I recently rented a midsize sedan from Hertz. Hoping for a go in the latest Fusion, I was instead placed into a new Camry, though it may have been a 2007 Camry. Differences between the two are only discernible to Toyota engineers, though a new campaign gives dealers the ability to tell them apart using a VIN decoder and a magnifying glass.
As I was driving the new/old Camry, I realized something: the phenomenon of cars that look like older versions of themselves isn’t unique to the Camry. In fact, I submit that 2012 was the year of the mediocre redesign. Naturally, I have several highly anecdotal examples to back up my grandiose assertion.
Forget about the Camry. Let’s start with the Camry’s arch-rival, the Honda Accord, which was redesigned for 2013. Allegedly. As far as I can tell, the only real revisions are a lane change camera that probably cost $9 from China, and new rear tail lights that cost nothing because they were designed three years ago by Hyundai.
In all the whining about the 2012 Civic, the automotive press largely failed to mention perhaps its biggest flaw: it looks exactly the same as the 2011 Civic from virtually every angle. This is especially troubling because the previous model was such an enormous leap forward in the compact car world; something of a new refrigerator with ice in the door to a 1920s icebox. By comparison, the 2012 Civic is a stainless steel fridge that seems new and cool until you find out it can no longer display your magnets.
While you might think it’s hard to find a car more innocuously redesigned than the Accord and Camry, that car is the new Volkswagen Beetle. Pitched as more masculine than the old model, it’s actually exactly the same, although now it has uglier wheels. And maybe this time the brake lights will work.
The new Silverado’s tepid redesign has already been covered all over the automotive press, so there’s no need to mention it here. Of course, that won’t stop me from doing it anyway. The most important point is that I was wrong in an earlier article when I said the Silverado has no new engines. In fact, Chevrolet is replacing last year’s 4.3-liter V6, 5.3-liter V8 and 6.2-liter V8 with a new 4.3-liter V6, 5.3-liter V8 and 6.2-liter V8. In other words, the engines are getting the same “redesign” as the truck.
Meanwhile, Land Rover followed up its highly successful third-generation Range Rover with a beautifully-redesigned fourth-generation model: the 2012 Ford Explorer.
While the latest BMW 3- and 5-Series models are very different from their predecessors, they’re now identical to each other. Based on my real-world driving experiences, turn signals remain a very unpopular option on both cars.
After seven years, Porsche customers finally laid their eyes on the new 911, only to discover it looks just like the old 911 except with entire paragraphs spelled out on the back. Of course, the evolutionary 911 never changes much; instead it simply grows larger, wider, and more powerful with each passing year. Kind of like Warren Buffett. And like a share of Berkshire A, it also keeps getting more expensive.
It wasn’t just lookalike styling that made 2012 redesigns mediocre. The Nissan Pathfinder traded its trademark towing capacity for bland lines. The Acura RLX traded bland lines for even blander ones. And the Cadillac XTS traded lethargic engines and front-wheel drive architecture for … lethargic engines and front-wheel drive architecture. But without bland lines.
From the above, you might get the impression that I think all 2012 redesigns were bad. That’s not the case. From Escape to Fusion, Ford stands out as the carmaker that’s done a tremendous job this year with clean-sheet redesigns. You’ll agree the next time you go to Hertz. Unless they give you a Camry.
Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, roadtripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute laptime on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.