List: Ten Forgotten Small Cars (Now with Bonus Car!)

By Seyth Miersma

July 31, 2008


Renault Alliance GTA Who would have guessed that car conceived of by the twin forces of Renault and AMC (alliance, get it?), and built in Wisconsin, wouldn’t be the small car to define the genre? The forgettable Alliance run was topped off by the “high performance” GTA in 1987, which somehow managed to wring and improbable 95 horsepower from a mere 2.0-liters of displacement. Hey, at least there was a convertible option.


Daihatsu Charade We refer you to this unmerciful section of the Daihatsu Charade Wikipedia entry, specifically referring to the car’s struggles while on sale for four years in the U.S. market. “The car sold poorly, perhaps because of its high price, few dealerships, and unfortunate translation of the name Charade into English” Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.


Shelby CSX Carroll Shelby went from building once-in-a-generation sports cars sheathed in the sexy bodywork of the AC Ace, to shilling turbocharged Dodge Shadows for Chrysler? We can only hope that the CSX helped to put a Shelby grandchild or two through college. Still, we suppose that there were worse options in 1987.


Nissan NX2000 Nissan sibling Sentra SE-R has become a genuine small car legend by now, while the better-looking, better-performing NX2000 has largely been ignored. Road & Track thought enough of the car in 1992 to put it in a group test with the likes of the Acura NSX, Porsche 911, Nissan 300ZX, Mazda Miata, and Lotus Elan. Start checking the eBay listings today.


Mitsubishi Mirage Turbo/Plymouth Colt Turbo Another gem from the unholy alliance between Chrysler and Mitsu, the spunky Colt Turbo made it onto Car and Driver’s Ten Best list for 1989. Of course Paula Abdul was big in ’89 too


Mazda 323 GTX Mazda small car with turbo power and all-wheel-drive? To say that this performance Mazda got lost in the shuffle would be an understatement.


Isuzu Impulse It’s really hard to find fault with the Giugiaro-designed first-generation Impulse, though we don’t remember many performance small car shoppers lauding the Isuzu product range in the 1980s (or, well, ever). Too bad it couldn’t have kept its Japanese handle, Piazza, though.


Hyundai Scoupe The name may have been derived from combining “Sporty” and “Coupe” but the car really only lived up to half of that. Mitsubishi power may have been a step in the right direction for the young Hyundai brand but it didn’t do much for the enthusiast.


Fiat Strada The Strada (or Ritmo in Europe) was an awfully funky small car for the early 1980s American market. With high-concept wheel designs, squared lines, and bug-eyed round headlamps, the little Italian may have been a bit over the top for U.S. tastes. Strata’s build quality and reliability (or lack thereof) are also partially responsible for the reputation Fiat enjoys in this county today.


Buick Somerset You’d be forgiven for completely forgetting about the Buick Somerset, as even General Motors only held onto the name for a few years. The N-body car was supposed to replace the Buick Skylark, and did just that from 1985 to 1987 (well it was actually called the Somerset Regal for the first year). Demand for the small Buick was drowned out by that for its Pontiac Grand Am platform mate, an ignoble epitaph if we’ve ever heard one. The Somerset eventually morphed back into the Skylark from whence it came.


BMW 318ti BMW’s liftback 3-series may have been a big hit in Europe, but it never really caught on for the four years it was offered in North America. The 318ti still enjoys as bit of a cult following In the U.S. though, especially among sport tuners.


Toyota Corolla FX-16 One of the first really good hot hatches in the U.S. that didn’t wear a VW badge, the performance version of the ubiquitous fifth-generation Corolla was a great all around car. The FX-16 packaged the same 125-horsepower, 1.6-liter four found in Toyota’s MR2 in a front-driver three-door hatchback body. Examples of the nimble hatch are like hen’s teeth these days, if you find one, hold on to it.

Renault Daihatsu Shelby Nissan Mitsubishi Mazda Isuzu Hyundai Fiat Buick BMW Toyota

Talk about new and better small car offerings for the North American market is thick in the air these days, and while it’s true that many of the best compact offerings have been only sold abroad throughout the years, there are more than a few cars that have been simply forgotten about.

We make no bones about the fact that certain members of this list of eleven deserved to be wiped from our collective memory, though others were quite good.