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20 All-Time Worst Cars Tested By Consumer Reports

Vukasin HerbezJuly 31, 2017

Even if you are not from the United States, you’ve probably heard of Consumer Reports, a well-respected publication that deals with buying cars, among other things. For quite some time, Consumer Reports has been the authority behind many road tests. Consumer Reports is highly present online, bringing the latest reviews to millions of consumers worldwide. For many years, the magazine has tested numerous cars and helped their popularity or sealed the fates of the less fortunate ones. So while Consumer Reports has marked some vehicles as good, they’ve also declared many as failures, both in the quality and design departments.

In nearly all cases, their writers and testers understand the market so they can accurately pinpoint what’s good and what’s bad with a model. Keep reading to learn the worst vehicles that Consumer Reports tested with explanations on what made them fail. You may know some of the vehicles or never heard of others, but they all have one thing in common. They were bad enough Consumer Reports doesn’t recommend them.

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20. Pontiac Aztek

Pontiac introduced the Aztek in 2000, and it was a good idea, at least on paper. The midsize crossover model came with sharp new styling, a decent engine lineup, and plenty of interior space. Best yet, it was a modern concept at the time. Pontiac was eager to present it to the public since their overall sales weren’t good. They thought the new model would boost their popularity and bring new customers to their dealerships. The plan was sound except for one thing: the design. Somehow, the Pontiac designers managed to push to production one of the ugliest cars ever made. Even more than 20 years after the first Aztek, it is still a car with a design that makes no sense whatsoever. Every design component as well as the whole car is extremely ugly. Even the interior is questionable.

Photo Credit: Auto Evolution

Interestingly, the Aztek’s designer later worked on the great-looking Corvette C7. So, it’s strange how he managed to do such a bad job for Pontiac. The pure ugliness of the car and finish quality sealed the fate of the Aztek, despite some positive aspects. For example, the Aztek had plenty of space inside and delivered decent performance. It even had higher-than-average equipment and a big trunk. In fact, it made a great family crossover if not for the hideous design. In recent years over a decade after they stopped producing them, Azteks became popular. This is mainly due to its appearance in the cult TV show, Breaking Bad. The fact is, most Azteks have won first places in many “ugliest car” lists. Unfortunately, the failure of the Aztek adversely impacted Pontiac, and a couple of years later, they closed their doors for good.

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19. Cadillac Escalade

This one is a bit controversial because Consumer Reports has criticized the Cadillac Escalade quite often. But, the Escalade is popular, good-looking and powerful, so why did the editors of Consumer Reports not recommend it to car buyers? They mentioned that the Escalade is falling behind the competitors in the interior design department with an outdated look of the dashboard. Also, the quality of interior materials is poor, especially considering the high base price of the vehicle. In fact, a fully loaded Escalade goes for over $100,000. Other than that, Consumer Reports stated the engine lineup is limited, which is true. The Escalade has only one V8 to offer, although Cadillac offers a hybrid version. In addition, the Escalade is among the most stolen vehicles in the U.S. And that is something every potential owner should be concerned about.

Photo Credit: Net Car Show

Also, despite all the modern safety systems, people steal Escalades at alarming rates. However, the Cadillac Escalade is still a great car and essentially the only true Cadillac today. It is big, luxurious, powerful and opulent like any true Caddy should be. It is also good-looking and fast, making it one of the best status symbols around. To be honest, its popularity with celebrities and the high price tag only adds to its charm and charisma. It is a true American SUV in a market European luxury wagons dominate. And for that, it deserves recognition and respect.

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18. 1959 Chevrolet Impala

Consumer Reports caused quite a stir in 2009 when they performed a crash test involving the new Chevrolet Malibu sedan and a 1959 Chevrolet Impala. The test was a real-life experiment to see how far car safety had come. They also wanted to see how different ways of construction affect the overall safety of passengers. In this short video, viewers saw a 2009 Malibu rushing up to a 1959 Impala in a frontal crash that left both cars almost fully destroyed. In just a few moments, the explosion of metal, glass, and plastic claimed both cars. And when the dust settled, you could see the true effect. Most people think the ’59 Impala would perform better. But although it was bigger and heavier, its driver would have been killed because of the impact.

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First, the lack of proper seat belts and airbags made the crash test dummy fly all over the interior. Second, the archaic construction of the Impala made the car crumble and bend, crushing the dummy and trapping it inside. But the Malibu absorbed most of the impact force, keeping the damage outside the cabin. That ensured the driver survived with minimal or non-life-threatening injuries. Although both cars were unusable after the crash, the Malibu driver was more likely to step out and call an ambulance, while the Impala driver would’ve been dead on the spot. This test shows how far car safety has come in 50 years. That’s why you should consider retrofitting a classic car restoration with modern safety components if possible.

