Top 10 Underappreciated Cars and Trucks

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Good products usually sell themselves … but not always. We've assembled here a list of cars and trucks that should be more popular than they are. In some cases the sales figures aren't bad, but in none of the cases below do the sales match our assessment of the cars' relevance or excellence. That usually means car shoppers can find a bit of a deal, too. Here are our Top 10 Underappreciated Cars and Trucks in no particular order.

Ford Flex

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The Flex tops our list because this underappreciated seven-seat gem is terrific yet outsold, five-to-one, by a similarly priced seven-seater found at the same dealership: the Ford Explorer. Sure, the Explorer name is better known and it looks more like an SUV than a shipping container, but the Flex is easier to get in and out of and has more overall passenger and cargo volume, especially in the dimensions that matter most, such as headroom and legroom. Driving cross-country? Go with the Flex.

Suzuki Kizashi

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For a good vehicle to get its due in the market, both the make and model have to be known, and that's why the excellent Suzuki Kizashi is seldom seen. Anyone who bothers to look will find an efficient sedan at the smaller end of the midsize car class that's fun to drive and has a stunningly high-quality interior. It comes with front- or all-wheel drive and such bonus options as a stick-shift and a great premium stereo.

Mazdas

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Which one? Virtually all of them. Throughout Mazda's U.S. history, some models have been originals and some have been versions of Fords, but almost all have underperformed despite delivering on the company's fun-to-drive claims. The RX-7, compact 323 and Protégé were favorites of ours, as is their successor, the Mazda3. The midsize Mazda6 sedan, which was adapted to create the Ford Fusion, saw one-seventh of the Ford's sales in 2011. We'd also take a Mazda2 over the related Ford Fiesta. Wake up, America!

Kia Optima

2012_kia_optima

Kia's corporate sibling, Hyundai, is taking the market by storm, having shed most of its outdated image as the cheapest of the cheap. Kia's products are in step with Hyundai's — we named the Optima midsize sedan Cars.com's Best of 2011 — but word hasn't traveled as far. With its handsome exterior, high-quality interior and generous standard-equipment endowment, the Optima should be as common as the Toyota Camry.

Hyundai Genesis

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Hyundai introduced a true luxury sedan in 2009 that we awarded with our top honor, and it has only improved since then. At close to 20,000 sales in 2011, it's doing well but not as well as most comparably sized luxury cars, which are priced higher (by anywhere from $3,500 to well into five figures above the Genesis' $34,200 base price). With V-6 and V-8 engines and rear-wheel drive, it has the foundation and all the luxury trappings of Mercedes and similar competitors. If you refuse to accept a Hyundai as a luxury car, you're only hurting yourself.

Nissan Quest

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Nissan sold less than 5,000 Quest minivans in 2012's first quarter, when major competitors like Dodge, Chrysler, Honda and Toyota each moved between 24,000 and 34,000 minivans for the same period. Why? Well, this one isn't a big mystery: The Quest introduced in 2011 is a competitive, high-quality van that took third place out of six minivan models in a Cars.com comparison test. But for more than a decade prior, despite Nissan's intentions, Quests were more peculiar than progressive, more curious than competitive. Without much of a record to stand on, the Quest is building a new one. From scratch.

Dodge Challenger

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How is this car not neck-and-neck in sales with the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang? Like those cars, the Dodge has rear-wheel drive, manual and automatic transmissions and retro styling that will snap as many necks as its six- and eight-cylinder engines do when you nail the throttle. The Challenger is also roomy, has a giant trunk and is far more comfortable on long road trips than the others — and countless additional models. Incidentally, the Challenger was voted the 2012 Shoppers' Choice by Cars.com visitors. (Smartest internet users in the world …)

Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen

2012_vw_jetta_sportwagen

We know, we know: Americans don't like wagons. Maybe they haven't checked out the SportWagen version of the better-known Volkswagen Jetta sedan, a surprisingly versatile, fun car. With 32.8 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the backseat and 66.9 cubic feet total, it beats trendy SUVs like the Mini Countryman, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport and even VW's own Tiguan. The clean-diesel TDI version is our favorite, though that one's actually in short supply. You've heard that the Jetta was redesigned and isn't as nice? That's the sedan; the wagon is still based on the previous generation. Act now before that changes.

Chevrolet Avalanche

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Truck buyers are a tough crowd. For example, in sales, the nifty Honda Ridgeline pickup consistently gets its clock cleaned by every recognizable brand, possibly because brand is more important than anything in this realm. Or perhaps because the Ridgeline's work capabilities are legitimately limited. So, why isn't the Chevrolet Avalanche a bigger hit? It can do the work, towing up to 8,100 pounds; it serves as a five-seat SUV or a full-length pickup truck, and it comes from a truck brand. Sadly, the 2013 model year will be the Avalanche's last. Vehicles that transform from one configuration to another never succeed as much as hoped.

Chevrolet Volt

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All plug-in cars are expensive, but so are luxury vehicles, and the reasons for driving both prove to be surprisingly similar. As owners, we know the Volt has downsides, as all cars do, and we accept that they're deal-breakers for some shoppers. But Volt resistance seems to be more about partisan pretzel logic and safety misperceptions than about the car itself. GM's sales expectations were too high, but the Volt definitely deserves more success than it's seen so far.

