It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. The world is full of cars, and just about as many of them are bad as are good. It’s pretty easy to pick which fall into each category after giving them a thorough walkaround and, more important, driving them.
But every once in a while, an automobile straddles the line somehow between good and bad — it may be hideously overpriced and therefore a marketplace failure, it may be stupid quick in a straight line but handles like a drunken noodle, or it may have an interior that looks like it was made of a mess of injection-molded Legos. Heck, maybe all three.
Yet there’s something special about some bad cars that actually makes them likable. The idea for this list came to me while I was browsing classified ads for cars within a few hundred miles of my house. I ran across a few oddballs and shared them with the rest of the team in our online chat room.
It turns out several of us have a few automotive guilty pleasures that we’re willing to admit to. We’ll call a few of ’em out here. Feel free to share some of your own in the comments below.
Dodge Neon SRT4 and Caliber SRT4: The Neon was a passably good and plucky little city car when it debuted for the 1995 model year. The Caliber, which replaced the aging Neon and sought to replace its friendly marketing campaign with something more sinister, was panned from the very outset for its cheap interior furnishings, but at least offered some decent utility with its hatchback shape.
What the two little front-wheel-drive Dodge models have in common are their rip-roarin’ SRT variants, each powered by turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder engines. Known for their propensity to light up their front tires under hard acceleration, the duo were legitimately quick and fun to drive with a fantastic turbo whoosh that called to mind the early days of turbo technology. — Consumer Editor Jeremy Korzeniewski
Chevrolet HHR SS: Chevy’s HHR SS came out early in my automotive journalism career, and I have fond memories of the press launch (and having dinner with Bob Lutz) that included plenty of tire-smoking hard launches and demonstrations of the manual transmission’s no-lift shift feature. The 260-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder was and still is a spunky little engine that makes the retro-inspired HHR a fun little hot rod that works quite well as a fun little daily driver. — Korzeniewski