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17. Fiat 500 L

At first, it looked like Fiat scored big with its compact 500 for a triumphant return to the American market. The funky, retro-looking 500 proved to be quite a sales hit in the U.S., due to its small size, driving dynamics, and affordable price. The compact dimensions meant that this was a city car for two, yet it didn’t affect its rising popularity. But the best part of Fiat’s presence in America was the 500 Abarth. Using the same 500 platform with a better suspension and a much stronger engine, Fiat created the ultimate super-mini hot hatch. It was a car with great performance that brought tons of attitude and charm. However, Fiat management wanted something more substantial, bigger, and usable. They wanted something that would look cool and accommodate an average family with all their luggage. Also, it had to appeal to a wider audience and bring more people to Fiat showrooms.

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So, they came up with the 500 L, which was a car they built on the extended platform. It came with the same basic design of the front end, a longer wheelbase, and more interior space. In theory, it should have worked, but in real life, it was a disaster. The 500 L was slow and was not equipped well. It wasn’t practical. People thought it was ugly. It also had quality and reliability issues, and the interior materials were not great. Most of all, the 500 L was not affordable, because the base price was over $20,000. For that money, you could get a compact SUV with more power, better equipment, and a nicer interior. And that is why Consumer Reports declared this Fiat a bad choice. That was a reason why its sales numbers were far below what Fiat expected.

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16. Mercedes CLA

You may think that a brand like Mercedes wouldn’t have any negative reviews of their cars. After all, those tri-pointed star models are among the best in their respective classes. However, even the mighty Mercedes is not immune to the Consumer Reports experts. This time, the CLA was under investigation. The CLA is a compact sedan and the smallest Mercedes available in America. It has all characteristic qualities like its recognizable design, plush interior, options, and high-quality materials. Even the base price is not that high as CLA starts at $32,000 MSRP. But then the problems started. The base CLA wasn’t well-equipped even though it produces 208 HP and has front-wheel drive. However, if you want more power, acceleration, and interior comfort as well as a four-wheel-drive system, you’ll have to pay over $40,000. The top-of-the-line CLA 45 AMG version starts at a lofty $50,000.

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The price for the basic car is $32,000, which you could use to buy much better and bigger cars. For $50,000, you can buy an E Class, which is a proper Mercedes sedan. Another problem is its space, as the CLA is small inside. Although the driver and co-driver won’t have problems with space, passengers in the rear will. Also, the design of the car dictated the space in the trunk, so CLA can’t carry a lot of baggage. Consumer Reports slashed the Mercedes CLA, and they did that rightfully because the Mercedes badge is not enough. The CLA needs more qualities for Consumer Reports to recommend it as a good deal in its class.

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15. Mitsubishi Mirage

It’s no secret the Mitsubishi car company has been in financial trouble for years. Their lineup is outdated and some of their models have fallen out of fashion. They haven’t introduced anything new or interesting in decades. Long gone are the days when Mitsubishi was one of the most popular, active Japanese brands on the global market. The Renault-Nissan corporation bought a significant percentage of the company. But they could only use the plants for their own products and will probably not invest in reviving Mitsubishi. Yet one recent introduction is the sub-compact Mirage. Available as a five-door hatchback or compact four-door sedan, the Mirage is affordable, starting just above $13,000.

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But for that kind of money, you can’t expect much. The Mirage comes with limited equipment and a slow three-cylinder engine. The transmission choice is between a manual and a slow-shifting automatic, and the power goes to the front wheels. Although the Mirage is basic transportation, so nobody should expect much, Consumer Reports disliked its interior design and materials, as well as its slow performance and quality. Simply put, the inexpensive Mirage fell below the industry average. If Mitsubishi wants to stay in business, they need to redesign it and make it better in every way. Only then can they count on rising sales and better reviews.

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14. Tesla Model S

It is interesting to know that Consumer Reports once branded the Tesla Model S as “not recommended.” Since then, this revolutionary electric sedan has earned high marks and became one of the best cars Consumer Reports has ever tested. What happened with the Model S? First, Consumer Reports got the Model S as soon as it was commercially available. Testing such a new and advanced vehicle from a small company is always problematic. Many new systems and components didn’t work properly. The fit and finish were not adequate for a $100,000 luxury car. Also, the car was full of bugs.

