The Best Cars That Nobody Buys

If sales volumes accurately predicted quality, we might think Justin Bieber were a better musician than Mozart. But in many areas of life, the most popular things are not always the greatest. That certainly holds true for cars: the Ford F-150 and Toyota Camry may be the two top-selling vehicles in America, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are absolutely the best new cars on the market.

Many of the nation's most popular vehicles are purchased because their nameplates are well-known or because the manufacturer has a huge number of dealerships. Subjective qualities like driving enjoyment and styling frequently take a figurative back seat, meaning that consumers often overlook great cars from lesser-known manufacturers. We at Automobile Magazine, by contrast, often look beyond the obvious and popular choices to find cars that are truly fun to drive, exciting to look at, or outstanding in some other way. We see cars not simply as a tool for traveling from home to a destination, but as a way to have fun along the way. Cars can be beautiful, thrilling, and expressions of identity. Our magazine was even founded on the simple motto, No Boring Cars.

Unfortunately, not every car that we love becomes a hit with consumers. We sometimes fall for more obscure, more expensive, or more unusual vehicles than the typical driver. That's in part because we have the luxury of driving nearly every new car on the market, whereas most shoppers are only able to test-drive a handful of models. Although we of course love luxury and sports cars, many of our favorite rides are very practical choices that just don't meet the needs or budgets of typical consumers.

Here is our list of excellent cars that most buyers bypass, despite the cars' virtues. Each of the models here sells fewer than 3000 units per month, based on rounded average monthly sales figures for the first six months of 2012. To put that into perspective, sales of the Toyota Camry average more than 35,000 each month.

Buick Regal

Average monthly sales: 2471
The Buick brand is going through a reinvention, and one of the first signs that the luxury marque has changed its ways is the Regal sedan. Sourced from Europe and offered in varieties from the eAssist hybrid to the high-performance GS, the Regal is the most impressive sedan that Buick has built in years. The car has elegant, upscale styling that is far more modern than the drooping lines of previous Buicks. It has buttoned-down suspension that is gentle enough to satisfy Lexus converts, yet firm enough to please aggressive drivers. Moreover, the 220-hp Regal Turbo and 270-hp Regal GS are genuine sports sedans that provide more driving pleasure than we have found in a Buick for years.

Unfortunately, the car will struggle to find buyers until the Buick brand manages to reinvent its reputation. The average Buick buyer is approaching 60 years old, and so the nameplate unfortunately is saddled with the stigma that it's only for retirees. The brand has tried to rejuvenate itself with new products and refreshed marketing, and even launched the Verano compact sedan. Based on the Chevrolet Cruze, the Verano is the cheapest Buick on the market and is meant to help pull in younger buyers. But identities can't be changed overnight. Reinventing impressions of the Buick brand will be a lengthy process, and while the Regal is an important part of that transformation, there's still a long way to go before perceptions of modern Buicks will match up with reality.

Ford Flex

Average monthly sales: 2748
We've been fans of the Ford Flex since the handsome three-row crossover was launched in 2008. The Flex has an upscale design, is surprisingly good to drive, and is very commodious inside. We especially like the EcoBoost model, which has a 365-hp, twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 good for 365 hp that makes for strong acceleration. But we're pretty much the only fans of the Flex: it sells in very low numbers, despite receiving overwhelmingly positive reviews.

One of the leading factors in slow Flex sales is within the Ford showroom: the Explorer. It offers similar three-row capability and the same choice between front- and all-wheel drive optional all-wheel drive to the Flex, but has the benefit of nameplate recognition that stretches back more than two decades. A much bigger problem concerns the bottom line. The Ford Flex struggles in its segment because it is comparatively quite expensive; the top-spec Limited trim starts at $40,055. In fact, even the base Ford Flex is $2260 more than the three-row Honda Pilot, and $1375 more than the Chevrolet Traverse. Finally, there's the issue of styling. While we love the bold rectilinear design, the straight-edged look is too unusual for some buyers in this segment. Based on the continuing success of bland, bloated-looking crossovers, it seems many customers pay little attention to design when picking a family hauler, and prefer choosing a vehicle that fits in with the mainstream. As a result, sales of the Ford Flex have remained slow.

