In the current automotive market, while there are some cars to avoid, some say there’s no longer any such thing as an objectively bad car. Certainly some are less competitive in their market segments, and some are not as reliable as others. But for the most part, when evaluating today’s bad choices against the worst vehicles available a few decades ago, the differences are like night and day. Back then, you might select a car that could rapidly rust away to nothing within only a matter of years. Or, your car might be so poorly designed that being rear-ended in an accident could cause your car to burst into flames.
Today, our situation isn’t quite so dire. While the shortcomings of current automotive choices may be minor relative to those of the past, today’s marketplace is competitive. There’s no reason to settle for anything less than the cream of the crop. In alphabetical order, these are the five 2020 cars and SUVs that you should avoid.
First on the list of cars to avoid is the Acura ILX. Like most Acuras, the small ILX shares underpinnings and components with a Honda vehicle. Today’s ILX is based on the previous generation Civic, sold from 2012 to 2015. If it were based on today’s version of the Civic, it might be a more compelling and competitive choice. The ILX feels dated, and has a cramped interior. Owner satisfaction ratings are poor, probably because buyers expect it to drive like an entry-level luxury car, but instead find something that feels like a 10-year-old economy car. But the ILX is also a poor value. Unless you’re willing to pay a considerable price premium for the Acura badge, this is just an old and overpriced Honda Civic with different styling.
What should you buy instead?
Instead of the ILX, which is just an old fancy Honda Civic, buy a current fancy Honda Civic. The ILX technically has a base sticker price of $25,900, but most examples you’ll find on the dealer lot will have a sticker price closer to $30,000 as typically equipped. For your money, I’d suggest instead the Honda Civic EX-L with an MSRP of $25,000.
The ILX has slightly more power (201 horsepower compared to 174 in the Civic) but that’s where the advantages of the Acura end. Both cars have a full suite of advanced safety technology. The Civic gets 6 more miles per gallon in the city and 4 more miles per gallon on the highway. It also takes regular gas, while the ILX recommends 91 octane. For seat upholstery, the Civic’s are trimmed in actual leather, while the base ILX uses leatherette (which is basically a fancy word for vinyl). The Civic has 95 cubic feet of passenger space inside, while the ILX has only 89. The Civic also comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while the ILX makes you pay extra. Plus, the Civic is a more modern and competitive vehicle than the ILX’s dated engineering.
If you won’t miss the Acura badge on your car, get more bang for your buck with the Civic.
No current list of cars to avoid is complete without the Dodge Journey. It was first introduced in 2008 for the 2009 model year, and has never had a full redesign. Dodge has refused to invest any money into updating the Journey to keep it competitive. It has been circling the drain for several years now. Formerly, it was available in several different trims, with a basic 4-cylinder engine and 4-speed automatic transmission (more on that in a minute) or a V-6 engine with a 6-speed automatic. For 2020, it’s only available with the 4-cylinder and 4-speed, and in only 2 trim options. In addition, according to the Dodge website, the 2020 Journey is no longer available in all 50 states. The elimination of configurations along with reduced nationwide availability is why I assume the 2020 model year will be the Journey’s last.
Regardless, because of its ancient design, the Journey is a poor choice in the hyper-competitive midsize crossover segment. It is not available with any advanced safety equipment, and it received a poor crash test result in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s small overlap test. And since the 2020 Journey is only available with the 4-cylinder engine, don’t expect peppy and responsive performance. Fuel economy lags the Journey’s many competitors as well. And in 2020, I’m pretty sure that the Journey is the last remaining vehicle available with a transmission with only 4 forward gears. By the late 1980s, a 4-speed automatic transmission was the norm. Now, more than thirty years later, even the most basic economy cars use a 6-speed automatic. Transmissions with up to 10 forward gears are becoming commonplace. The Journey’s 4-speed transmission is archaic technology.
What should you buy instead?
The Journey already offers an affordable starting price, and I’d also expect Dodge dealers to offer steep discounts as well. But even so, don’t buy one. While there are many great midsize, 3-row crossovers to choose from instead, as a smaller midsize crossover available with a third row seat, the most direct competitor would be the Kia Sorento.
And in every way, the Kia is a much better choice. It’s more refined, more efficient, more modern, and much safer. The Sorento will cost more than the Journey, but it is absolutely worth every penny. But if the price premium puts a new Sorento out of reach, check pre-owned. You are likely to find many late-model used Sorentos to choose from that will offer a great value along with the remainder of Kia’s excellent warranty coverage. In fact, my sister and her husband purchased a Sorento on my recommendation. I wouldn’t let them haul around my adorable niece in any vehicle that I wouldn’t unequivocally endorse!
Next on the list of cars to avoid is the Fiat 500L. The 500L was Fiat’s first attempt to expand its lineup beyond the tiny and cute 500 hatchback, from which it borrows many styling elements. If you like the look of the 500 but wish it were morbidly obese, you’ll love the top-heavy, awkward proportions of the 500L. Styling is subjective though, but a poor reliability record and low owner satisfaction ratings are not. The 500L isn’t the oldest design on this list. It was first introduced in the U.S. in 2014, but the design feels even older than that. Perhaps because of the old, outdated architecture, the 500L is not available with any advanced safety equipment.
How much longer will Fiat stick around in the United States?
