Vintage Review: CAR Rates The Worst Cars of 1985 – Lada Riva, Reliant Rialto, Citroen 2CV and Skoda Estelle

Many many magazines have been sold by the presence of a Ferrari, Aston Martin, Corvette or Rolls-Royce on the cover, accompanied by “Exclusive First Test” type headlines. But, inevitably, many of us are not buying those cars but are instead buying significantly cheaper cars. How about a comparison test of some of those, and specifically those frequently cited as the “worst car on sale today”? Cue a cover featuring a Skoda Estelle and Reliant Rialto, and four way test them with the Lada Riva and Citroen 2CV.

Picking the four candidates seems to have been straightforward.

First up, the Lada Riva, the current incarnation of the evergreen Fiat 124 derived Lada. Even CAR admits, hesitantly, that it has some positives, even if it was just showing how desirable the 124 was 15 years before. A lot of car, basically put together and as tough as old boots, with a dated driver and passenger experience.

Next up, the home team whipping boy, the Reliant Rialto. Small, not comfortable, not stable, not a good drive, pricey, and few good points. Perhaps that’s not a surprise; perhaps the surprise is such inadequacy was still available for a price higher than an Austin Metro. For loyal buyers only, and then only if you had just a motorcycle license.

Faring better was the Citroen 2CV, a perennial motoring journalist favorite, even if many did not get it or could compute the attraction on a rational basis. For comfort for four people, with no inclination to speed, perhaps. But its appeal really only worked for those looking back, not forward. After all, Citroen had replaced it twice (Dyane and Visa) and it did not have long to live.

And perhaps the surprise of the pack – the Skoda Estelle. The Estelle was a facelift of the 120, itself derived from the 100 first built in 1969 (not based on the Dauphine design as bought from Renault, as the article claims). Not only was it very good value, but it was also well equipped, well finished and, perhaps surprisingly, judged to be well engineered. It was hindered principally by cross wind stability and lift off oversteer – the target market might have encountered the first but likely not have driven in a manner to meet the second. You can see why the “I bought a new Skoda for the price of a used Escort and don’t regret it” letters were common in the magazines in the 70s and 80s.

So, CAR gave the win to the Citroen. But were they right?