The next time you find yourself leafing through your copy of Wikipedia, take a close look at some of the antique car pages. The early days of the automobile were undoubtedly exciting, but change was actually very slow for individual makes and models. The car synonymous with brass era automobiles, the Ford Model T, ran its course for 19 years with hardly any cosmetic changes. Beyond some tweaks to the hood, cowl, and fenders, a ‘27 Model T can be easily confused with a model 10 years older. Think of it as the Porsche 911 design philosophy.
In order to catch the Model T’s sales success, automakers quickly discovered that updating the aesthetics of a car is a sure-fire way to turn would-be shoppers into proud new-car owners. General Motors is generally considered to be the first adherent of what essentially boils down to thinly veiled planned obsolescence, and (outside of Europe, curiously enough) this has been a staple of car-industry business plans ever since. We’ve taken a look at some of our favorite redesigns over the past 25 years and picked out the ten most dramatic.
10. 2004 to 2005 Chevrolet Corvette
Chevrolet’s Corvette has been instantly recognizable throughout the 60-plus years and six redesigns since its 1953 New York Auto Show debut. We particularly like the second-generation Stingray that debuted in ‘63, but the sixth-generation redesign for 2005 revived a couple of design features that hadn’t been seen since 1962: exposed headlights and a power convertible top. The ’05 ‘Vette looks much sharper and more dramatic than the 2004 version, and we think the 6.0-liter 400-hp V8, which offered a 186-mph top speed as well as semi-reasonable fuel economy, helped put a bit of an understandable sneer on its face.
9. 1998 to 1999 Honda Odyssey
At first glance, the two cars above may look like one of those “spot the 5 differences” puzzles that you start working on after reading the Sunday Funnies. Try using those cars to move into your new apartment, however, and the differences become astoundingly clear. While the 1998 Honda Odyssey was arguably nothing more than a station wagon best suited for taxi service, the 1999 iteration was ready to cater to the needs of soccer moms across America. Built on a wheelbase 7 inches longer, the 1999 Odyssey dwarfed the ‘98. It was 4 inches taller, 5 inches wider, nearly 14 inches longer, and—most impressively—offered almost 61 more cubic feet of maximum cargo volume. Add to this the introduction of sliding doors in place of the ‘98’s standard-opening car doors, and it’s evident that while most of the cars on this list experienced dramatic redesigns, the late-’90s overhaul of the Odyssey changed the vehicle’s entire essence.
8. 2014 to 2016 Nissan Maxima
The Maxima went on a one-year hiatus at the end of 2014, looking a little like an upscale version of the Altima and featuring a pretty standard sedan profile. Then it returned for the 2016 model year with a look totally its own. Nissan is moving the Maxima toward what it deems the “Sports Sedan” concept, starting with dramatic V-lines on the hood and grille and narrower, swept-back headlights. You’ll notice the floating roof and streamlined silhouette, two decidedly futuristic styling cues. The Maxima’s redesign is one of those situations where it might actually be appropriate to use the phrase “a whole new beast.”
7. 1988 to 1989 Hyundai Sonata
Hyundai brought the Sonata to the U.S. in 1988 as an ’89 model-year vehicle, and that car has improved dramatically over the years. The fifth-generation 2006 Sonata‘s U.S. launch coincided with the opening of Hyundai’s first U.S. assembly plant in Montgomery, Alabama, and marked the Sonata’s growth from a midsize to a large sedan. Drivers particularly liked the ’06 Sonata’s smooth highway ride, and it won awards from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Consumers Digest, Consumer Guide, and MotorWeek, among others. The 2006 version certainly looks better on the outside, but its improved mechanicals and greater capacities over the 2005 model made it vastly more appealing to U.S. buyers.
6. 2009 to 2010 Subaru Outback
After sixteen years of production, the Subaru Outback finally became a crossover instead of a wagon in 2010. Subaru took its flagship model and made it taller, a bit shorter, gave it added legroom and even a little more ground clearance. On a whole, the 2010 model looks stockier, as if the 2009 Outback had a slightly younger sibling who likes to visit the gym. But the Outback still basically managed to avoid becoming a full-fledged SUV, instead settling squarely into the crossover niche, where it has found appeal with droves of practicality-minded folks living up north.
