The 20 Worst Rental Cars of the Last 20 Years—Ranked
A countdown of the clunker Hall of Shame.
We’ve all been there. Corporate dispatches you on a business trip to nowhere, and instead of getting the Corvette of your dreams at the airport, you’re soon stuck behind the wheel of a sub-compact that Detroit failed to sell to the masses and flooded into America’s rental car fleets instead. Yes, these are the blandest, meh-est, and all around most underwhelming automobiles to ever hit the open road. (But hit the road they did, en masse.) So read on, and enjoy this tour through a true automotive Hall of Shame. And if you’re in the market for a new ride today—and a seriously good one, at that—here are 10 New Rides That Car Buffs Are Drooling Over.
Chrysler Sebring (1996-2000)
The convertible version of this car was the one every agent tried to pawn off as a special upgrade. Of course, it wasn’t. Top down, wind tousling your locks… What could go wrong? Well, a gutless, crappy Chrysler 3.0 liter V6 combined with their lumpen and coarse Ultradrive transmission can ruin even the sunniest day. And for something that will really mess your hair up, check out these Flying Cars That Could Really Take Off.
Ford Taurus (1996-1999)
The oddball oval styling on this generation of the Taurus makes it look like a spaceship designed in the 50s, which regulated it to a lot of rental car lots. The weak V6 had a mere 145 horsepower to try and haul around over 3,000 lbs of dead weight, making this one sluggish bull. Already feeling the malaise that comes with looking at these lemons? Take a forward-thinking look at 10 New Rides Car Buffs Are Drooling Over.
Buick Rendezvous (2001-2007)
The cousin to the horrendously styled Pontiac Aztek, the Rendezvous was supposed be more luxurious, but it made the Aztek look put-together in comparison. Bad build quality and high, boxy profile on tiny wheels made for dangerously twitchy handling on the highway.
Geo Metro (1995-2001)
Built as a joint venture between Suzuki and GM, the Metro was pretty much the proud king of the crappy subcompact cars. To rent one and live the to tell the tale made it kind of an exciting car to get, especially if you were saddled with the base, beyond-bad three-cylinder engine. Yes, three cylinders. Take that, highway on-ramp!
Buick Regal (2011-2017)
A model that stretches back to the ’70s, the Regal has had some really great iterations, namely the Grand National versions in ’80s with turbos that made them screechingly fast. However, the newer Regal is just a re-badged Opel and has hurtful seats and a typically noisy but weak four-cylinder engine.
Ford Contour (1995-1997)
Woe was you if you decided to treat yourself and upgrade to a mid-size and this is the pile of gelatinous Ford goo the rental counter selected for you. Highlights include an A/C that barely worked and an inline four engine that wasn’t about to propel you anywhere fast.
Toyota Yaris (1999-2005)
A truly bland car, the Yaris had a tiny engine and barely any body insulation so driving around in one felt like you were kid caught in a tin can. Power is, of course, mostly non-existent, with an equally tiny 1.0-1.5 liter engine pushing a few measly horses to the front wheels.
Saturn Ion (2003-2007)
This quirky Saturn looked promising, but was plagued with some bad ergonomic choices like the “suicide” back doors on the coupe, which just got in the way and a center-mounted instrument panel which was just confusing and hard to focus on when racking up highway miles.
Plymouth Breeze (1996-2000)
Another fallen brand, Plymouth was a powerhouse in the 60s with the amazing GTX, but started pumping out the usual bland Detroit pablum. The Breeze is another in a long line of crap, with a subpar four-cylinder engine and seats that make you immediately seek a chiropractor after any trip, no matter the length.
Cadillac Catera (1996-2001)
“Oh, nice!” you think when the agent tells you they are upgrading you to a Cadillac… Unless it was the repulsive mid-size sedan called the Catera. Built off of the rear wheel drive European Opel Omega, the kiddy Cadillac was bland, overweight, and un-athletic.
Chevy Impala (2000-2005)
Once a storied nameplate and the best-selling car in the U.S. in 1965, the modern, early 2000s version of the car was the epitome of a rental jalopy. With a too-soft and floaty suspension, soul-suckingly bad seats, and sea of bad GM plastic getting out of this car was the best part of your journey.
Chevy Cobalt (2005-2010)
With a whiney inline four engine and sub-par styling, the Cobalt was another of GM’s attempt to claw its way back into the subcompact category after the Cavalier. Featuring the typical rough and thin plastic interior of most Chevy’s, this car was a trip killer.
Dodge Caliber (2007-2012)
These horribly-built Dodges were all over the rental car lots five years ago and be glad the company canned this model. The continuous variable transmission was particularly rough and would often shake and almost stall when starting out.
Nissan Versa (2006-2012)
Often cheerily given as an upgrade at rental counters from subcompact since its size qualifies it as a midsize, this little Nissan sounds hollow and tinny inside. Stomping on the accelerator elicits not much more than a slow lurch.
Saturn Aura (2006-2009)
The now-dead brand that was supposed to save GM put out some real stinkers during it’s reign. The Aura looked halfway decent on the outside, but plastic interior trim pieces were legendarily known for breaking and the car would often roll when in park.
Pontiac Sunfire (1995-2005)
Pontiac—may the brand rest in peace—put out some amazing, eye-catching cars in the ’60s and ’70s. And then the 1980s and 90s rolled around and they starting coming up with rides like the Sunfire. Plastic-clad and rife with interior bits that felt cheap and gimmicky, this car was very, very far from the awesomeness of a ride called “Sunfire.”
Nissan Sentra (2007-2012)
What a boring slab of steel. Not necessarily a horrible car, but just so inadequate in a sea of bland cars relegated to rental car status. The 2.0 liter inline four is fine for puttering around town but on the highway with any passengers and you feel every strained shift.
Jeep Compass (2006-2016)
Not much of the vaunted Jeep heritage is found in this compact crossover SUV. Styling is unusually bad for a Jeep and it’s on-road charms are limited to very little power, loud operation, and bad gas mileage. Hard pass.
Hyundai Sonata (1993-1998)
Though Hyundai is churning out some stellar cars today, their beginning was a bit bumpy. The mid-’90s Sonata in particular had a notoriously bad transmission and the suspension was so bad it bobbed and weaved on every bump more than Conor McGregor at his first boxing match.
Chrysler PT Cruiser (2001-2010)
It was woefully underpowered while somehow still slurping down gallons of gas, had handling that would be generously be called sloppy, and loaded with cheap plastic. Hands-down, the worst of all time, for one simple reason: the feeling in your stomach you’d get when you’d see it waiting for you in the parking lot.
Now, if all this plastic and classic ’90s Detroit design has you feeling down about the state of cars, the Best New Cars to Hit the Road in 2018 will get your pistons firing on all cylinders again.
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