Beyond all of the above, the biggest hesitation I have in recommending the 500L (or any Fiat, for that matter) is Fiat’s questionable future in the United States. Fiat ignored overwhelming market trends, where shoppers are crazy for SUVs and crossovers. They instead decided to base its new American brand entirely on the tiny 500 city car. Fiat finally added a true crossover to the lineup relatively recently with the 500X, but they are not a common sight on the road. Due to poor sales, Fiat has shown to be little more than a niche player in the American market. This is pure speculation on my part, but I question how much longer Fiat can afford to remain in business in the United States. Perhaps Chrysler dealers would still honor warranty terms and provide parts and service, but departure from this market would likely tank resale values of Fiat models.
Plus, when visiting the Fiat website for research for this post, in April of 2020, under the “Vehicles” tab, you’re shown pricing and photos of 2019 models, making it appear that Fiat didn’t bother to update their website for the 2020 model year. And at this year’s Auto Show in Boston, Fiat’s display was just plain sad. Beyond one column and some stanchions, there was no fixturing used to help create interest. They were positioned in a back corner, buried behind Dodge. There were only 3 vehicles on display: one 124 Convertible, and two 500Xs. Clearly, investment was minimal. See a photo below.
What should you buy instead?
Even if I’m wrong about Fiat’s future in this market, the 500L is still an uncompetitive option in the tall hatchback class. A much better choice would be one of the original modern tall hatchbacks, the Kia Soul. The Soul has a spacious and flexible interior packed into its small exterior footprint. It handles competently with a comfortable ride, and provides a lot of features for the money. Higher trims can be decked out with an impressive assortment of convenience and luxury features too, if that fits your budget. The styling of the Soul tends to be polarizing to buyers. But if you were considering the weird-looking Fiat 500L, the Soul’s lines shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
If you read my blog post about surprises in 2020 reliability data, then you already know the Ford EcoSport is highly reliable, but I did say that I wouldn’t recommend it. Not only that, but I maintain it’s one of 2020’s cars to avoid.
The Ford EcoSport is a great example of a vehicle that may have been toward the top of its class 10 years ago. But speaking to how hot and popular the subcompact crossover segment has become, it is outclassed by the competition and there’s simply no reason to put up with its many shortcomings. It was first sold in the United States for 2018, but this design dates back to the 2012 model year when it first went on sale in other parts of the world. It has a strange driving position, and lacks important advanced safety features – forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking are not available.
The name of the vehicle would make you think that it uses fuel economically and delivers sporty performance, but rather it provides the worst of both worlds. While it does handle competently, the EcoSport’s engines are weak and unrefined. And fuel economy is among the worst in the class. The EcoSport looks tall, narrow, and awkwardly styled. Once you start adding options to make the EcoSport easier to live with, it gets expensive quickly. It’s a poor value proposition, especially for a vehicle that will require its owner to make so many compromises.
What should you buy instead?
The subcompact crossover segment is hugely competitive, and nearly any other choice would be a better one than the EcoSport. The Subaru Crosstrek is a great car-like option. The Hyundai Kona is a solid choice all around, provided that you like its more bold and busy styling. If excellent gas mileage and a ton of cargo flexibility are important to you, then check out the Honda HR-V.
However, my top recommendation in this segment is the new Mazda CX-30. The exterior is sleek, and the interior is beautifully designed and uses top-shelf materials. The Mazda’s engine is smooth and refined, adequately powerful for the class, and fuel economy is respectable. Interior and cargo space are good as well, and the CX-30 comes standard with an array of advanced safety features. In overall refinement, the CX-30 feels like it’s from a class above the competition.
Sadly, no list of cars to avoid would be complete without the poor Mitsubishi Mirage.
If the Ford EcoSport may have been toward the top of its class 10 years ago, then looking at the subcompact segment even 20 years ago, today’s Mitsubishi Mirage would likely still be toward the bottom of the pack. This is a tiny car, so you might expect it to handle with agility. But road tests mention its overly soft suspension tuning that makes handling borderline scary at times. It does get decent gas mileage for a non-hybrid vehicle, but with only 78 horsepower being generated by its small 3-cylinder engine, it better. Perhaps fuel economy should be even higher to compensate for the loud, crude motor. Needless to say, acceleration is slow.
The interior is cheap, from the materials used to the many exposed screw and bolt heads throughout. The Mirage is not available with any advanced safety technology, either. While the Mirage offers one of the most affordable base prices of any new 2020 vehicle, and Mitsubishi does offer one of the best warranties in the industry, the many serious shortcomings of the Mirage do not outweigh these benefits.
What should you buy instead?
The subcompact class is shrinking, but buyers will find a much better option in the Honda Fit. The Fit has always been a fun little car to drive, with energetic acceleration for the class, and nimble handling. It has a cavernous interior for such a small vehicle with plenty of rear seat room. The rear seats fold in such an innovative way as to transform the Fit into a tiny cargo van.
Today’s version of the Fit is likely approaching the end of its model cycle. A new Fit has been shown for other world markets, but disappointingly, it isn’t clear yet whether the United States will see a new Fit as demand for these small hatchbacks continue to fall. The Fit to purchase would be the EX trim, since that model comes with Honda’s advanced safety technology features as standard equipment. The Fit EX is certainly more expensive than a Mitsubishi Mirage, but if a new Fit is out of budget, look for a used model to shrink that price gap. A preowned Fit from a few years ago is still a much better choice than a new Mirage.
The options that consumers have when shopping for a new car, truck, or SUV today are dramatically better than they were a few decades ago. However, as new models continue to become more powerful, more economical, more space-efficient, and safer year over year, there is no reason to settle for a vehicle that is behind the times. Even if the models on this list aren’t flat-out terrible, you have better choices.
If you’re thinking about a new car and don’t want to make the wrong choice, please get in touch! I love nothing more than talking cars, and I’d be happy to offer my help. Thank you for reading!