2004 Pontiac Aztek (GM)
The year ends tonight and 2010 promises better horizons.
Living in Metro Detroit, I'm outwardly cynical but secretly optimistic. In a few more years, things will really turn around, but probably not.
At least 2010 won't start out like 2000, when people talked about pointless hybrids, those great Firestone tires and how much the public loves trucks. Back then, crossovers were a niche market and V-8s still rumbled down every highway.
Change was in the wind, and for Detroit it was a tornado.
In the end, this past decade offered some delights and some disasters. Pony cars growled again and electric cars are so quiet Congress has considered forcing them to make more noise.
What a ride it's been, and the catastrophe of 2009 only seems to push the automotive world to do more.
So what were the best and worst of the past decade? Let's take a look:
The Pontiac Aztek was perhaps the ugliest car stamped in the past 10 years. Tool and die makers must have thought the sheet metal plans were some crude joke. A few General Motors Co. executives have told me privately that the Aztek was a vehicle that tested well with consumers during development. Every time someone at GM asked consumers if adding something else to the vehicle was a good idea, the answer was yes. People loved the idea of the Aztek, just not its execution.
And really, the Aztek wasn't awful. It rides and handles well. But it was a victim of trying to be everything to everyone -- a task that, if you've ever tried, never works out.
The Ford Mustang: Redesigned in 2005, the Mustang struck a chord that hadn't been heard in decades. The retro styling drew from the car's heritage, and Ford masterfully managed that image with limited-edition models and the return of the Shelby GT 500. The 2008 Mustang Bullitt is one of my favorite cars of the decade because it's just awesome.
The Honda Civic: Few compact cars are truly groundbreaking, but the current Honda Civic is just that. Sleek, high-tech and affordable, the Civic remains one of the best cars available. It's truly an all-around vehicle that is welcome in almost any family.
The Chrysler Sebring: This past decade was not kind to the Sebring. Once the best-selling convertible in America, the Sebring slowly deteriorated into its current unpalatable form, complete with shiny plastic dash and a hood made for grilling.
Any American pickup: It doesn't matter which of the current pickups you choose, all three are fantastic trucks. This decade may not have been the best time to rely on truck sales to float your company, but the Chevy Silverado, Dodge Ram 1500 and Ford F-150 are truly the tools that build America.
Many experts point to the tough economy and ill-timed introduction of Toyota's full-sized Tundra as the reasons it failed -- and for all intents and purposes, it has failed. But I also think the high level of craftsmanship, quality and utility of the Silverado, GMC Sierra, F-150 and Ram all helped stave off the attacks from Toyota. One reason pickup owners are loyal to their brand is they love their trucks, and with good reason: all of them are loveable.
The smart fortwo: You won't forget your first time in smart USA's little two-seater, either. And after that initial test-drive, you'll be less likely to drive it again. While the car fit the eco-sensibilities of some consumers, its abysmal transmission remains its Achilles' heel. Bumper cars are more fun, and have more room. Add to that its French pedigree, expensive price and relatively poor gas mileage and the smart fortwo isn't even wise forone.
The Chevrolet Corvette Z06: This coupe crushes supercars for a third of the price. It reset performance standards and shows what Chevrolet should be at every level: Precise, exact and overwhelming. It's a monster in aluminum and carbon fiber clothing. When it returned at the start of this decade, it seemed gleeful to blast drivers through corners. Then in 2006, its new design wowed even more people.
The Jaguar X-Type: What an awful car inside and out. The Jaguar X-Type should serve as a shiny reminder to never let accountants design a car and never take a premier brand and devise a way to cheapen it for the masses. Exclusive means never having to throw money on the hood.
The Chrysler 300: This car still looks great on the road. That big front end and long hood, the high belt line, the powerful engine are details that prove how classics are always classics. When the 300 arrived in 2005, it proved that rear-wheel drive vehicles can still appeal to the masses. The 300C, with its 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, was the home run Chrysler needed at the time. Now, it needs another hit, but even bigger.
The Cadillac CTS: While the first CTS stirred the pot, the second-generation CTS redefined a brand. Look through Cadillac's lineup and see how each model emulates the other, building on their family resemblance. The Escalade may have been the first Cadillac in this decade to draw such high design praise, but it was the CTS that legitimized it as a sporty, luxury brand. Performance and luxury never looked better and the direct injection V-6 under the hood is an engine that will serve as a workhorse for the next decade.
The Toyota Prius: If there were only one vehicle to choose as the defining motorcar from 2000-09, it would be the Toyota Prius.
Toyota created its green image because of the Prius and changed the way every carmaker approaches hybrids. It spent millions to develop its program and remains the hybrid leader in most consumers' minds.
While Prius' success coincides with the rise of Toyota as the world's largest carmaker during this past decade, it's not coincidence.