The Class Of 2009: A Lost Generation Of Cars

June 14, 2011

We’d like to believe the economy is getting better, even if it isn’t doing so at the pace we’d like to see. For automakers, 2008 was a bad year, but 2009 will go down as the year that auto sales fell off the cliff. It still isn't what analysts consider recovered: sales are hovering at an annualized rate of about 11.5 million vehicles, far off a "new normal" of 13 or 14 million units.

Whenever something like that happens, there’s bound to be collateral damage. Automakers have shuttered under-performing brands (like Pontiac or Saturn, which had troubles that began long before 2009), but still have had to launch new vehicles into showrooms devoid of buyers. 

This rogue’s gallery of cars is filled with vehicles caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Few of them were truly misguided; some were merely poorly timed. Some are still on the market, while others have gone to that great dealer showroom in the sky. Some are already treasured collectibles, while others soldier on in dealer showrooms, nearly as unloved today as they were back at the height of the financial collapse.

Which cars made our “Lost Generation” list? Read on to find out.

2009 Mazda Mazda6

2009 Mazda Mazda6

2009 Mazda 6

Redesigned for the 2009 model year, Mazda's mid-size sedan offering is the red-headed stepchild of the automotive world. It's not that the car isn't competitive, it's just that buyers don't remember to cross-shop it against the likes of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima or Ford Fusion. Sadly, this is the last Mazda 6 version that will be built in Flat Rock, Michigan; all future Mazda 6 models destined for North America will be built in Hofu, Japan.

2009 Acura TL

2009 Acura TL

2009 Acura TL

Redesigned for the 2009 model year, Acura's mid-level sedan brought with it a stunning new interior, chock full of the latest advancements in electronics and audio. It also brought with it exterior styling that's best described as "controversial," causing buyers to eschew the once-popular sedan in favor of those more conventionally styled. Acura got the hint, and (thankfully) reshaped the car for the 2012 model year, but it's unsure how the milder makeover will go over.

2009 Ford Flex

2009 Ford Flex

2009 Ford Flex

New for the 2009 model year, the Ford Flex may be the most polarizing vehicle in Ford's current lineup. It's box-on-box (or, "big-box-on-bigger-box") styling seems to create fans or critics only, with very few shoppers indifferent about Ford's full-size crossover. Sales have been disappointing since launch, with a record high of just under 39,000 units sold in 2009, far short of Ford's anticipated 100,000 units per year.

2009 Kia Borrego

2009 Kia Borrego

2009 Kia Borrego

You're forgiven if you've never heard of the Kia Borrego, since it graced these shores for just the 2009 model year. Despite winning value awards from Autobytel, Edmunds and the New England Motor Press Association, the buying public largely ignored the full-size SUV. It was canceled after a single model year. Americans may embrace Korean-built cars and crossovers, but it's clear that full-size SUVs remain the domain of American manufacturers.

2009 Pontiac Vibe 4-door HB GT FWD Side Exterior View

2009 Pontiac Vibe 4-door HB GT FWD Side Exterior View

2009 Pontiac Vibe / Toyota Matrix

Mid-cycles refreshes are designed to boost sales in between generations, but the 2009 redesign on the Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix had the opposite effect. Canadian buyers, who once embraced the Toyota Matrix for its available all-wheel drive, have shifted their focus to the Toyota Corolla. In the U.S., the Matrix is well off its game. If current rumors are correct, the Matrix will be discontinued after the current version, joining its sibling Pontiac Vibe in the great automotive beyond.

2009 Saturn Astra 3dr HB XR Angular Front Exterior View

2009 Saturn Astra 3dr HB XR Angular Front Exterior View

2009 Saturn Astra

Oh, what could have been if the Opel Astra was imported into the United States sooner. With the Astra, Saturn finally had a European-designed and built hatchback that featured fresh styling and an upscale (for the time, at least) interior. By the time buyers realized the Astra's potential, Saturn had already announced that they were closing their doors. Take heart, hatchback fans, since rumors are stirring that the Opel Astra may again grace these shores, this time with a Buick badge on its body.

2009 Pontiac G8 GXP

2009 Pontiac G8 GXP

2009 Pontiac G8 GXP

It's just a wee bit sad that the best Pontiac performance sedan of the modern age was also the last. As with the Saturn Astra, the G8 leads one to wonder what could have been if Pontiac had been selling cars like the G8 GXP all along. If you're lucky enough to own one today, our advice is this: park it in a hermetically sealed garage, because the G8 GXP will likely out-perform your other investments.

2009 Pontiac Solstice

2009 Pontiac Solstice

2009 Pontiac Solstice Coupe

If you're old enough to remember the MGB GT, chances are good that you fell in love with the design of the Pontiac Solstice Coupe. Featuring a removable targa roof panel, the Solstice Coupe offered open-air motoring with a bit more practicality than the Solstice convertible. It wasn't a perfect design (you couldn't store the roof panel in the car, for example), but it was unlike anything we'd seen from Detroit in years. If you can find a Solstice Coupe GXP, our advice is to buy it at once, since they're already collector's items.

2009 Infiniti FX

2009 Infiniti FX

2009 Infiniti FX

Restyled and updated for the 2009 model year, Infiniti's mid-size crossover continues to struggle for market share. Sales in 2010 were off of sales in 2009, which says quite a bit when you factor in economic conditions. Even lowering the FX's base price in September of 2010 didn't significantly help to boost sales, which is a shame. If you can get past the muscular-flank look, the Infiniti FX is a superb choice for a mid-size crossover--just not a popular one.

2009 HUMMER H3T

2009 HUMMER H3T

2009 HUMMER H3T

General Motors couldn't have picked a worse time to launch a mid-size pickup version of their HUMMER H3. With a five-foot bed, the H3T lacked the credentials to be a serous work truck or a serious toy hauler, and its 134-inch wheelbase meant that it wasn't particularly nimble off-road, either. Perhaps the H3T, which defined excess for the H3 product line, was a fitting send-off for the HUMMER brand.

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