By on November 1, 2018

A change is gonna come, the song goes, and it may as well be playing for all cars popular enough to avoid an abrupt discontinuation two or three years after their launch. Those sorry rides never got a chance to spawn a second generation or undergo a styling change. For the vast majority of car models, however, a design refresh halfway through a development cycle is the norm.

Be it a barely noticeable tweak or a full-on face transplant, rare is the OEM that doesn’t toss out a few bucks to make an older car look newer (or at least different). Different, it should be noted, does not always mean better. Sometimes the operation fails. Unlike a face transplant, in this scenario it’s other people who reject the new tissue.

It might not shock you to learn the inspiration for this QOTD: the 2019 Hyundai Elantra — the worked-over, triangle-obsessed successor to what was, in my jaundiced view, a very handsome model. You might have seen it in our Ace of Base post yesterday.

When the sixth-generation Elantra appeared for the 2016 model year, applause greeted Hyundai’s decision to ditch the soft-serve styling of the fifth-gen for a wider, meaner look. Suddenly, the Elantra was a serious car. The broad grille, thin vertical vents, and narrow headlights gave the model an aura of menace that its low-torque 2.0-liter couldn’t hope to back up. Hell, I stopped on the street the other night to admire a black model with fresh snows and steelies.

A carriage for economy-minded mobsters, bless its little heart.

Then came the 2019 model, which looks like it accidentally ran through a series of mirrors and plate glass windows. Someone put pressure on those wounds! It’s quite the opposite of the 2018 Sonata, which vastly improved upon the deadly dull countenance of the new-for-2016 seventh-gen sedan.

Yes, eye of the beholder, and all that. I’m the guy who thinks the bland-as-boiled-potatoes 2016-2018 Lexus ES wears its massive spindle grille well, so there’s no telling where personal opinion might fall on a particular model. Take a shot, B&B.

Which mid-cycle refresh turned a looker into a homely dog?

[Images: Hyundai]

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82 Comments on “QOTD: Refresh, or Revolt?...”


  • avatar
    seth1065

    sadly almost all of them, but my vote will always be a Nissan maxima , overtime they change it I say what an ugly car and when the next one comes out I say , wow the older one looks way better.

  • avatar
    RedRocket

    The politically-incorrect hot takes on the face of the 2019 Elantra almost write themselves.

  • avatar
    cicero1

    Both the Malibu and Cruze – not dogs, but BORING.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I find the Toyota front fascia gross. I have a lot more respect for Hyundai when they make every attempt to be who they are and not Toyota.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I usually barely pay attention to mid-cycle refreshes with one exception. When they eliminate amber rear turn signals for the US market. My 82 Celebrity had them – then they went away in the first refresh. My wife’s 2005 Vibe had them – then they went away in a refresh. Heck even the very American Delta 88 had them at various times from 1977 to at least 1991 but the designers would keep taking them away.

    To me it is a safety thing, flashing orange gets attention better than flashing red.

    • 0 avatar
      ptschett

      I’m theoretically inclined to this but as a practical matter I prefer combined lights for cars prior to the present era of LED lighting. US drivers are used to combined brake/turn signal lights where the signal speed changes and indicates that a shared brake/turn bulb is burned out, and will merrily continue along with multiple failed brake lights when the separated turn signal still works as normal.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        My hot button this comes from my 2nd car being a 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme sedan. The 3 segmented taillight had ONE bulb in it that did brake, turn signal, and taillight duty. So if it burned out you were completely #[email protected]*ed on that side of the vehicle until you replaced it.

        Add that to getting some really crappy bulbs that had to be replaced quickly and you can see what that pi$$ed me off as a college kid.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      So what are you rambling on about here? The amber turn signals haven’t been eliminated on this model. Turn signals are with the tail lamps the reverse lamps are in the lower fascia.

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      Principal:

      You are correct. It is only logical.
      If you are abreast a car in the next lane and see his rear light go “ON” as you continue to by pass the car, if his rear turns are red, you dont know if he his braking or preparing to go into your lane.

      If his turn signals are ‘AMBER’ You know immediately that he s coming over. beware.

      Especially important as most cars do not have side repeater light.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Steph,

    Please do more of these but for individual facelifts/redesigns. Motortrend used to do Refreshing or Revolting columns but they turned their commenting feature off and still asked us for our opinion for the better part of a year with no way to speak. Obviously I stopped patronizing them when they eliminated commenting.

  • avatar
    earthwateruser

    Photos frequently don’t do justice to car designs. I’ve seen photos of cars that appear very ugly, but then when I see them in person I’m surprised at how much better they look. I’ll hold off on judging the new Elantra until I see one live. But I think I prefer the 2018 version.

    • 0 avatar
      tmport

      This is very true. And for that matter, I don’t think the 2017-18 Elantra photographs especially well. Or at least, it’s one of those cars that can look very homely without proper glamor shots. But in person, it’s an elegant car.

  • avatar
    MartyToo

    The 2010 refresh of the Accord was one of the most hideous in recent memory. The glued on reflectors that extended into the trunk were laughable. It reminded me of the every 2 year refresh that hit the GM cars in the 60’s.

    The worst example of that was the gross bumper treatment of the ’68 Impala. Swallowing taillights into the bumper was at its worst in this model. The refresh even extended into the interior where the buttons were made crash safe in order to minimize impaling the passengers on the sharp metal of ’67 and before.

