Mazda MX-5 Miata
Average monthly sales: 571
The Mazda MX-5 Miata may hold the Guinness World Record as the best-selling roadster of all time, but it still hasn't sold that many copies. Drivers around the world have purchased 900,000 MX-5s since the car launched in 1989; by contrast, Smart has managed to sell 1.3 million copies of its Fortwo city car since 1998. In other words, a compromised city car has found far more buyers in 14 years than a lively roadster has in 23 years.
Those relatively low sales volumes are in stark contrast to the rave reviews the MX-5 draws from enthusiasts around the world. The Mazda Miata has long been a favorite car at Automobile Magazine, owing to its simplicity and pure, connected driving experience. The MX-5 is the cheapest roadster you can buy in America, which makes it an ideal choice for sun-loving drivers who want an affordable drop-top. At the same time, the car's light weight, nimble suspension, and prominence in racing series has made it an easily attainable choice for racers and driving fanatics on a budget.
Frankly, however, even true enthusiasts are ready for an update to the MX-5. Although we love the car, it has changed very little over the past 23 years. The current generation, known by devotees as the NC Miata, has been on sale with only a few tweaks since 2005. Fortunately a new version will arrive by 2015 at the latest. Mazda recently inked a deal with Alfa Romeo to share development of two new rear-wheel-drive roadsters; the next MX-5 and Alfa Romeo Spider will share a platform, but each will have unique styling and an engine from its parent company's lineup.
The Miata's dedication to driving enjoyment also means it isn't the most well-rounded vehicle on the road. The passenger compartment is cramped, especially for tall drivers, and the 5.3 cubic-foot trunk won't accommodate that much luggage or groceries. Fuel economy is only average. Couple that with an abundance of wind noise and a buzzy highway demeanor, and it's easy to see why the Mazda MX-5 isn't an ideal everyday car for many people. Although it offers a lot of fun for the money, the MX-5 is more often a second car or weekend toy than a primary vehicle.
Average monthly sales: 67
Cheaper, smaller, and less powerful than the vaunted 911 range, the Porsche Cayman is nonetheless a rewarding car thanks to the nimble handling afforded by its mid-engine layout. The Cayman is so much fun to drive that it has long been a favorite at Automobile Magazine, but the coupe apparently hasn't become a favorite with customers. Sales of the Cayman have been slow for several years, and so far in 2012 it's the worst-selling Porsche.
One explanation could be that the Cayman's convertible cousin, the Porsche Boxster, was just redesigned for 2013. As true Porsche fans probably know a new Cayman is in the works, they could be waiting to buy the new model. However, that doesn't explain why sales have been so sluggish since the Cayman was launched in 2006.
It's also tempting to assume that the Cayman struggles because its performance doesn't match up to that of the 911. While its engines are smaller and less powerful engines than those of the 911, the Cayman is still a serious sports car. Even the slowest Cayman has a top speed of 165 mph and can run from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds.
Instead, the real reason is that the Cayman is overshadowed by the iconic Porsche 911. Not only does the three-digit nameplate have five decades of heritage behind it, the 911 name and design are synonymous with the Porsche badge for many people. Customers who are ready to buy a Porsche want the quintessential, traditional Porsche 911, and are unlikely to settle for a Cayman just because it's cheaper.
Porsche will soon unveil the next generation of the Cayman, but if it seems that would help draw more attention away from the 911, think again: a new, more powerful version of the 911 debuted last year, and Porsche already is hard at work developing many more variations of that car.
Average monthly sales: 503
What's not to love about the Suzuki Kizashi? It's a smart family sedan that actually offers steering feel, attractive design, and a buttoned-down suspension. It's a supremely practical car that also makes driving enthusiasts smile, and the Kizashi is even available with all-wheel drive for wintry climes. Sadly, the Kizashi sells at a slower rate than the Chevrolet Corvette sports car. The problem is not the car itself, but that buyers just aren't aware of the Kizashi.
A big part is a lack of a dealer network: Suzuki only has 250 automotive showrooms scattered across the country. Volvo, by contrast, has 350 dealerships, and Toyota has over 1200. Suzuki also has a far stronger reputation for building motorcycles and ATVs than cars. The Kizashi also struggles because it tries to straddle several segments: it may be far better than many compact cars, but it's just a bit too small to be competitive with midsize sedans. And while Suzuki would have you believe the Kizashi's quality and performance are on par with the likes of an Audi A4, the car is still saddled with a low-rent Suzuki badge.
Finally, there's the issue of the other products in the showroom. Most Suzuki models on sale today are several years old and no longer very competitive, and quality new products like the Swift haven't been imported from Asia and Europe. Add it all up, and it's easy to see why many new-car buyers might skip visiting the Suzuki showroom. In doing so, they're missing out on a gem of a family sedan.
Average monthly sales: 2075
We just wrapped up one year with our Four Seasons Volvo S60, and came away very impressed. The Volvo sedan was something of a sleeper hit that seduced us with its fabulous interior, smooth yet powerful engine, and outstanding steering. Whether being used as a luxury cruiser to blast along the highway, or as a grocery-getter to run around town, we found the S60 to be versatile and rewarding. Still, since it went on sale here in 2010, the Volvo S60 hasn't sold in very large numbers.
One problem could be that, despite offering two powerful turbocharged engines, the S60 isn't really seen as a sports sedan. Purists looking for cars in this segment may ignore the S60 because it is front- or all-wheel drive, whereas enthusiasts tend to gravitate toward rear-wheel-drive cars like the BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Luxury buyers could be put off by the Volvo badge, which lacks the driveway cachet of a Lexus or a Mercedes emblem. Volvos tend to have a reputation as staid boxes for dull drivers. Based on the modern looks and lively personality of our S60, those connotations are totally unwarranted.
Twelve months behind the wheel convinced us that the Volvo S60 has the refinement, style, and performance to take on the best from Japan and Germany. Now Volvo just needs to convince customers of the same thing.