5. 2012 to 2013 Ford Escape
If you’ve ever wondered what the difference between an SUV and a crossover actually looks like, just take a look at the changes the Ford Escape went through from the ‘12 model to the ‘13 model. Ever since the Escape was introduced in 2001, Ford had been marketing it adamantly as an SUV, even though its platform was based on the underpinnings of a Mazda Capella. Taking much of its design from the European Ford Kuga, the Escape forewent the rugged truck-like grill for a much sleeker and more European look. As the Escape shed its rugged SUV style, Ford finally felt more comfortable marketing it as a crossover.
4. 1993 Dodge RAM 150 to 1994 Dodge Ram 1500
Do you remember the moment the pickup truck went from a pure utility vehicle to a common, comfortable, and even luxurious choice for suburban middle-class Americans everywhere? Well, it happened around 1994, with the introduction of Dodge’s Ram 1500. Dodge very deliberately steered the Ram 1500’s design away from the typical pickup look that every other American-brand truck was flaunting, including its predecessor, the RAM 150. The F-150 maintained that classic work-truck look from the 1980s up until about the 1998 model, when it started to take on the more modern design cues that Dodge introduced with the Ram 1500. Likewise, Chevrolet would wait until the introduction of the of the Silverado 1500 in ‘99 to welcome its own version of the modern pickup truck. Dodge was a bit ahead of the curve here, and it’s no wonder the look caught on. The ‘94 Ram 1500 had a much more approachable and comfortable feel about it than the previous work-first pickups. The truck looked just as powerful, capable, and hard-working as ever, but also had a sense of style that appealed to non-work-truck needs.
3. 1992 to 1993 Toyota Supra
The drastic change the Toyota Supra underwent in ‘93 did not detract from the reputation it had among racing enthusiasts for power, performance, and customizability. In fact, it only gave further encouragement for alterations and added power with its more modern and rounded look. The updated Supra simply looked faster than the ’92 version, which is saying a lot. It probably also helped when the ‘93 Supra played a supporting role in “The Fast and the Furious” that really shows off its modern racing physique. With a much more rigid body and a bulbous front end, the ‘93 Supra looked like a whole new model. The transition between the two cars was anything but gradual.
2. 2004 Chrysler 300M to 2005 Chrysler 300
Chrysler phased its premium 300M sedan into the Chrysler 300 back in 2005—while we list the 300 as a separate model from the 300M, it was more of a continuation than anything else, but with a hugely altered look. The pre-2005 300M had a rounded, fairly conservative appearance, its small grille tucked between slightly angled headlights. The next year’s 300 showed up with a totally muscular shape somewhat reminiscent of a Rolls-Royce, especially up front. The grille became twice as large, the headlights level set on either side. Even the doors are boxier in shape. There was so much more overall substance to the 300 that it’s a little difficult indeed to know it for the offspring of the 300M model line.
1. 2004 to 2005 Ford Mustang
By the turn of the 21st century, the muscle car was having a crisis: The pony cars of the ’60s were exhibiting a frightening interest in silly ideas like aerodynamics and efficiency. While some, like the Pontiac GTO, were mercifully put down before it was too late, other makes weren’t as lucky (take a look at a 1982 Dodge Challenger, if you’re feeling brave). The 1993 – 2004 Mustang generation was the primary offender. With its tapered front end, missing B-pillar, long trunk lid, and headlights which may as well have been pulled from a Ford Windstar, the Mustang looked soft and—with the addition of a power bulge to the hood—unbalanced. Thankfully, the 2005 Mustang arrived with the most dramatic redesign in the past 25 years. Gone was the sloped front end. In came an upright (if not slightly forward-leaning) grill, housing round headlights reminiscent of the original generation. A thick B-pillar, fastback, and short trunk lid offered balance and helped put the muscle back in muscle car.
What car redesign was most successful to you, and why?
–Chase Hammond, John Harrington, Matt Smith, and Steve Halloran
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Used Chevrolet Corvette
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Used Dodge Ram 1500 and Ram 150
Used Toyota Supra
Used Chrysler 300 and 300M
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