Hyundai Genesis Sedan

Average monthly sales: 1500-2000 (approx.)
Hyundai launched the Genesis sedan in America for the 2009 model year with a big goal: to take on the established luxury sedans from Europe and Japan. "Hyundai aims to shatter premium automobile paradigms," the automaker said at the launch of the Genesis, boasting that it had "capabilities and features comparable to the world's leading premium sports sedans."

We were impressed by the Genesis, calling it not long after launch, "a very credible Lexus competitor." After spending 12 months with a Four Seasons example, we were even more enamored of the Korean luxury sedan. But the buying public hasn't been quite so thrilled, relegating the Genesis to an also-ran in the sales reports. Hyundai reports combined sales figures for both the Genesis luxury sedan and the sportier Genesis Coupe, but says about half of the 3164 average monthly sales are for the sedan. That means the Hyundai Genesis sedan sells only around 1500 to 2000 cars monthly, the BMW 5-Series easily averages more than 4000 sales per month, and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class approaches 5000 units per month.

If its appearance and luxury appointments live up to competitors, why hasn't the Hyundai Genesis become a bigger success? The problem is that German rivals BMW and Mercedes don't sell any cheap cars, while Hyundai offers cars for as little as $13,320. Customers know that every BMW or Mercedes is an expensive car, but some well-heeled buyers will be turned off by the fact that Hyundai also peddles economy sedans. That's why Hyundai has mulled launching a luxury brand called Genesis, which would exclusively sell the Genesis and the Equus luxury sedans at more upscale showrooms.

Despite the slow market penetration of the Genesis, corporate sibling Kia is planning to forge ahead with its own Korean luxury sedan, likely called the K9. It remains to be seen whether that car will be able to take on the German and Japanese luxury sedans, or whether it will suffer the same fate of sluggish sales as the Genesis.

Mazda 5

Average monthly sales: 1158
The Mazda 5 strikes us as a very smart package. The European-sized minivan is a bit smaller than some of its competitors, and provides plenty of room for people with smaller families. The virtues of a smaller minivan include not having to park, gas up, and drive a giant vehicle at all times. Oh, and there's one other simple reason we love the Mazda 5: it is the only minivan available in the U.S. with a manual transmission.

Even recognizing that almost every Mazda 5 will be sold with an automatic transmission, the minivan remains surprisingly fun to drive. Like many other Mazda products, the 5 has communicative steering and firm suspension damping, making it feel much sportier than we would expect from a three-row box. So why does it sell so poorly?

When shopping for minivans, few buyers put fuel efficiency, driving enjoyment, or efficient packaging at the forefront of the decision process. Space and storage compartments tend to take precedence, and that's where the Mazda 5 loses. Although it offers a surprising amount of space for its size, the Mazda 5 just isn't as spacious as other minivans. At 180.5 inches long, the 5 is nearly two feet shorter than every other minivan on the market. That means the 5 doesn't offer quite as much interior space or cargo room, both of which are prime reasons for buying a minivan. Moreover, the 5 can't be outfitted with as many family-friendly features as competitors from Chrysler, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota. The Mazda 5 doesn't offer power-sliding doors, a backup camera, parking sensors, or an audio-visual input for its optional DVD player.

It also doesn't help that "Mazda 5" has far less recognition and prominence than the Grand Caravan, Odyssey, Sienna, and Quest names.

If buyers could realistically assess their vehicular needs, many smaller families might find that they don't need the biggest minivan available. If they instead test-drove a Mazda 5, they would experience a minivan that is comfortable, stylish, and surprisingly fun to drive. Best of all, a smaller van is easier to park and uses less gas. But most buyers bypass the Mazda showroom and head directly for larger, better equipped vans that provide little fun for drivers.

