Cars that just aren't getting the showroom love they deserve.
While some enthusiasts and journalists are wringing their hands at the way crossover SUVs have taken over the automotive market, it’s worth remembering that these things move in cycles. In the 1970s, it was all about the station wagons. Then, when the kids grew up, they didn’t want to drive the vehicles their stuffy parents did. Then the minivan showed up, and people couldn’t get enough of them. Now the kids that grew up in the back of those want nothing to do with them despite being the perfect family vehicle for their kids. Instead, those kids of the 90s are buying SUVs or crossovers for their families. Give it another decade, and the crossover craze will die down. Crossovers won't go away because they suit a lot of people and families, but something else will become the general family vehicle of choice. Perhaps we'll get the return of the wagon.
In the meantime, enthusiasts and journalists are also wringing their hands at the thought that fast and fun cars for driving fans will go away. Again, this has been a recurring theme for decades. Yet, we are living in a golden age of horsepower and performance. Engines making 300 horsepower are no big deal and a 4-cylinder Mustang now makes 310 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. 20 years ago, that was what you got at the top of the range.
Unfortunately, enthusiasts do make up a small percentage of the new car market. And, although these aren’t all enthusiast cars, they are all at the bottom of the sales charts. Let’s take a look at what new car buyers have been skipping over that should be on shopping lists.
The Lotus Evora 400 is the poster child for this list. The name Lotus is legendary in car culture, but people tend pass their production cars over. The bottom line is that the reputation for unreliable engines and expensive parts left over from previous decades is still hurting sales. The Evora is an outstanding all-round package though with Lotus grip and handling to go with the mid-engine layout. The reliability that has been missing comes from a Toyota sourced engine making 400 horsepower with the aid of a supercharger.
Audi’s everyday-driver supercar is a beast when you open it up and throw it at a bend. The Audi badge seems to be its Achilles heel, despite Lamborghini based V10 power mounted in the middle. Last year Audi only sold 927 R8 models, although it was good news as that was a 20% hike up from 2017.
While a lot of enthusiasts claim that the E46 generation was BMW’s finest moment for the 3-Series, the 2-Series is as close as you’ll currently get to it in both size and driving dynamics. The 3-Series has grown, but the 2-Series is more of an enthusiast car. However, from the 230i to the full-on M Competition models, BMW only sold 9,208 models in 2018.
Volvo’s sedan is an example of why journalists and reviewers get frustrated. It's a car nobody could dislike driving, yet only 7,310 Americans bought one in 2018. There’s been little other than praise for every angle of the S60 from its luxury-level interior to ride and handling and its smooth and powerful engine. Thankfully, Volvo is making crossovers at the same level to keep them in the black.
The TT is a niche vehicle that suffers from the same prejudice a lot of small sports cars do. However, sales dropped almost 50% in 2018 to just 1,289 TT models sold in the US. Thankfully, the TT is still doing reasonably well in Europe so it shouldn’t become a casualty of the accounting department's ax anytime soon.
The Continental has a plush ride and plenty of tech and power. However, it hasn’t been getting the marketing and McConaughey love of its crossover brethren. Sales dropped nearly 30% in 2018 with only 8,758 models sold. There is an 80th-anniversary edition featuring suicide doors that sold out fast, but these are dark days for the sedan. We just hope the Continental rides them out.
It’s hard to have a bad word to say about the 718 siblings, but we wonder if Porsche is to blame with pricing here. It’s all very well having entry-level Porsches, but that’s no good if options start adding up fast and leaves people wondering if they should just go ahead and get a base 911. Driving enthusiasts shouldn’t though, but only a little over 5,000 did last year. For both models.
For people predicting the crossover apocalypse and would like some confirmation bias, Porsche has already sold 5,559 Cayenne models in the first quarter of 2019.
In the United States, the Kia K900 hasn’t been a good seller. Reviews have put the latest iteration on firm footing with the Lexus LS, but people just aren’t buying the idea of a Kia model being in the premium class. Only 145 were sold in 2018, although it looks like it may sell that many by the middle of 2019.
Despite coming out with its guns blazing and stealing hearts and minds in 2016, the NSX is heading towards flatline in the US. In 2017, Acura sold 591 models but in 2018 just 170 were delivered. So far this year, Acura is having trouble selling over 30 per month of what the brand touts as the next generation supercar.
Toyota’s relentlessly strong and dependable SUV, known for being relied on in the toughest parts of the planet, had just 3,222 US sales in 2018. The Land Cruiser's price probably has the most to do with it as it’s generational age and competing here against SUVs such as the European Range Rover and the Cadillac’s domestic Escalade.
This one isn’t much of a surprise, despite still being a car capable of amazing things after a decade in its current generation. However, it is long in the tooth and its no surprise people will wait and see if a new Godzilla is on the horizon. Just 538 were sold in 2018 and nobody expects that to be bettered this year.
The Lexus grand tourer in internal combustion form has a big, powerful, naturally aspirated V8 and all the joy that brings. The hybrid version may lack the simple joy of that and weigh even more, but it’s still worthy of the Lexus badge. Just 1,979 were sold in 2019 though, and only 179 in the first quarter of 2019.
Perhaps it’s because this generation is now 4 years old and the mid-engined Corvette is due this year, but in 2018 Corvette sales dropped by 25% in 2018 to 18,791 units sold. That’s a big drop but it’s still higher than the years 2009 through 2013.
Another surprise on this list is Golf’s ever-present and usually reliably desirable hot hatch. It has the driving dynamics and interior everyone wants from the German pocket rocket, but the 7th generation is getting on in years now, and that probably explains just 16,684 units being delivered in 2018.
It probably shouldn’t be a surprise the V90 isn’t making killer sales figures. It’s a special order item from dealers as an open secret. We hope Volvo is keeping the V90 open as an option because it knows that wagons are going to be coming back once the crossover gets over its peak. You can get several specs of V90 including the enthusiast-friendly T6 R-Design with both a supercharged and turbocharged (at the same time) 4-cylinder engine. There’s also the lifted V90 Cross Country if you want some crossover-like ground clearance on your wagon. Only 491 were sold in 2018, but the good news that gives us hope is that it’s 308 more sold than in 2017.