I have been selling cars for a few years now and have reached several conclusions. For the purposes of this article, though, I’m going to focus on just one: Namely that most people don’t really consider that automobiles that may be popular where they live aren’t necessarily popular elsewhere. I have had a surprising number of conversations with people who have a car, love it, and just don’t understand why its production came to an end. These cars cultivate a cult following even though many of their owners aren’t automotive enthusiasts. In the beginning, they get scolded as being ugly, or not fast enough, or they don’t handle well, and so on. It’s not until you’ve spent some time with them that their real charms finally emerge. Perhaps that’s why they resonate so well with me. So, here are five cars that aren’t in production anymore, but maybe should be.
The Honda Element was made from 2003 to 2011 with no major styling changes over its lifetime. In its first year, Honda sold more than 67,000 of them in the U.S., but by 2010 that number had dropped down to about 14,000. In the end, 325,000 were made, but it wasn’t enough to garner a second generation, so it died off. It may not have been a looker, especially with the big gray side panels, which went away in later years, but if you looked passed the way it looked and approached the car from a practicality standpoint, you would be hard-pressed to find something better for the same money. It’s tall, boxy shape and utilitarian interior don’t necessarily fill you with warmth and luxury, but you can fit an impressive amount of stuff in them. It was even the "Dog Car of the Year," which must’ve made Subaru furious! Power came from a 2.4-liter K-series engine with 166 horsepower. They could be had in front-wheel drive (FWD) or with Honda’s "Real Time" 4-wheel drive (4WD) and with manual or automatic transmissions. They could even tow up to 1,500 pounds, which isn’t much different from most of the crossovers available today. If all this makes you nostalgic for one, this 2008 EX model is a manual with 4WD and only 213,000 miles on it. It could be yours for $9,999! Find a Honda Element for sale
Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe
Like the Element, the Toyota Matrix and Pontiac Vibe twins were a bit misunderstood. When they were introduced, they were taller than your typical hatchback but smaller than those trendy new crossovers that kept popping up all over the place. With some quick searching, I can’t easily find production numbers, but my assumption is that it’s a similar story to the Element. Lots of sales early on, but quickly trailing off as the early adopters jumped on board and then everyone else bought the RAV4 instead. It’s an unfortunate end though, as while they were certainly smaller than the RAV4 of the same era, they were bigger and more practical than you might have guessed. And they had a higher seating position than your normal hatchback, but the center of gravity stayed low, so you could still have some fun with them. Especially if you opted for the XRS trim level, which came with the same 2ZZ-GE 1.8-liter engine as the Lotus Elise and a 6-speed manual transmission. Unlike the Element, the Matrix/Vibe did get a second generation, but it only lasted a couple more years, ending production in 2014. If you’re looking to take the blue pill and take over the Matrix, here is one of those manual XRS ones! It may have 264,000 miles on it, but it’s only $3,987! Find a Toyota Matrix for sale or Find a Pontiac Vibe for sale
Next up is a car that I actually have some experience selling. It was commonly referred to as a mini-minivan, but was rarely purchased by folks looking for minivans. More commonly, it was bought by people that would normally have bought a Mazda3, but they have two kids, or they would benefit from the easier ingress/egress of the taller driving position. Production for North America started back in 2004 and for the U.S. ended with the second generation in 2015. Canada squeezed a couple more years out of it, but ultimately production ended for them in 2017. The Mazda5 was a 6-seater car, with three rows of two seats each and a manual transmission could be had in the entry trim levels as well. We sold a respectable number of them during my time selling new Mazda, but you could tell that Mazda was losing interest in the car and so, too, for the most part, were the consumers. In some ways it was hard to blame them. It was unique in our market and the people that bought them loved them and, interestingly, bought new ones the moment they heard they weren’t making them anymore. But it was overshadowed by the Mazda CX-5, which, while it was one passenger short, offered more space, more ground clearance, more horsepower, available all-wheel drive (AWD) and, even with it, better fuel economy. It also missed out on some major updates in technology in its last few years, so it didn’t feel as nice. One does have to wonder, though, had Mazda put the 2.0-liter SkyActive engine in the car, as they did in Japan, and given it a bit of an overhaul, whether it would still be around! If you are now thinking it would be great to haul your two kids and two of their friends and not have any wasted seat belts, here’s a 2012 Mazda5 with a smooth shifting manual transmission for only $8,698! Find a Mazda5 for sale
The Volvo XC70 was, for its first few years, referred to as the Volvo V70 XC, but it’s letters were rearranged in 2003. Of all the cars on this list, the Volvo had the longest life, beginning in 2000 and ending in 2016. It was barely more than a lifted Volvo V70 wagon with some gray plastic fastened to the bottom of it, but, for the most part it was a success. Eventually, the V70 wagon went away completely in the wake of the XC, but, in the end, it couldn’t keep up with the XC60. In my new digs at a small used car dealership, we have had enormous success selling these cars. Of the four we’ve acquired, not one of them lasted more than a week on the lot and two of them didn’t even make it past the "incoming inventory" stage before they had homes. It is a common theme among cars on this list, but the cars’ biggest asset, the boxy styling, may also have been the biggest factor in its demise as the importance of style increased, making less practical and less roomy cars more desirable. To whet your Swedish whistle, here’s a meatball colored 2015 XC70 Premier for only $27,739! Find a Volvo XC70 for sale
Toyota FJ Cruiser
I know it seems weird to see an SUV on list of cars no longer available that we wish were still around! The popularity of the crossover and SUV market is so out of control, huge companies are even abandoning small cars and sedans entirely. And yet, the Toyota FJ Cruiser left the U.S. market back in 2014! That’s right, this full-size, highly capable off-road SUV went out of production in the midst of the SUV and crossover takeover. Like most of the cars on this list, in the beginning sales were promising, with a little over 56,000 units sold in the first year alone. However, shortly thereafter, sales dropped. From 2009 on, there were never more than 15,000 sold in the U.S. Sadly, perhaps Toyota jumped a little too early in bringing this car out, or perhaps updating it with a second generation would’ve spiked its sales numbers and it could’ve had its best year ever, just like the 4Runner. If you want to drive one of the few SUVs that couldn’t survive long enough to see its resurgence, here’s a 2008 model with only 390,000 miles for the almost reasonable sum of $10,449! Find a Toyota FJ Cruiser for sale
The question now is, how many of these cars have you owned?? What other cars were underappreciated in their time and are now fated to just be a blip in the automotive landscape?
By day, Bill Leedy spends his time selling used cars to folks throughout Vermont and the Adirondacks. By night, he attempts to write things about cars (he does one of those things better than the other). He can also be found on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram under the name Green Mountain Car Guy.