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The S60 is a great car, and maybe these numbers look small compared to the massive volumes of cars cranked out by the Japanese, American, and German automotive giants, but, for tiny little Volvo, it's their 3rd best selling car (after the XC60 and V40).
@v8catThe Genesis doesn't look much like a Mercedes (looks more BMW-ish), unlike say, the LS430 which the head of Mercedes design decried as a 'copy' of the S Class.As for why buy the Equus over the GS, the Equus has significantly more passenger room (the Equus is one class size up) and has service, such as at-home/office pick-up and drop-off, that most Lexus dealers do not provide.
I don't quite understand why the Genesis is on the list, selling around 1,800 a month, while the Infiniti M sells around 800 a month and the brand new Lexus GS sells around 2k a month (prior to the new model, the GS was selling as low as 200 a month), both the M and GS having AWD while the Genesis does not.Plus a new Genesis sedan(with AWD) is set to launch next year and the Genesis should again handily pass the GS in sales.
I'd love to get the Cayman...could afford the MX-5...but can't convince the wife it's not a girl's car...
LOL... I wish my front Geezer teeth were that straight.I think its grill is definitely the worst feature. If I do trade the Vette in on one, I'll probably have a custom shop put in blacked-out grid, or at least paint the "teeth" black.
I'd say in common with almost all the cited examples, except the S60, is they are butt ugly. Or at least, nothing exciting. The S60 looks good to me and I agree its a great car. The Buick, even though I happen to like Buicks generally because of their quality and reliability, is just plain too old looking. Geezer front teeth. And Opel has never had a succesful car ever in the US (as far as I know) and very rarely in Europe. Make them interesting and they will sell!
I have a 2009 Mazda 5, and at the time, it was in a class of 1. 3 row seating, plenty of space for a family of 4, and a small size made it the only logical choice when I went shopping for a family car. I must admit though, that my wife is French and having spent a lot of time in France, I have come to appreciate right-sized cars. I also added a class 1 towing kit, so I can pull a small trailer, making it a do it all car.
I bought a Regal Turbo when I was 28, now i'm 29. I love it more than any car I've ever had. I had a Trailblazer, a Saturn Aura and I wanted a step up. I loved the Genesis, it's a great car, but it's rear drive, which just doesn't work in Buffalo winters. I drive my Regal to Toronto and back a few times a month, and it's fantastic. All my friends think it is a sweet car. I could have had a BMW 3 series, which is a nice car, but everyone has one. I also liked the Audi A4, but there it has not real advantage on the Regal apart from a better name. I'm sure the Regal will catch on, just give it some time. It was the car of the year in Europe for one reason; it's a great car.
I'm sure the Suzuki is a really great car but do not like the name "Kizashi"...they should of went with a different cooler name! I'm sure that has kept some people away..maybe it just sounds too foreign.
I think that K9 sounds like a real dog.
@honur wrote "People keep buying BMWs regardless that the upkeep is prohibitive"Actually if you buy a BMW then for the first four years your upkeep is ZERO. BMW even pays for oil changes.Because of that, well into its sixth year my BMW upkeep has averaged less than my previous car (a Honda) on an average yearly basis. Unless something major goes wrong, when I sell my BMW next year I expect I will have paid less in total than I paid for upkeep of my Honda over an equivalent span of ownership.
I have a Maxima coming off lease in early 2013. After reading this article I'll take a look at the Regal. I like the Max, but I understand Nissan has no plans to update/upgrade the 2013 model beyond minor tweaks. I have little interest in driving (more or less) the same vehicle I've been in for 39 months. I have friends that own a Genesis. They love the car but hate the service. Most of their dealers are not in the same mindset as BMW, MB & Lexus, and they treat their customers accordingly. For people coming out of those marques (I was a Beemer owner myself for years) this won't cut it. They do need to launch a network of luxury dealers for the top couple models.
Sorry, The Buick name to me says "old fart", and I am almost 70 years old - really. It's kind of like the Mercury grand marquis.As far a the Genesis sedan, the styling says Mercedes copy. If you buy one, it just says, I did not have enough money to buy the real thing (MB). Also a friend of mine who owns a Sonata says the Hyundai service dept isn't all that great so why would you buy an Equus when you could buy a Lexus GS for less money?
I'm seriously thinking of trading my Corvette in for the Buick Regal GS. And I'm only 65 yrs old.
