The selection of new cars available to consumers has never been better, but it also hasn't been smaller in a while. Automakers have shed brands and individual model lines in an effort to reduce the number of lower volume cars on the market, but there are still plenty of great cars out there that are bought in (relatively) small numbers.
A while ago, we made a list of 10 Great Cars Nobody is Buying, and while most of those are still terrific vehicles that you won't often see opposite you at an intersection, we figured it was time to add 10 more.
For our 2012 list, we've also included a competitive vehicle that sells in stronger numbers in order to give you a better look at the industry and the segment as a whole.
With the industry getting more streamlined by the moment, there aren't many actual “flops” on the market these days, but all of these either perform poorly compared to the rest of their segment or they aren't finding as many buyers as company executives would like to see. In short, they're all above average cars that are underperforming in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
10 (More) Great Cars Nobody is Buying
1. Acura TSX. Essentially a rebadged European-market Honda Accord, the TSX occupies a small segment of the market somewhere below rivals from bigger premium brands like BMW and Mercedes-Benz. At around $32,000 well equipped, the TSX is a very nice sports sedan – and it's even available in a versatile wagon bodystyle. We like it a lot, especially since it gives buyers luxury amenities and dealer experiences at a price the Germans and Japanese are largely ignoring.
2. Aston Martin Virage. Aston Martin has an incredibly big product portfolio for such a small brand, but we've never quite figured out where the Virage fits in against the DB9. Though it is undeniably a beautiful car, the Virage looks and feels just about like the DB9 to us. If you want a Virage, act fast: An upgraded-for-2013 DB9 has spelled the end of the line for this short-lived coupe and convertible line.
Instead, people are buying the Aston Martin DB9 because... the DB9 rides better but offers essentially the same straight line performance for a lower price. Plus, they look exactly the same to most eyes.
3. Buick Regal. Occupying a slim segment of the market somewhere just barely above mainstream midsize sedans, the Canada-built Regal brings with it a good deal of German engineering and economy car fuel economy thanks to its mild hybrid system. Still, sales are down 36 percent this year. We really want to like the Regal, but even the performance-oriented Regal GS doesn't get our blood pumping like other cars at its price point.
Instead, people are buying the Hyundai Sonata because... it is similarly shapely for a much lower price point. Truth be told, the Regal is a better car in most measurable ways, but buyers aren't necessarily willing to pony up the extra dough.
4. BMW 3-Series. Redesigned with an emphasis on mainstream American buyers, the latest 3-Series is softer and roomier than before. Unlike the runaway success Volkswagen Passat, which was reimagined in a similar vein, the 3-Series just can't find buyers. Sales were down 30 percent last month. BMW says that supply is tight, but since the latest 3 has been on the market for about six months now, we're not buying it.
Instead, people are buying the Mercedes-Benz C-Class because... the refreshed C-Class is a big improvement over its predecessor. Buyers are noticing – sales last month were up 38 percent and they topped the 3-Series by more than 300 units.
5. Dodge Dart. The Dart might be sourced from Illinois, but its soul is Italian. This larger-than-average compact sedan boasts an Alfa Romeo platform and an excellent Fiat-sourced four-cylinder turbo motor. Inside, it's not as interesting as we'd like to see, but the Dart drives and rides more like a Mercedes-Benz E-Class than anything else in its segment. That's high praise.
Instead, people are buying the Ford Focus because... well, we're not entirely sure. The Focus is a nice compact car, but so is the Dart. But Ford found nearly 20,000 Focus buyers last month, while Dodge barely managed to top 3,000.
6. Dodge Durango. If you relish driving, the Durango is the only three-row crossover/SUV bound to get your juices flowing. From its Marlboro Man looks to its excellent steering and sublime powertrain choices (including a big HEMI V8), the Durango is a winner in our eyes.
Instead, people are buying the Ford Explorer because... Ford pushes the Explorer as a family-friendly vehicle, while Dodge emphasizes the Durango's machismo. Even though the Dodge is the better driving vehicle by a mile, the people have spoken: For every one Durango sold, Ford has found four Explorer buyers.
7. Mazda Mazda2. Subcompact cars are a tough sell for most drivers – they're not that much cheaper than compacts and many of them are actually less fuel efficient. But the zippy Mazda2 is a delight to drive: think of it as a street legal go-kart. It's also seriously cheap to actually buy one, especially since even the base model includes air conditioning and power windows.
Instead, people are buying the Ford Fiesta because... it offers more upscale features and uses less gas. OK, so the '2 isn't exactly a fuel miser, but we've seen dealers offering them for under $13,000. Rivals in that price range are about as well-equipped as soapbox derby cars.
8. Volkswagen Golf. Cross the Atlantic Ocean and you won't be able to throw a euro without hitting a Golf. That's not the case in the United States, where buyers want trunks and not hatchbacks. But the Golf boasts an upmarket feel not seen in the Jetta sedan, while its nimble size and optional turbodiesel make it very practical.
Instead, people are buying the Mazda Mazda3 because... it costs $5,000 less and also nets around 40 mpg. Fine, so the Golf TDI is rated at 42 mpg to the Mazda3 Skyactiv hatchback's 39 mpg, but we guarantee that you'll never make up the difference since diesel fuel usually costs more.
9. Volkswagen Jetta TDI SportWagen. Like the Golf above, the Jetta SportWagen feels like a little slice of Europe plopped into Middle America. Supremely practical with an upscale European-market interior not shared with the Jetta sedan, the SportWagen is one of the most satisfying cars you can find for under $30,000.
Instead, people are buying the Hyundai Tucson because... they want to sit up high. Crossovers like the Tucson give drivers an SUV seating position and somewhere around 30 mpg. Is it worth giving up around 10 mpg to sit half an inch closer to the clouds? Apparently.
10. Volvo S80. With the demise of Saab last year, S80 is Sweden's de facto flagship (Saab's 9-5 was on last year's list). S80 is undeniably a dated sedan, but it offers a tremendous value compared to similarly-sized German rivals. Big discounts and free scheduled maintenance and wear-and-tear items for five years combine with a low price tag to make us easily overlook some of the S80's shortcomings to focus on positives like a serene interior and a stellar optional turbo engine.
Instead, people are buying the Mercedes-Benz E-Class because... it's a better car. This is true, but an E-Class stickers for about $13,000 more and it doesn't even include leather seats. We like the E-Class, but we might take an S80 and, say, a used Mazda MX-5 Miata for sunny days for the same price.