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The Biggest Disappointments of 2012

Not every car can be a hit, significant, or groundbreaking. The majority are decent in the moment, a tool to be used for the next few years and then replaced by something hopefully less dull or more in tune with what the owner wants rather than what he or she needs. They will not light up the auction blocks at Barrett-Jackson in 2050, but they at least won’t leave their owners with a perpetual sense of shame for having purchased the car. There weren’t many exceptionally awful cars this year, but there were plenty that made us ask, “What were they thinking?” Here are some of our least favorites:

Cadillac XTS

Cadillac XTS

Just as the continuing CTS and new ATS sedan are huge steps forward for the Cadillac brand in attracting new, younger customers, the XTS is a big tumble backward to recapture the dwindling elderly base that Cadillac pandered to for far too long. Effectively replacing both the DTS and STS that largely went unnoticed by the buying public, the XTS is the most expensive Cadillac available (not including the high performance CTS-V), making it the brand’s flagship car.

A flagship is typically a manufacturer’s highest-priced automobile, and showcases the pinnacle of the company’s ability, whether in the fields of luxury, sportiness, technology, etc. Like concept cars, flagships show which attributes a company values and feels are important and creats a model upon which future cars will look to for inspiration. If the XTS is the future of Cadillac, the company will not last much longer.

The XTS is the most expensive front-wheel drive car on the market today, and that’s not a good thing. At $44,000, the Caddy undercuts many similarly-powered mid-range German sedans by thousands of dollars, but is woefully outclassed in every conceivable way, from driving dynamics to overall design and packaging. A fully optioned FWD XTS will exceed $60,000, and an AWD package is up for grabs at a few thousand dollars more. At $60k, though, a 300hp V-6 competes against 400hp V-8s from Mercedes and BMW, and there are no options for a more powerful engine even with the AWD system ordered.

The bottom line is the XTS is a big step backwards for Cadillac, and it’s just not enough car for the money. There are better options from rival auto makers that have much better brand recognition than the brand new XTS. It is rumored that the XTS is just a placeholder for a proper replacement of the old flagship, the rear-wheel drive STS. Cadillac would have done better to nail a mid-cycle refresh to the STS than spend millions developing and releasing a new car that most people will not give a second glance. Cadillac needs a new flagship that the rest of the brand aspires to be, and the XTS is not it.

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

The Hyundai Veloster has polarized critics and the general public alike, from its goofy front and back end styling to its odd four-door hatchback configuration, where two doors reside on the passenger side but only one on the driver’s side (and the fourth for the hatch). Personally, I happen to like the car a hell of a lot; it looks like nothing else on the road and is a lot cooler than the entry-level subcompact Accent, with whom the Veloster shares a 1.6L 138hp engine and platform. The Veloster’s “go fast!” looks weren’t matched with the initial engine, and everyone assumed correctly that a turbo version for less than $25,000 was on the way. We were right, but instead of being a bat straight out of hell like most hot hatches are, the end result is somewhat underwhelming.

The 1.6L is boosted to provide 201hp, imperceptibly more powerful than the Volkswagen GTI and significantly less powerful than the new Ford Focus ST and Mazdaspeed 3.  The power isn’t really the problem here, however, it’s the suspension setup and feel. By their nature, hot hatches are faster and sportier than the base versions of the cars they are based on. Although Hyundai has done a commendable job by targeting this fast-growing segment, they haven’t gotten the basics right. The reason this car makes this list is not because it’s terrible but rather that Hyundai had a decent car to make a real competitor and just couldn’t do it.

The suspension and damping are unchanged from the normal Veloster, so whatever sporting nature the exterior suggests does not translate into actual ability. The tires shipped with the Turbo are as wide as those on the standard car, so no extra grip is coming from those puppies. Hyundai is of the belief that people who buy cars like the GTI and Mazda want to go fast but can’t live with the stiffer suspension and harsher ride of those cars, but they don’t understand that those setups are what make a car go faster in everything other than a straight line. It’s true that my own MkVI GTI is a little tough on the many pockmarked streets near my home, but it’s practically a Rolls Royce compared to my old Mustang, and I don’t regret owning it over the standard Golf for a second.

The characteristics of a hot hatch that Hyundai got wrong are the fundamentals of that segment, making the Veloster Turbo not much more than an economy car with a powerful engine. The Veloster Turbo is a poseur and it didn’t have to be, which is why it makes this year’s Biggest Disappointments.

Mini Coupe

Mini Coupe/Roadster

Do you love the Mini Cooper but hate the availability of back seats, and wish it looked absolutely stupid to boot? Worry no more, you of horrible taste, because Mini has you covered! In answer to a question nobody asked, Mini tossed out the back seats, made the rear hatch less upright and more angular, and tossed in a weird, color-contrasting spoiler that looks like a backwards cap (remember when kids wore their hats like that? It was really cool in the ’80s and ’90s!).

Inside, the Coupe and Roadster are the same as every other Mini, right down to the center console setup whose convoluted, unintuitive operation quickly wears thin on drivers. Under the hood, the usual 1.6L is offered naturally aspirated or turbocharged just like the others. And the premium for no back seats and looking like an ass with that roof? Nearly $2,000 at every level. Although the Coupe is a new model, it’s nearly identical to the normal Cooper Hardtop, which has largely been unchanged since the slight refresh in 2007.

The least expensive Coupe starts at $22,150, although the price will shoot up like a rocket after prospective buyers so much as peek at the extensive options list. There are better cars for the money that are newer and more refined, making a Coupe or its topless stablemate, the Roadster, something of a hard sell. More pointless than disappointing, the Mini Coupe nonetheless handily earned its spot on this year’s list.

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About Cameron Rogers

Cameron Rogers is the founder and lead writer at Downshift Autos, the only automotive blog on the Internet*. Born in the back of an AMC Gremlin, Cameron vowed to never let this extraordinarily embarrassing detail define him, so help him God. He drives a GTI but absolutely will not shut up about it if somebody asks. He will not hesitate to let people know that no, they shouldn't get a Porsche 911 when a Morgan 3 Wheeler is so obviously the superior choice. He is obsessed with the seats of a Carrera GT and the steering wheel of a Fisker Karma. He once sat in the driver's seat of a Tesla Model S, his greatest accomplishment to date. He is just now realizing that writing an autobiography, however miniscule, in the third person is odd and unnerving. *As of this writing, Cameron has been informed that there are, in fact, many websites and blogs centered around cars and car culture. He regrets his grievous error.

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