space is comparable, and like most Volvos, the seats are supremely comfortable. The materials used inside feel as premium as those in the Land Rover, but the Volvo’s interior design is more attractive.

The engines used in these two SUVs are similarly powerful, but in the Volvo, acceleration is faster, handling is more pleasant and agile, the ride is more comfortable, and the interior is quieter. Predicted reliability is better than the average, and owner satisfaction scores are strong. If you know you won’t be going off road, compared to the Discovery Sport, the XC40 is the superior compact SUV.

Maserati Ghibli

Image of Maserati Ghibli, one of 2021's cars to avoid
Image courtesy of Maserati

In theory, the Maserati name has a cachet that is tough to match. But in execution, you can do much better than the Ghibli. The Ghibli looks sporty and athletic, and the engine and exhaust sound pretty fantastic. It handles well enough, but not as well as it should for making you put up with the punishingly firm ride. Fuel economy is lackluster, and the interior is cramped. Predicted reliability is among the worst in the class – even among the worst in the industry, according to Consumer Reports. Owner satisfaction scores are low, too. And at a starting price over $72,000, this most affordable Maserati is still way too expensive for such a compromised package.

Consider Instead: Kia Stinger

Image of 2021 Kia Stinger GT2
Image courtesy of Kia

I know, I know. Nobody considering a Maserati will cross-shop it against a Kia. But really, that’s their loss. The Stinger is the best kept secret among midsized luxury performance sedans. The Stinger GT, with its twin-turbocharged V-6 engine, delivers acceleration comparable to most Ghibli models, and better handling. Inside the cabin, there’s more space than the Maserati, easy-to-use controls, and materials of comparable quality. The Stinger is a hatchback, too, making it a versatile cargo hauler.

The Kia’s fully loaded trim levels are about $20,000 less expensive than the Maserati’s starting price. Plus, I’d wager that good deals can be found, as it has not been a tremendous sales success for Kia. To be clear, I blame this exclusively on America’s voracious thirst for SUVs, not on some shortcoming of the Stinger. I’ll certainly concede that the Kia name lacks the prestige that Maserati carries. But as a performance car value, the Stinger is virtually unmatched in this class.

Toyota Tacoma

Image of 2021 Toyota Tacoma, one of the 2021 cars to avoid
Image courtesy of Toyota

I know this will be a controversial pick. Toyota trucks are notorious for their durability, and have among the highest resale values in the industry as a result. Here’s the thing about the Tacoma – it is a highly capable truck, and off-road ability is a highlight. The Tacoma might be a good choice if you need a truck for traditional pickup truck purposes.

But trucks are becoming so much more than utility vehicles. These days, they’re used for day-to-day duties. For many, they fill the same role that a family sedan did just a few years ago. Because of this, pickups have become more sophisticated, refined, and comfortable. But the Tacoma bucks this trend, as it feels more like a pickup from a decade ago. The ride is stiff and jiggly, and it’s noisy inside. It’s awkward to get into the Tacoma, too. The step-in height is high, the roof is low, and the seats are low to the floor. It feels cramped inside.

As a truck, the Tacoma is a good one. But as a commuter and family vehicle, it’s a poor choice. And nowadays, truck buyers don’t need to decide between capability or comfort. Many pickups manage to provide both. And for the truck that best walks the line between utility and family duties, read on.

Consider Instead: Honda Ridgeline

Image of 2021 Honda Ridgeline
Image courtesy of Honda

Truck loyalists are likely to say that the Ridgeline isn’t a true truck, since it’s built on the same car-like unibody chassis as the Honda Pilot crossover. But the only resulting compromise you have to make is in towing capacity. This Honda can tow up to 5,000 pounds, but the Tacoma, and midsize trucks from Chevy and Ford all have larger capacity. But if you’re like most truck buyers who use a pickup as a “lifestyle” vehicle, you’re better off with the Ridgeline. It is a more appealing and useful package.

The large lockable trunk underneath the truck bed is a miracle of modern packaging. And I love how the tailgate can either drop down, or swing out – just like the cargo-area door on American full-size station wagons of yesteryear. In ride and handling, the Ridgeline is smooth, quiet, and car-like. Fuel efficiency is good for the class. Inside, the Honda is spacious and intelligently-designed. The rear seats flip up out of the way, giving tons of flexibility for storage inside the cabin, too.

For the daily needs of today’s typical pickup truck owner, the Ridgeline will do it all and require minimal sacrifice.

In conclusion…

There are many excellent vehicles available for sale today. There’s no reason to put up with a mediocre one. If you’re shopping for a new car and want to make the best choice for your needs, wants, and budget, do what these people did and get in touch with me. I’d love to help you!

Thank you for reading!

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