Comments 

TimKerr

From a UK point of view the Ford Flex is interesting. The front looks like a foreshortened earlier Range Rover whilst the rear section could be any number of vehicles.
Personally I think it looks quite reasonable in design as a way of carrying seven people without looking like the rest of the wedge shaped crowd.
Depending on internal layout/spec/price I would think it would sell here

George

Until they UK sees that the curb weight starts at over 2,000 kilograms, and the Ecoboost version is about 2,200 kilo.

The Flex is also as long as a Honda Odyssey. BUT folks keep telling me they don't want a minivan. This is the best alternative out there.

Skankzilla

The Challenger in SRT8 form is about $10,000 too expensive and gets beat by the Camaro and Mustang. The Challenger was quickly off my list when I was shopping the three.

Zerf

From the questions I get on the Volt from all different audiences it is clear a lot of people still don't get it. I am kind of surprised given the amount of press. I have got plenty of questions like what happens when you drain the battery, are you stuck on the side of the road? Do you need some kind of special electrical wiring for your house? Can you drive it like you drove your old car? I kind of think the more people learn about it the better it will do but it certainly has been pulled down by thing like being labeled Obama's car, etc. The Avalanche I don't think that many people understand what it does either, having borrowed a neighbor's to do some work, it is a great design.

Mr LD

WTF????? How dare they put the Challenger on this list. Really America? Come on.

jyd

Flex - good vehicle but too $$$
Suzuki - no one knows they make cars
Mazdas - Need to keep up styling-wise
Optima - patience, patience
Genesis - see above
Quest - styling is a little too "odd"
Challenger - better than Camaro but suffers from Dodge reputation
Jetta Wagon - SUV is more versatile
Avalanche - when you try to be good at too many things you end up good at none
Volt - so many things wrong here - GM reputation of poor quality, bailout, price, styling, fire concerns, ev market isn't there yet.

swa

Volt
Ever try selling a used battery? That's what you've got to do to trade it off in a few years.

tppdos

The Volt is little more than a package of lies. The gas-powered electronic motor is nearly what any single buy would want and never what most buyers want. The Volt would be more tasteful to me had GM pitched it honestly. It is simply a reverse-engineered gas/electric hybrid, not a purely electric vehicle as advertised. By avoiding truth in advertising, GM is sure to disappoint the buyers they attract and they're not likely to attract the buyers looking for a electric/gas hybrid.
Alas, they were successful in fooling the Federal government into subsidizing this car as though it were an electric car. That means we all lose.

tppdos

The internal layout of the Flex is amazing! This is one of the most comfortable cars ever produced. The handling is adequate for a vehicle this size, but certainly not as smooth as a reasonably sized car. Between this and the Mazda5, people looking for an alternative to a minivan should certainly find one of these very different vehicles ideal. Of course, the price is astronomical and the efficiency has been as poor as many SUVs. I'm interested to try the new V6 ecoboost in the Flex, but I wouldn't buy one until the third year of that combo---I expect reliability or performance issues from that combination. I would also enjoy the Flex with a manual transmission. I would buy that in a heartbeat.

Tony C.

well this entire list is quite accurate. I use to sell Ford and I kno that the Flex has a very smooth ride and great luxury features adn it is priced just like the expensive honda oddessy and the toyota sienna and the nissan quest. The nissan quest is a great improvement over the 04-09 models. The 2012 Quest has more interior space and more cubby holes than its competitors.The avalanche is a great idea but why have a crew cab silverado and the avalanche?????????? The genesis/optima both come from brands that have in my opinion proven themselves by making more reliable cars at good prices.VW Jetta im sorry this is not germany american ppl do not purchase station wagons or anything that looks remotley like a station wagaon make the jetta sport wagon more SUV like then im sure the american ppl would buy it more. The volt is nothing but a toyota prius hybrid.why buy a volt when you can get a prius and get the same car. a true electric car is the nissan leaf that doesnt have a gas motor at all. Suzuki has to do the same thing Hyundai and Kia did prove themselves that they can make reliable inexpensive cars and stop intorducing cars and a few years later taken them off the market plus more suzuki only products ppl dont kno what is a true suzuki and wats not the grand vitara is a chevy tracker the equator is a nissan frontier the xl7 which is no longer produced was a chevy equinox so if suzuki wants to sale more of cars create their own cars and stop using other ppls name design and reputaion to sell cars. and im sorry but until dodge create a car that is reliable and holds value the challenger will never be as good as the mustang and camaro

Dennis

Four years ago, I would have never even thought about purchasing a Kia or a Hyundai, for the exact reason the article states: they had the unfortunate perception of being cheap. Today, I believe both makers have improved their product greatly. However, I believe Kia is still somewhat saddled with the public perception of cheapness, not so much Hyundai. After Hyundai released the 2011 Sonata, the game changed. Today, Hyundai is one of my favorite brands and I would seriously consider buying any car from their fleet, which is a 180 from how I felt 4 years ago.