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However, Consumer Reports experts found the concept promising and the performance of the Model S unbelievable. Yet the first testing problems clouded their decision and eventually, they declared the Model S, “not recommended.” Tesla made a big effort of sorting out numerous problems with the first series of Model S cars since the criticism was coming from all sides. In 2015, the Model S returned to the Consumer Reports fleet, where it performed flawlessly. It even earned high scores and praise from the test drivers.

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13. Yugo GV

Back in the late 1980s, ex-Yugoslav car manufacturer, Crvena Zastava, made a brave attempt to enter the American market with a compact model they called the Yugo. The Yugo was a nice-looking three-door hatchback built on a Fiat 127 base with improvements in design and technology. Under the hood was a 1.1-liter four-cylinder engine with electronic fuel injection. But for the U.S. market, buyers got updated equipment, a radio, and air conditioning as an option. From today’s standpoint, the Yugo was a basic and even primitive car. However, for the middle of the 1980s, it was a decent proposition as well as a solution to the fuel economy situation of the times. Fiat mechanics were relatively common in the U.S. since Fiat had just left the American market in the early ’80s. So why did the Yugo receive such bad reviews from Consumer Reports?

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The reasons were simple: driving dynamics and quality. Both were horrible by the standards of the day. The engine sent 65 HP to the front wheels over a badly-assembled five-speed manual gearbox. The performance was painfully slow, but that wasn’t even the worst thing. The fit and finish were bad, and to make things worse, Yugo importer Malcolm Bricklin didn’t import enough spare parts. So if your Yugo broke down, the parts had to travel for months from Yugoslavia to America. Despite all that, the Yugo was a sales success as they sold more than 40,000. The price of only $4,000 was one of the largest reasons. The Yugo was the most affordable automobile on sale in America when it was first introduced.

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12. Dodge Nitro

Not long ago, most consumers considered all Dodge products to be below average at best. Car buyers criticized the quality, the interior, the materials, and the lack of space. Performance was also something mentioned. Even though Dodge tried hard to present itself as a performance brand, it didn’t work. One of the best examples of that is the 2007-12 Dodge Nitro. When they introduced it, the Nitro looked like the right car for the moment. In 2007, compact SUVs started conquering the market, but Dodge didn’t have it figured it out. The aggressive front end with the signature Dodge split grille, low roofline, and small windows with big fenders and wheels made the Nitro appear menacing. But when Consumer Reports got a hold of one, they found out what was wrong with it. First, the interior was small. The Nitro looked big, but on the inside was small and uncomfortable.

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Second, the interior materials, plastic, and cloth were well below the standards of the class. Only in the top-level trim could you get decent seats. Anything else was just bad. The plastic was rough and far from what the competitors offered. The power and the performance were also inferior compared to the other models in its class. Despite looking fast and tough, the Nitro was none of those things. So that’s why Consumer Reports rightfully declared it “not recommended.” Fortunately, since a government bailout, Chrysler and Dodge have both introduced some popular models that customers and Consumer Reports have both praised.

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11. Dodge Omni

Back in 1977, the American car industry was changing rapidly. A decade of fuel shortages, quickly tightening emissions and safety standards as well as import cars claiming a big percentage of the U.S. market was about to end. Domestic manufacturers were forced to adapt to new conditions. Gone were the big, thirsty V8-powered cruisers of the 1950s and ’60s. The new models had front-wheel drive and were small. Also, they had four-cylinder engines with far better fuel economy, and the Dodge Omni was exactly that. It was a popular compact model right for the late 1970s and the changing economic climate.

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Or was it? Consumer Reports claimed that the Dodge Omni was unsafe for driving. That was first because of its vague steering and then for its bad brakes and poor road holding. Consumer Reports even claimed the car was dangerous to drive because the steering was so bad, drivers weren’t sure what the car was doing. The magazine’s review was harsh, but it didn’t affect the popularity of the Omni. In its 13 years on the market, Dodge sold over three million of these practical cars. In the mid-1980s, Carroll Shelby transformed the standard Omni into a hot hatch he called the Shelby GLH. It had a turbocharged engine, bringing superior performance by the standards of the day. It was safer than the original too.

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10. Suzuki Samurai

Suzuki’s compact and capable off-roader, the Samurai, was an inexpensive alternative to bigger, more expensive terrain vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler. Suzuki introduced it in 1985. The Samurai was a strong seller until Consumer Reports discovered one fatal design flaw. This even caused a big recall and hurt the reputation of the brand. Due to its short wheelbase and high center of gravity, the Samurai was prone to rolling over at high speeds.

