A luxury car represents the peak of quality, technology, and performance, all while costing an absolute fortune as its owners insist on maintaining their reputation. A comfortable ride with the ability to outperform every other peasant on the road is expected from these overpriced hunks of metal.
The beauty of a well-executed luxury vehicle can be a remarkable experience. Look at the world’s no-one luxury car, the Mercedes-Benz S-class. However, automakers will always be ambitious. Many attempts to create cheaper versions of their luxury models have provided the industry with a hilarious band of brothers who bit off more than they could chew. Here are ten of the most unreliable, overpriced vehicles money can buy.
10 Ferrari Mondial 8
Mondial, meaning “global” in French, was Ferraris’s attempt at a 2+2 supercar. The Mondial sold 6,800 units between 1980-1993, making it Ferraris’s best-selling vehicle at the time! Good deeds aside, the Mondial was replacing the much loved 308GT and received a 3.0-liter V8 barely capable of 214hp. Severely underpowered and heavily overweight at 3,459lbs, the Mondial was more grazing cow than a prancing horse.
Another problem was Mondial’s habit of frequenting workshops. A sophisticated Bosch fuel injection system was known to fail, and the automated clutch assemblies were regular culprits for customers. The Mondial lacked Ferrari’s character and dependability, making it one of the most affordable luxury cars on the market today.
9 Delorean DMC-12
John Delorean once persuaded investors he was about to create a fiber-glass bodied, rotary-powered sports car capable of 200hp. It was even going to be well-priced!
Instead, we were met with a lumpy 2,718lbs, 130hp 2.8-liter V6 that cost customers $25,000 ($80,000 today). Underpowered and overpriced were the least of the DMC-12s issues. Mechanical problems were so frequent dealerships refused to perform warranted work as John Delorean still owed most of them money! The DMC-12 had many electrical problems underneath its leaky gull-wing doors and multiple recalls for sticking throttles and suspension malfunctions. Only 9,200 of these iconic vehicles sold, making it one of the worst luxury cars to buy in 1981.
8 Aston Martin Lagonda
Aston Martin needed a hero in the 70s, and they turned to William Towns, who designed the hideous four-door wedge known as the Lagonda. Unfortunately, the Lagonda proved one of the worst cars you could buy, selling just 645 units between 1977-1989! The pig-ugly Brit underwent four facelifts and was still named in Bloomberg Business Week’s “50 ugliest cars of all time”.
Aston Martin demanded $25,000 ($120,732 today) for this gaudy block of cheddar, lumping customers with a hand-built 5.4-liter V8 plagued with electrical issues. One of its selling points was the first production car with a digital instrument panel; sadly, the system was known to fail and require expensive repairs.
7 Mercedes-Benz SLC
Mercedes-Benz released the sporty roadster in 1996 under the ‘SLK’ moniker (Sport, Light, Compact). However, the world’s number one luxury car brand renamed it to ‘SLC’ in 2016 and charged $38,000 up to $57,000 for the SLC43 models.
What killed the SLC was simply father time. Then, the competition caught up and went beyond. Porsche had the 718 Boxster, which was priced close to the SLC43 and provided similar power, while Jaguar also barged their way in with the F-Type causing sales for the SLC to plummet. Mercedes discontinued SLC in 2019 while they continued to push the GT range. It is worth noting the SL moniker is returning in 2023 with a pocket-burning MSRP of $140,000!
6 Cadillac Cimarron
Cadillac is easily one of the worst luxury car brands, and the Cimarron is the perfect example of why. Launching on the new J-Car platform was Cadillac’s first compact car in 1982; Cadillac had essentially re-badged a Chevrolet Cavalier to compete with the Audi 5000 and Mercedes 190E. Yet, GM’s ‘luxury’ brand asked customers for $12,000 ($36,392 today) to purchase this rushed, leather-clad Chevrolet, nearly doubling the price of a Cavalier it was so obviously based upon!
