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ROLLING BLUNDER

Matt Scanlon A- A A+

THE WHATS AND WHYS OF THE WORST SELLING CARS OF 2011

Mercedes-Benz R-Class

Released with the thought that it would challenge sport SUVs like the Porsche Cayenne, our friends in Stuttgart let loose the R-class in 2005, with 50,000 sales anticipated. After achieving not even 5% of that figure last year, it was time for reflection: Maybe a car should never try to be family truckster, chick magnet, and country club commuter all in one. It’s not a bad vehicle by any means, just not really enough of any one of those ingredients to fire the imagination. Still, they endure, and received a slight facelift at the end of the year. We’re rootin’ for ya, kid. $53,000

Cadillac Escalade EXT*

Pretty much launching the novel and odd category of the SUT (sports utility truck), the EXT is a terrible blunder by a Cadillac brand pretty much world-famous for not making them for a good fifteen years now. Silly, ill-suited alike to both mid/late life-crisis baby-boomer and brash twenty-somethings, goofily-priced even for a Caddy, and with a truck bed too small to do anything useful with, this ersatz Tonka’s message evolved from “Bet you’ve never seen anything like this before” to “What are you looking at?” Besides, if you have to have a SUT for some reason, the Chevy Avalanche is spiritually the same, at a big discount. $63,060

Acura RL

Given that Acura basically made its bones on an unrelenting awareness of drivetrain-, chassis-, suspension- and gizmo-tech, the RL’s inability to deftly improve over the years is pretty inexcusable, and a killer if one is asking just south of 50k for a pretty standard sedan. Too much plastic, too little get-up-and-go, and too few miles-per-gallon make matters worse, as does the fact that today’s version is all-but-indistinguishable from 2006’s. A friend of ours referred to his wife’s RL as “the automotive antidote to Viagara.” Get out the drafting paper and pencils, gents. $47,700

Subaru Tribeca

The Tribeca is a fascinating case of an in-practice fine-performing SUV that never recovered from one critical mistake, in this case a 2006 design that made even the frightening Pontiac Aztek look like inspired bodystyling by comparison. Still, and against anemic sales, the company held on…and on. What didn’t help the bulky, bland, but functional people hauler either was the Tribeca’s shocking 16-mpg rating for city driving. It ranks high on our death watch. $30,600

Mazda Tribute

The strange trajectory of this compact SUV began upon its release in 2001 when it looked like a deadringer for the Toyota RAV4, only to broaden, gain weight, and lose performance and power with the passing years. By the time Mazda realized that its tiny 2.3 liter in-line four was hopelessly inadequate to the task of pulling this buggy around and released a six-cylinder powerplant instead, the die was cast. Replacing rear disc brakes with drums was a colossal blunder, too, and the model was cancelled in January. $21,000

Acura ZDX

We didn’t want to kick this mid-sized luxury five-door liftback too hard, not least because it’s only in its second model year, and is the first Acura penned at the company’s new design studio in Southern California. Still, the ZDX falls flat in its attempt to mimic Cadillac’s pioneering wedge form; the result is a biggish car that still manages to look stubby…and somehow disapproving. Smooth that front end out a little, folks, because the motor, interior, and handling of this BMWclass competitor are all just fine. $46,020

Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback

You really need to have your wits about you when you dive into the small hatchback pool, with sharks like the Volkswagen Golf, Subaru Impreza, and Mazda 3 swimming around. This time around, the Mitz gets eaten. Poor interior material quality, strangely-bad fuel efficiency for a car its size, and nappy performance made this cars’s 2011 rollout much ado about nothing. Worse yet, they cancelled the Lancer’s Ralliart performance package in favor of a blander GT: the former one of the things that used to make the Sportback a fan of bad-boy teens of all ages. Lose and learn. 18,395

Suzuki Equator

Never heard of this compact pickup before, now in its third model year? To be honest, neither had we until a little digging. Designed as an ultrautilitarian hauler with Presbyterian thrift as its most pronounced standard feature, the Equator’s lack of such basic amenities as A/C and even a semi-decent audio system left brand acolytes and flacks to reach for still-born complements like praising its “easy-to-clean interior!” Cheapfeeling and underwhelming in nearly every performance category, this is a refreshing example of bad sales richly deserved. $17,900

Hyundai Azera

Given that Hyundai just rolled out a decidedly sexier and better-performing Azera than this 2011 version at the Los Angeles Auto Show, we felt badly about slamming it, but we’re journalists, dammit….devoted to the truth. It’s fine, actually: a decent, if stodgy four-door Buick imitator with good standard features, and even corners well. But those looks: if the auto market has taught us anything over the last decade, it is that the age of inspirational design is upon us, and that wideass dullness is not going to be tolerated by even those who actually have big keisters or who can’t tell an interesting story to save our lives. $25,495

Toyota Land Cruiser

This historic model began life in 1950 as a Jeep substitute for Japanese buyers, and did well from the start. Now ten redesigns in, the Land Cruiser—to these eyes anyway— has strayed too far from its funky, rugged, Land Rover-like outback sensibilities and become toomuch like most SUVs on the road: hulking, heavy, and hard-to-afford. Toyota’s decision to lower the chassis for the latest version didn’t sit well with those who loved to toss this battletank offroad, either, and for the first time, its price has breached the lunatic mark. Time for a rethink. $69,000 

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