As someone who writes professionally about the auto industry, I have different kinds of days. On a good day, I get to write about a vehicle I’m vaguely interested in; on a great day, I get to write about a car that I’m really passionate about; and on a fantastic day, I get to write about an absolute tire-fire of a vehicle that is a spectacular failure. My friends and readers, this is a fantastic day because today, I’m going to take a look at the worst cars of the year to see what went so wrong in 2021 that it’s downright funny.
From lackluster designs to awful performance, weak releases, and catastrophic problems, there have been some real losers hoisted upon the car-buying public in 2021. If you bought a new car this year and find your vehicle on this list, then all I can say is that I’m sorry and I hope you have better luck next time. Some of this isn’t your fault – there are some models here with real promise that just fell through. And if you don’t find a vehicle you own listed here, then I hope you join me in reveling in the sweet, sweet schadenfreude of it all!
To keep things simple, I’m going to go by manufacturer because some of them had a few utter hogs to sell this year.
Chevy has a couple of entries in this list of shame, and hoo-boy, they’re well deserved. For starters, we have the Bolt EV and Bolt EUV, which on paper both look like great vehicles. In fact, about nine months ago, we were all excited about everything these models had to offer – then they caught on fire. That’s not Internet slang or me trying to say they were popular; the Bolt EV literally started catching on fire (they started doing so as far back as 2019), and Chevy promised they could fix it with a software update. Spoiler alert: they didn’t.
Both the latest Bolt EV and Bolt EUV are now part of a massive recall of all Chevy Bolt models to replace the batteries with ones that are less prone to not-so-spontaneous combustion. Nothing better than buying a brand-new EV model, and in less than a year, you have to limit its charge, ensure you don’t drain the battery too low, and wait for your turn to have the battery replaced.
While the 2021 Blazer isn’t Chevy’s worst SUV, it should still be mentioned here for its really unimpressive standard engine and overall lame options on basic models. Chevy’s worst SUV is the 2021 Trax, a crossover SUV that simply serves no purpose in their lineup other than to ensure buyer’s remorse on an apocalyptic scale. The Trax is straight-up dreadful, with an unimpressive engine, lackluster interior, and standard safety features that are beyond wanting. Worst of all, you could spend $200 more and get the Chevy Trailblazer, which surpasses it in essentially every conceivable way. Why is Chevy still selling the Trax next year? I don’t know but look for it to make my list again in 12 months.
I’d like to rip into Ford for how poorly they’ve handled the launch of the new Bronco and Bronco Sport, but that’s not the fault of the model. If you can actually get a Ford Bronco, then you’ve got yourself a very nice off-road SUV that you should be proud of (unless it’s one of the few hundred involved in an airbag recall, but now I’m just being pedantic). On the other hand, if you couldn’t get a Bronco and didn’t want to sit on a wait-list so you chose a 2021 Ford EcoSport instead, then you should be ashamed of yourself.
The EcoSport is awful: it’s a subcompact crossover for drivers who have a really nice morning commute but want a reason to complain about it anyways. Its standard 3-cylinder engine is slightly less powerful than a three-legged hamster on a wheel, its interior is remarkably barebones and drab, and even going up to higher trims or choosing available options doesn’t help much. The 2021 Ford Edge isn’t much better – it’s an equally unimpressive midsize model, but it’s closer to average than truly awful.
Considering SUVs make up almost the entirety of Jeep’s lineup, you’d think they would’ve really mastered how to make a fantastic one. While you could look at the Grand Cherokee and assume that’s the case, one look at something like the 2021 Jeep Compass is all it takes to realize they don’t quite have the formula nailed. The interior of the Compass is underwhelming, especially at low trims, and its engine is far from impressive. Considering you could easily go with the Cherokee instead if you want a similar Jeep SUV, the Compass doesn’t seem to really know what it’s supposed to be.
Sadly, the Compass is not Jeep’s only crime against the subcompact SUV market. The 2021 Jeep Renegade is equally unimpressive with slow, middling acceleration that leaves you wishing you’d chosen a model with an engine that isn’t assembled from potatoes and twine. Worst of all, it’s just downright overpriced for what’s available on the market; unless you have a Jeep tattoo that you need to justify, you’re better off with numerous rival options.
Of course, it’s not just American car companies producing stinkers that should’ve been swept up in the factory floor dustbin; manufacturers from overseas are just as guilty. Take Mazda, for example, which generally has a very strong lineup of vehicles. One glaring exception to this is the all-new Mazda MX-30 all-electric SUV that just came out this year. From the outside, it looks pretty great: stylish, sporty, and just generally attractive. Plus, as of writing this piece, none of them have burst into flames yet.
So what’s the problem? The MX-30 has a single motor on the front wheels that puts out 143 hp, which is very unimpressive compared to other, more fire-prone models. Worst of all, it has a range of just 100 miles from a full charge. While that might be plenty for just getting around town, it means you’re going to be charging it every night, and this would be a nightmare for a long road trip. I get that every brand wants to have budget-friendly EV models to lure more people into trying one, but the shockingly-poor range is NOT the way to do it.
Nissan is one of the most popular and well-regarded brands in the auto industry, but even they are not immune from missteps. For many years, the Nissan Titan has been one of the least impressive full-size trucks out there, and the latest model year was no different. In particular, the Titan XD remains one of the worst “heavy-duty” trucks on the road, with performance that falls behind what other brands can offer.
The Titan looks like a Ford F-150 compared to the Nissan Frontier, which sets the bar for midsize trucks so low that not even the absurdly small Chevy Trax can fit under it (boom! take that Chevy, I wasn’t done with you!). The current Frontier generation kicked off in 2005, and it’s had pretty minimal updates since then – it very much feels like a 16-year-old truck. Seriously, how did they let it go this long without a new generation? Fortunately, the 2022 model is fully updated and looks like it’ll be pretty decent. But if you, for some inexplicable reason, chose to buy a 2021 Nissan Frontier, then you probably feel pretty bad, and you should.
Let’s not forget about the tepid, uninspired 2021 Nissan Murano. What the Frontier is to midsize trucks, the Murano is to midsize SUVs, delivering a dated, unimpressive ride that really doesn’t have much to say for itself. The current generation for the Murano kicked off in 2015, however, so it doesn’t have the Frontier’s excuse. Nissan needs to have the folks who worked on the upcoming, redesigned Pathfinder take a crack at the Murano. But until that happens, skip it in favor of essentially any other midsize SUV, just maybe not the Chevy Blazer (I really wish that had been the name for the Bolt – oh well, maybe next time).