In the fall of 2011. my wife and I rented a "standard family car" for our vacation in Maui. On our arrival, the rental company said they didn't have one available, however they would give us a Genesis for the same price! I was delighted as I had wanted to drive one.It was a very fine car but controls were a little difficult to adapt to. My wife turned on the wipers often when she turned the steering wheel, in bright Hawaii sunshine and couldn't easily figure how to turn the wipers off.. It would have helped to have a briefing on where to find things. Bought a 2012 Hyundai Sonata GLS soon after our return home and very satisfied with it, although I would have preferred having a power driver seat as standard.Gets honest 35-36 mpg on the highway but about 22 in town. Plenty of room for a big guy at 280 pounds.
In the US what is practical, logical, common sense does not apply to buying a car. What others think of the vehicle is what counts. The car is like a trophy wife. It is to impress others or to make a statement. A VW TDI cost less, has more room and gets better mileage than a Toyota Prius but the green and liberal crowd buys the Prius. There is no logic in this decision only bias. People keep buying BMWs regardless that the upkeep is prohibitive and many far better and less expensive cars have the same featuresexcept for the name. Don't look for common sense in our car buying.
Good article, all great cars in their areas but nitche cars in many ways. My wife loves her mazda 5, which I added back-up camera,sensors,DVD/nav. I love the genesis. I have driven a flex and a suzuki both were very good and the miata for the price can't be beat. Oh and I am too young for the buick, just 60.
Good article, all great cars in their areas but nitche cars in many ways. My wife loves her mazda 5, which I added back-up camera,sensors,DVD/nav. I love the genesis. I have driven a flex and a suzuki both were very good and the miata for the price can't be beat. Oh and I am too young for the buick, just 60.
The biggest mistake that Hyundai made was to call the Equus a Hyundai. When it first came out, it was simply called called the Equus, and was known as Hyundai's luxury brand, ala Infiniti to Nissan, Lexus to Toyota, etc. But then somebody decided to affix the Hyundai brand name to it, and that's where it stopped being viewed as a luxury model. Same with the Genesis Sedan (the Genesis Coupe is a Hyundai, no question there). I think separating those two from Hyundai under a new name is a great idea and will do wonders for their image.
It's a shame about the Buick sales because for the first time in a LONG time they're actually building quality, innovative and attractive cars. The Buick brand doesn't have the best reputation, but to pair it with the name "Real" is ridiculous. They need to use a number system like BMW or come up with new names never used in the past. A friend of mine has a new Regal and it's every bit as awesome as Acura's I've driven in, but the negative connotation of the name "Regal" kind of ruins it. That said, GM is building terrific cars and I think that's most important. The old stereotypes will die out in time, but it will take a while.
GM is having trouble moving Regals for two reasons: "Buick" and "Regal". If they had just stuck with Opel Insignia, well... Same thing will happen with the new Chevrolet Impala. Nice car, but negative connotation with the name. What Accord buyer would consider a Regal?
Flex, I have one word for you; plywood. As in, the Flex can't carry a flat sheet with the tailgate shut. It's got the heft and footprint of a minivan without the versatility. Its place in Ford's lineup is as a minivan alternative, but minivans are the Swiss Army knife of vehicles. Buyers in this market demand the broadest capability available.
This isn't that accurate. The Cayman regularly outsells the Boxster. It is at least equally popular. Of course, neither one sells that much.
Buick is too pricey and they gave us the 2001-2007 Rendezvous...they need to be punished a little longer. Flex - it is ugly and who wants a stylish hearse? Genesis Sedan - I feel it is perceived as having a free falling depreciation Mazda 5 - It is a hideous mini station wagon - a stiff wind would blow over that tall creature. Mazda Miata - you can buy a good used one for half to a quarter of the price of a new one. Porsche Cayman - Mostly jerks drive 'em and a 6 cylinder for 70k? - no thanks. Suzuki - Nice car but too pricey for a car that small. Volvo - Who wants a Chinese car?
The Genesis is an incredible car for the price point. What Hyundai is doing now is even more impressive than what Honda did in the 1980's.
I drove the Genesis is a great car, great warranty rear wheel drive, great interior. The Regal is an awesome car to drive, the look and design of the car is great nice power good ride.
Its probably because magazine companies rave about the car when they first come out then they raged them when put in test against other cars like motor trend, and a few other magazines i won't name, people have to get out and test drive the cars for themselves then make there choice and stop listening to magazines cause what one might like one might not...

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