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This caused many crashes, injuries, and even fatalities. Consumer Reports claimed the Samurai’s stability was alarmingly below average. So Suzuki responded by recalling over 150,000 vehicles. Several lawsuits were filed against the carmaker, some of which lasted until 2004. Eventually, they settled the matter, but Suzuki lost its position in the U.S. market. Sadly, they stopped selling cars in America in 2012.

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9. Lexus GX 470

Sometimes harsh reviews can produce positive results instead of embarrassment and expensive recalls. In 2010, Consumer Reports tested the new full-size Lexus GX 470 SUV. This large, heavy vehicle was like other offerings on the market. However, it came with one serious flaw, the tendency to roll over. They built the Lexus GX 470 on a Land Cruiser platform as that model performed well. However, nobody knew why the Lexus version was unstable. After all, it had the same chassis and basic components as the Land Cruiser, which was quite stable. The answer was extra added weight and a softer suspension.

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The GX 470 was a luxury SUV that had more convenient options. So they added more weight and softer suspension for added ride comfort. Those two things affected the handling and made it easier to tip over. Interestingly, Lexus didn’t try to fight the findings in Consumer Reports as other companies did. Instead, the company decided to investigate the matter themselves. For the 2011 model year, they introduced a few changes to the suspension system. This made GX 470 handle like a dream and safer to drive.

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8. AMC Ambassador

In the late 1960s, the American Motors Company was doing well. This was despite being the only independent domestic manufacturer under attack from Detroit’s Big Three: GM, Ford, and Chrysler. Their economy car lineup was doing well on the market. And AMC even entered the lucrative muscle car segment with the Javelin and the AMX. However, the new Ambassador model was highly-anticipated since AMC promised a modern design and powerful engines.

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They also offered a high level of standard equipment. In fact, the 1968 Ambassador was the first car to offer air conditioning standard. This was a big deal for the late 1960s. The future looked great for AMC until Consumer Reports tested the car and found several bad aspects. First, the quality was terrible. The body panels were loose-fitting and the interior looked like it would fall apart. Second, the poorly-installed fuel filler neck spilled gasoline all over the car and the road under heavy braking. Consumer Reports finally concluded the testing, finding the quality so poor the car was unsafe to drive. AMC responded by fixing the quality, but the problems lasted until the end of the company in the mid-’80s.

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7. Smart ForTwo

The Smart ForTwo was a big hit in Europe, where it proved to be perfect for the narrow streets of the overcrowded cities. But Consumer Reports found it wasn’t that perfect for American drivers, who have different driving habits. The good news is, the mid-2000’s Smart ForTwo got great gas mileage and drivers could park it almost anywhere. But nearly everything else was bad or even annoying. First, the trunk was tiny.

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So if you used the Smart ForTwo for shopping or an urban commute, which they designed it for, drivers found it quite difficult to fit everything inside. Second, the gearbox was odd to use and prone to breaking. Also, performance wasn’t exhilarating. Finally, the price wasn’t affordable considering the size and features of the vehicle. All in all, it was not so great for the American streets. So they presented the new Smart ForTwo in 2016. But despite being better in every way, it was still not the urban car drivers need.

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6. Oldsmobile Cutlass Diesel

In the late ’70s, American manufacturers were all about fuel efficiency and downsizing. The era of big cruisers and powerful gasoline engines of the ’60s was gone. Everybody was busy trying to find a way to introduce new and innovative automotive technologies. Oldsmobile was at the forefront of this new trend in the auto industry with the introduction of the diesel engine in their passenger cars. In those days, American buyers were unaware they could use diesel fuel for their automobiles. European customers already had a couple of diesel cars on the market, but for America, this was new.

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So Oldsmobile introduced the 4.3-liter V8 diesel engine as an option for the Cutlass line. Soon, this model was subject to an enormous amount of recalls and engine swaps. Simply, the 4.3-liter had the tendency to explode and shatter during normal driving. Passengers weren’t hurt, but the car was unusable and good only for scrap. Oldsmobile later introduced the 5.7-liter diesel that was somewhat more durable, but the 4.3-liter is probably the worst diesel engine in history.

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5. Ford Pinto

Domestic car manufacturers addressed the changing market climate and the rising popularity of compact cars with several homegrown models in the ’70s. However, most drivers considered all of them bad. One of those cars was the Ford Pinto. Ford introduced it in the early ’70s, and the Pinto was popular due to its low price, fairly nice design, and long list of options. They equipped it with an economical four or six-cylinder engine, so the overall quality of the car was decent.

