I drove one for years. His name was Victor (Victor Yugo- never once got a chuckle or even recognition- welcome to Alabama).
There were two reasons I bought him. The first and foremost was the price of course (the one I bought was about $4600 by the time you added tax and fees, this in 1987 [roughly $8500in 2007 USD]), which of course was far cheaper than any other new car. Only slightly less important was the fact that the Subaru dealership, which owned the Yugo franchise for the city, was eager to get rid of them and therefore approved me even though my credit rating was “Stop, thief!”, and nobody else in town would give me credit for any car new or used.
As for the car itself: the worst part was parts. I had a major accident in the car a couple of months after buying it, which had nothing to do with any fault of the car itself (had a lot to do with my inexperience driving stick), and while no person was hurt (thanks be to All) the car was badly damaged, basically to the point of “one more ding on the side and the adjustor would have totalled” it instead of recommending repair. I wish that he had totalled it, because even though the car was fully insured it took several months to get it fixed, during which the car just sat FUBAR in the parking lot of my apartment, the reason being that nobody in town (not even the Subaru place) worked on them or could even get most of the parts for them! They could get used body parts (though the insurance company insisted that they couldn’t use them) but the engines had to be ordered from Yugoslavia (which was still in existence in those days but is today called “New Hinkleyville”). Because there were some oddities unique to the Yugo transmission not all mechanics would work on them either. That was a major pain in the ass/biatch.
I finally got it fixed after months of waiting. So, taking for granted that a 8500 (in 2007 USD) car is going to be no frills and that it was tiny and had lots of irritating cosmetic faults [the window knob coming off, all things kind of cheesy) here's the part that might surprise you: it was far from the worst car I ever drove. The honor of worst would probably go to a 1980 Chevette that I bought when it was only 5 years old and that died after just under two years, causing me to buy the Yugo, but I've driven a couple of other U.S. made clunkers over the years (a Ford Festiva for instance) that were certainly no better than the Yugo when they had lower mileage and were about the same age.
Some of its quirks- the gas gauge stopped working [so you always had to remember how much gas you had or you'd be by the side of the road] and the clutch breaking one night (I stepped on it to stop and it just stayed there) may or may not have had to do with the accident. Also, I have never been broker in my life than I was when I drove that car so I never had the money to fix anything about it or if I did it was through jacklegs, which should probably be added in its defense. However, with only occasional work it lasted for almost five years and was still running a couple of years after I sold it (not very fast and I wouldn't want to risk driving it to New Mexico and back) but I did drive it on several 300-400 mile round trips and usually without incident.
Two things about the Yugo I have actually, believe it or not, missed on the far more expensive ones I've driven (none of them related to engine or spaciousness obviously and I'm sure the features were because of it being such a cheap car, but I miss them nonetheless). One was that you had to lock your car door with the key, thus making it impossible to lock your keys inside. The other was that it was impossible to leave your headlights on as they automatically went off when you turned off the ignition.
And of course gas mileage, which is hardly surprising since it was a stick and weighed 18 pounds: it could get over 40 mpg on the Interstate, and though at 80 mph or more you felt you were in the Enterprise attempting time travel, up to about 70 mph it wasn't bad. It also had the best steering of any car without power steering i've ever driven.
Absolute least favorite thing about it: the &*@##ing tire jack. I honestly don’t think that Dean Kamen, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford working together for a month could figure out how to use that damned thing. (I bought a hydraulic jack when I could afford it.) And the A-C, which even when it worked didn’t work well (rolling down the windows worked much better) and took a good 10 mph off your maximum speed.
Incidentally you haven’t lived until you’ve driven yourself and 4 mental patients up hill in an un-airconditioned Yugo. I did that many times, often leading everyone in a group sing of “Hit the Road Jack” as a DREAM TEAM homage (which 2 out of 5 mental patients I knew at the time loved and 1 out of 5 felt was stealing their soul).
So, synopsis and analogy: they weren’t great cars, but had they been more easily serviced they probably would have been better, and for the price you paid it wasn’t horrible. Think of it as getting a $35 hotel room in Manhattan on New Years Eve: the fact that there’s no room service, the mattress is lumpy, the blanket’s thin and torn, and the room reeks of cigarette smoke shouldn’t surprise you negatively nearly as much as the fact there’s in-room coffee, a flat screen TV with HBO, and a private bathroom that works and seems reasonably clean should surprise you positively, and that’s kind of like the Yugo.
I actually miss Victor sometimes, mainly for some very fun memories. GOD STRIKE ME DEAD BEFORE I EVER HAVE TO GO THROUGH THOSE TIMES AGAIN FINANCIALLY, but all in all, I have some nostalgia for them as well and Vic’s a part of that. And also the only car I ever traded for a used VCR, a gold necklace, and $40 in cash.