Entering the new year, we’ve got plenty of cars we’ll be looking forward to trying out, but we also wanted to take one more look at what we drove last year. And in addition to our favorites, well, we also wanted to look at the disappointments. These might not be outright bad, especially as the number of genuinely bad cars is at an all-time low. But what these cars do, is miss out on our expectations. We’re not angry with these cars, trucks and SUVs, just, well, disappointed. – Joel Stocksdale
News Editor Joel Stocksdale: Having finally been fully redesigned, and packing some more rugged looks and a nifty configurable second-row seat, I was expecting the Honda Pilot to blow me away. It really didn’t. In fact, I think I preferred the older version. The more truck-like design seems to have brought with it more truck-like driving, but in disappointing ways like lighter, more disconnected steering and more sluggish handling response. The previous model was one of the more engaging three-row SUVs to hustle around. That funny removable bench seat section isn’t as useful as I’d hoped, either, and a somewhat plain interior and simply whelming performance from the V6 just left me wanting. And that’s a problem in a segment with a massive number of competitors, many of which are elevating their games as far as style, comfort and performance.
Mercedes-AMG C 43
Senior Editor James Riswick: Never mind the most disappointing car I drove in 2023, this is one of the worst Mercedes I’ve driven in 17 years of car testing. The standard suspension’s ride was so firm that every drive on the perfectly nice pavement around my town was a tiresomely jiggling experience. Worse, the firm suspension did not respond well to mid-corner bumps on my mountain road test route, resulting in ESC intervention, jarring body motions and general unpleasantness. It left me to ask: Who is this for? I live right next door to some of the finest driving roads on this continent. If this car is inappropriate for them, where the hell are you driving where it would be fine?
Oh, but it gets worse. The transmission was an absolute mess. AMG’s transmissions are usually so good that when left in Sport+ mode, you don’t have to even consider touching a paddle. They’ll readily downshift, often multiple gears, when braking into a corner, and quickly upshift exactly when you would. This was not the case with the C 43. I had to use the paddles, but it gets even worse: I had to use the paddles while stuck in stop-and-go traffic. Left to its own devices, the transmission was consistently in the wrong gear. The herking and jerking that it was doing made me seem like an inept driver suddenly stuck with a manual transmission. It was enough that my wife actually asked what was going on. I’m guessing the culprit here is the C 43’s mild-hybrid system integrated with the transmission, but either way, it’s unacceptable and I know I’m not the only journalist who has found the transmission to behave in such a way (and yes, it was a different car).
I love me a cool, fast Benz, but the C 43 was so disappointing … and just not good.
Road Test Editor Zac Palmer: This was a bit of a downer, largely because I’m such a fan of the non-Alpina version of the BMW X7. It’s dynamite in either inline-six or V8 M60i form, and it handles far better than it has any right to. The Alpina version should just layer the goodness on even thicker, right? Wrong. Through a combination of modified suspension, massive wheels and what I can only describe as poor final tuning, the Alpina XB7 both rides and handles worse than its M60i brethren. That made me especially sad, because the X7 M60i is perhaps my favorite giant three-row SUV to hustle about in. Not only that, but the M60i is perfectly supple when you dial it back into Comfort mode, too. That said, I still think the Alpina’s a stunner to look at and hang out inside of. It just needs some help in the handling department, and Alpina should probably ask BMW to sort things out.
Associate Editor Byron Hurd: I really wanted to like this car. I mean, come on. It’s a premium sedan in a world where four-doors are dropping like flies. Toyota has been releasing enthusiast darlings left and right; how could they possibly miss the mark with a new, high-tech flagship? Well, as Joel pointed out, simply being interesting only gets you so far, and the Crown doesn’t really do anything a whole lot better than the dearly departed Avalon, which you can still buy as a Lexus ES. In fact, the ES 350 Ultra Luxury can be had for the same price as the Crown Hybrid Max I drove — about $54,000 all-in.
I hate to invoke the “P” word, but the Crown sedan gives me Phaeton vibes. It may be a very impressive thing to Toyota enthusiasts, but those of us who aren’t already siloed are going to be tougher to convince. It’s a technological showcase and a wonderfully comfortable cocoon in which to be driven, but as a driver’s machine? Meh. The tech constantly wants to interfere in the process, making the experience more conflict than collaboration. By all means, pick one up for your kid’s chauffeur; just don’t buy one expecting to get into a proper grand tourer.
BMW M4 CSL
Senior Editor, Electric, John Beltz Snyder: Don’t get me wrong, the M4 CSL is a great car. But is it $140,000 great? I don’t know. I can tell you, though, that after one day with the car, I audibly sighed pretty much any time I went to drive it. I knew, first, that I’d have to get in the thing, which meant squeezing between the steering wheel and the high side bolsters of the fixed carbon seat. I’d then land into the deep bucket with a crack of pain from my rear end and back. Then I’d continue to abuse my body as every tiny bump in the road was transported straight through those wheels and rock-hard suspension through that carbon chair and into my spine. That’s not what I was looking forward to on a simple grocery run.
This car’s probably heroic on the track, but I didn’t have any track time during my week with it. I just had to live with the thing, and soak up whatever punishment it saw fit on public roads. No, there’s nothing disappointing about the CSL’s performance — this thing is a roaring beast, a treat for the mind, and is definitely something pretty special. I just didn’t appreciate what it did to my body.