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So what was the problem? While engineering the car, Ford forgot to protect its rear-mounted fuel tank. The fuel tank was below the trunk and just behind the rear bumper. In most models, there was a strong cross member to protect the fuel tank in case of a crash. However, the Pinto lacked this. This became apparent when people started getting killed in fiery crashes due to leaking fuel tanks. The families of people killed or hurt in such incidents sued Ford. Eventually, the company spent millions settling their court cases. Despite improving the design of the Pinto, Ford discontinued the model. The Pinto went into the history books as the “car of death.”

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4. Cadillacs With 8-6-4 V8 Engines

Back in the early 1980s when fuel efficiency and cost savings were the most sought-after details in the car world, manufacturers were experimenting with various engine and drivetrain options. Oldsmobile went the diesel route by introducing the notoriously bad 4.3-liter V8. They followed it with the better 5.7-liter V8. Cadillac then decided to install a fancy electronic cylinder deactivation system on their gasoline V8s. The idea was like today’s modern systems in many of the newer models with big engines. When cruising around town, the car would use only four cylinders. It would deactivate the rest electronically, stopping fuel delivery and shutting down the spark plugs.

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When the driver needed more power, the car would activate two more cylinders. This would make the engine a V6. When the driver pushed the throttle to the end, all eight cylinders would fire up to deliver full power. Everything looked good on paper, and at least their customers were interested. Problems started as soon as they delivered the first models. One reason was that the electronic system was unreliable and the engine had a tendency to get stuck in one mode, often as a four-cylinder. After a few years on the market, Cadillac discontinued this option and took a long time to recover from its lost reputation.

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3. Ford Explorer

As one of the first popular SUV models, the Explorer of the early ’90s was the typical example of the concept. Big, powerful, luxurious, and capable, it could carry its passengers with ease over any terrain, or at least it looked like it could. Despite the popularity, the alarming reports of instability and tendencies to roll over plagued the market and the car public. Apparently, the Explorer wasn’t stable at sharp turns and high speeds, causing numerous crashes, deaths, and injuries. Slowly, as the story unfolded, Ford admitted they had concerns regarding stability and road holding.

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However, Firestone, the tire manufacturer ensured Ford’s engineers they could solve the problem by deflating the tires below the recommended limit. Ford followed their advice, but the situation got even worse. It evolved into a major scandal involving Ford and Firestone. The aftermath was a massive recall of Ford Explorers, a sharp decline in stock prices of both companies, huge penalties, lawsuits, and loss of reputation.

Photo Credit: Automobile Mag

2. AMC Gremlin

AMC introduced the Gremlin on April 1, 1970, so people considered it to be an April Fool’s joke. It was the first American subcompact car and the idea behind it was a good one. AMC tried to introduce small, urban cars to fight the rising competition from the VW Beetle and Japanese car companies. However, the execution was a total failure. The AMC Gremlin had a small body with solid comfort and interior space. The rear end was strange because it looked like somebody chopped off the trunk.

Photo Credit: Automobile Mag

In fact, it was just the case since the company didn’t have the time or money for a proper design job. They just cut off the rear end, making the Gremlin a hatchback. Under the hood, there was a large, heavy six-cylinder engine with poor performance. The lumpy engine in the front threw the weight distribution off, so the Gremlin didn’t handle well. In contrast to other compact cars of the era, the Gremlin was somewhat faster, but its poor quality and rust kept it from being durable.

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1. Sterling 825

If you don’t know what the Sterling 825 is, nobody can blame you. Once marketed as the next big thing in the luxury segment of the American car market, the Sterling is now a forgotten brand. It didn’t make its mark, moving to the margins of automotive history. Sterling was basically a British company that they established in the late ’80s with Honda’s capital and Rover’s design. Back then, Honda owned Rover and they wanted to enter the American market with a luxury model. So, they conceived the Sterling, a luxurious car based on the Acura Legend.

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It may seem like a strange combination, but the finished product had a nicely-designed interior and decent power from Honda’s V6 engine. After the introduction in 1987 and promising sales numbers in the first few months, the first problems showed up. The Sterling was poorly put-together, the electronics were troublesome and some cars even developed rust issues. Honda tried to improve the production process, but there wasn’t much they could do. By the early ’90s, the Sterling was gone and nobody was sad about it; not even Honda.

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