Cimarron is one of the most notorious re-badging efforts in automotive history. Owners and Cadillac alike struggled to associate with ‘Cimarron by Cadillac’ selling 132,000 units across six years as the poorly priced compact Caddy failed to compete with the European imports.
5 1984 Maserati Biturbo
Maserati head-honcho Alejandro DeTomasso wanted an everyday car in the lineup to compete with the BMW 3-series. The physical manifestation of his dream was the $25,000 Biturbo, emphasizing that last part as this was the first twin-turbocharged production car in the world.
And it sucked… The AM452-90 engine block could not handle the pressure of the twin-turbo setup, leading to failure. Cheap build quality led to cracking interiors and body corrosion; they even had a recall on the 1984/85 models as they were known to catch fire due to exhaust issues. The “Everyman” Maserati was expensive to buy and even more to repair, leading to Maserati’s ongoing reputation as one of the worst luxury car brands.
4 Cadillac Allante
Edmunds ranked the Allante 23rd in its worst car of all time list. A hefty 3,600lbs’ luxury roadster’ quickly became one of the worst cars to buy, lasting just six years between 1987-1993. Cadillac ran before they could walk in this market, having the body designed and manufactured in Europe by Pininfarina, then assembled back in the USA.
Cadillac lost money on each of the 21,000 units sold. Even with the astonishing MSRP of $54,000 ($140,000 today!), they still couldn’t profit due to the lengthy manufacturing process. Partnering with the unwise price tag was the underpowered Northstar V8 producing a humiliating 170hp to the Allante, which was chicken feed for the 1989 Mercedes SL which pushed out 326hp at just $45,000!
3 1974 Jaguar XK-E V12 Series III
Today Jaguar is part of Land Rover, the most unreliable luxury brand in the world. Back in the 70s, they had another problem, Known as XK-E Series III, or E-Type in Europe. The XK-E was once a stunning 260hp+ sports car capable of 150mph in the 60s! On the other hand, the series three XK-E had to appeal to the North American market during the 70s. Strict emissions regulations forced Jaguar to abandon the much loved 4.2-liter six-cylinder in place of a top-heavy 5.3-liter V12, greatly upsetting the weight distribution of the Great Brit.
What’s more, the North American market required ugly bumpers and modifications to the body, stealing the E-Type’s sleek finish and leading to a Jag without an identity. As a result, a car once described by Enzo Ferrari as “the most beautiful car in the world” was now a heavy, ugly land yacht.
2 1981 Cadillac V8 6-4
Today Cadillac provides the most affordable luxury car on the market, the CT5. Luckily the CT5 didn’t contain the fabled V8 6-4 engine Cadillac decided to place in all its road-going vehicles during 1981. The Seville managed to escape this notorious block. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Fleetwood costing customers $16,365 ($52,687 today).
The V8 6-4 engine developed with the Eaton Corporation would allow users to deactivate cylinders based on their driving automatically. Feasibly, the V8 would transform into a V6 or V4 if desired, allowing Cadillac to adhere to emissions regulations and customers to pay less at the pump. Sadly, the engines became problematic as the fuel injection systems couldn’t keep up with the cylinder changes, leading to a bumpy/laggy customer experience. As a result, many had the tech deactivated, and Cadillac discontinued it after a year!
1 BMW i3
BMW’s pioneering little spark plug has become one of the world’s worst cars to buy. The i3 arrived in 2013 in the early days of the mass-produced EV, producing 170hp with a range of 80 miles on debut; The little Bavarian improved these figures to 230hp with 113 miles of capacity by 2021. Sadly, this wasn’t enough. BMW’s i3 had the lowest range of all luxury electric vehicles across the USA, forcing the Germans to take action.
BMW charges $44,000 for the i3, meaning customers could get the much more significant, higher-ranged Polestar 2 for a similar figure. The i3 was discontinued in 2021 and replaced by the larger IX and i4 models for the North American market as the demand for larger EVs continues to grow.
Sources: Edmunds, Mercedes-Benz, CarMax