Honestly, I think Kia's entire problem is the name itself: Kia. It really doesn't seem like a good name for a car brand. The same with the Kia emblem, which is probably the most boring emblem in the history of production vehicles. Unfortunately, changing the name is probably out of the question, but changing the emblem isn't too far-fetched. I imagine if they gave the fleet a hot new label, those Optimas would be flying off the lot.

It can be expensive but I love the Challenger.

Highdesertcat

These may be "underappreciated" vehicles but that may be because they only appeal to certain kind of buyer.

I used to own stationwagons in the past and the Flex is a modern-day stationwagon. Ditto with the VW. It's a modern small stationwagon.

The Avalanche is a Suburban with the rear quarter converted into a bed. It is a redundant vehicle in GM's line-up since a 4dr Silverado can do anything an Avalanche can do, and do it better, for less money.

The Volt? Only a GM fan would love the Volt. No one else does. It's been said that the Volt was an answer to a question never asked.

If there ever was a need for an EV or Hybrid, the Prius beat everyone to the punch. More than a million have already been sold to a select few.

There aren't too many buyers who favor the Volt's gas-generator/battery-electric propulsion architecture to that of the Hybrid Prius line of vehicles.

Once the battery on the Volt runs low and the gas engine kicks in to spin the generator, the droning never stops. It is faintly reminiscent of a CVT car where the droning is also constant. Rent one for a long trip to see what I mean. Try going up a long hill, like I-10 in CA.

And in the Volt, you have to feed that gas engine Premium gas. Try to find that on a cross-country trip on the Interstates. In many places on the Interstates you can only get 86-89 octane gas, and that's not Premium (92-100).

The other vehicles have all have competitors that appeal to a greater number of buyers.

Underappreciated in this case can easily mean redundant. They should drop them and focus on their products that sell to the masses.

Richard Joash Tan

"That means we all lose."

AND I WIN, tppdos!!!!

VoltZeppelin

I own a 2012 Volt. It is one of the best cars I have ever owned and I have had Corvettes, Audi's, Toyota's, Nissan's, Lincoln's, Gt Mustang, SHO Taurus and have driven countless other great cars. Here is the thing with the Volt...it has technology that all other cars are trying to catch up to. It drives best in class with the bonus of having a silent vibration free electric motor powering the car as it moves effortlessly thorugh traffic. The Gas motor only comes on when the battery is depleted but it too is very quiet, shutting off as you come to a stop and not coming on again until the car reaches 25 or so miles per hour because the car is still running on electricity even if the batteries are depleted, the motor simply charges them. But here is the key with the Volt...most days that you drive it, you use NO GAS..NONE!! If you do go beyond the 35-40 mile electric range, no worries as the gas engine will kick in and you get another 250 miles or so and even if you run put of gas there is enough battery reserve to get you 5 miles to a gas station..The car is GENIUS, unfortionately the explaination isn't simple so it gets missed by those who do not pay attention and its a shame because people are missing out on a super car that they would love if they owned it. As for the price, well sure it would be nice if it were cheaper, but no one thinks twice about spending 55k on a 3 series BMW..now the Volt is not a BMW...it actually has technology that makes the Bimmer seem old school !! The Volt truely will change your mind if you just go drive one! It did for me so much so, I bought one and love it and am averaging 116 mpg without even trying! AWESOME!!!!M

Jack

A friend of mine a Volt and in the middle of the night while it was charging, the charging station caught fire and burned his entire house down. As for the Dodge Challenger the engine is built in Mexico and the rest of it in Canada and the Camaro and Mustang are both better and built in the USA. Then theres the Jetta built in Mexico and has notorious reliability issues (look it up). The Genesis is not really a luxury car and my cousin has a new one that in the first 3 months of ownership needed 3 new keys and a new panel under the car, each key took 2 weeks to get too. The Avalanche is ugly and the Flex is the size of a minivan (sorry not dead yet differnt car for me). Kia is owned by Hyundai so it will fall apart, and while Mazdas drive better than most other Japanese cars but not as well as Fords or German cars of similar size. This brings me to the Suzuki. All I can say is great car*.

g

flex is junk. ugly AND underperforms.

Jim

Nissan seems intent on differentiating itself from the pack through edgy designs that have worked well in certain cases but not so much in others - like the quest. I actually loved the exterior design of the previous 04-09 van but not so much the interior - especially the seats, and that odd center pod on pre-07 dashboards. The 2012 model has a great interior but that nose is hideous. They will make no grounds in this still very lucrative minivan mkt - not with toyota and honda hitting all the right notes. No one likes an ugly car, however well it performs on other criteria.

Michael F

> Suzuki - no one knows they make cars

Sad, since they make awesome cars. I love my SX4. I owned only Toyota's and Honda's before, and this bests them all, and it was an amazing bargain, with dealers offering discounts galore (well, that's the good part of no-one knowing about them).

Hmm, the concern is every person has his or her own needs and wants when it comes to a car, and usually, those needs can be seen in smaller and cheaper cars, especially fuel-efficiency. But in the case of the Nissan Quest, I think they need to compete it with the Dodge, Chrysler, Honda and Toyota, all of which are pretty established in the minivans industry.

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