    At any rate it’s a tall order to freshen up a good design. And a bad design usually shines through any attempt to put a little powder on a shiny nose or mask ugly eyes with liner and mascara.

  • avatar
    jeoff

    When the Fox-body mustangs went to the rounded-box look in ‘87, that was a turn for the worse.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    The war on bumpers continues.

  • avatar
    NoDoors

    Prius refresh was horrible.

  • avatar
    bkojote

    The 2006 era refresh of the Chrysler PT Cruiser comes to mind. While the PT Cruiser’s styling is polarizing (though I’ll happily defend it as a well designed car), the refresh to “bring it on brand” by slapping on the Chrysler grille and peanut headlights made it look like what it was – the now-fully-DCX’d Chrysler of the 2000’s fighting with the Chrysler of the 90’s.

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

      That’s an excellent example.

    • 0 avatar
      WildcatMatt

      Do the (minor) exterior changes to the 2007 Chrysler Pacifica count?

      Although I applaud their willingness to try something different with the hood strakes, the net effect was rather ugly.

    • 0 avatar
      MLS

      The second-generation Sebrings (sedan, convertible, and coupe) saw similar treatment. The cars were handsome enough upon introduction for the 2001 model year, but the 2004 mid-cycle facelifts grafted on scalloped headlights, larger grilles (that exposed the underlying foam absorbers), and a general sense of incoherence.

      2001:
      https://s.aolcdn.com/dims-global/dims3/GLOB/legacy_thumbnail/788×525/quality/85/https://s.aolcdn.com/commerce/autodata/images/USB10CDC061B0101.jpg

      2004:
      https://s.aolcdn.com/dims-global/dims3/GLOB/legacy_thumbnail/788×525/quality/85/https://s.aolcdn.com/commerce/autodata/images/USB40CDC061E0101.jpg

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’ll stick solely to “refreshes” and not “generational” changes.

    0. ’91 Firebird. GM messed up a very attractive car by tacking on a grimaced, ill-fitting “beak” with poorly match paint.

    1. 2019 Camaro. I’ve seen it in person. I’ve seen it in photos. It’s really bad. Why buy a compromised cartoon that’s also ugly?

    2. ’16 Lexus GS and LX. They are like the hellish Cenobite versions of a normal car.

  • avatar
    open country

    Worst redesign since BMW went from E39 to E60.

  • avatar
    WallMeerkat

    A car that a few of you may only recognise as your hire car or taxi in Europe, the Skoda Octavia. Think of it as a liftback hatch VW Jetta, a popular fleet car across the Atlantic.

    The current generation released in 2013, the front was a bit bland. Not ugly nor offensive, but reminiscent of a 1990s Volvo.

    VW group took it upon themselves to add some drama to the front with the 2017 Facelift which is reminiscent of the pre-facelift W212 Mercedes E class, with the split squared off headlights, except that the centre-most lights are the taller of the pair. Unfortunately it just doesn’t really work. Some black trim between the lights might make it look better, but as it is being replaced soon, their focus is on their recently released SUVs, and Volkswagen themselves were concerned that they were eating into their market, it won’t be facelifted further.

  • avatar
    volvo

    1987 Volvo 240 series when they went from bare dual headlight bulbs to enclosed Bulbs and Reflectors thus ensuring that within 3-5 years the headlight covering would haze and absorb a significant amount of the already poor light output. And yes the haze is superficial and can be removed with proper technique but that process also removes whatever UV protection was applied initially and so hazing comes back quite rapidly.

  • avatar
    Tomifobia

    Among the low-end bottom feeders, I’ll nominate the 2003 Cavalier. Chevy managed to take it from an innocuously pleasant-looking sedan to something that brought to mind the “before” photo in a plastic surgeon’s brochure.

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

      This is the one that popped into my mind, too. The ’95-99 Cavy was bland, but it actually looked decent – even elegant in its simplicity – for its mission in life.

      The 2000 fascia redo started mucking that up, and it went off the rails completely for 2003-2005. Why GM wasted money it didn’t have to redo the Cavalier’s nose and tail twice in five years is baffling.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I’ve never really noticed Cavaliers, but your comment piqued my interest and…yeah. Instead of mucking up that nose GM should have used the money to buy ignition switches that didn’t tend to fail catastrophically.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Agreed. The Cavalier went from looking like the almost-attractive smart girl in class to looking like the kid who was often seen licking the windows on the short bus, and who never went anywhere in school without an adult companion.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    Being a keen observer of cars since the 60’s, it is a pretty safe bet that a “facelift” will be simply desicration of the original design. Prime example is the 67-68 Camaro. They were a very clean and pleasing design. Then came the 69 facelift. ugh. The 66-67 Tornado compared to its subsequent hideous facelifts is another example.
    Very few facelifts ever look better than the original. The redesign of the 96. Taurus a few years later was an improvement.
    Another possible exception? The rumored current Prius face lift. Heh, what are the odds of it improving?

  • avatar
    JimZ

    the 2018 Mustang. I wasn’t a fan of the 2015 either, but the ’18 took everything I disliked about the car’s EU-compliant face and made it worse.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Well while we are on that path, both the facelifted 5th and 6th gen Camaros were steep downgrades from their original designs. I’d be curious to know if facelifts actually provide sales lifts. I feel like most people would be happy with some new wheels and colors.

    • 0 avatar
      MartyToo

      This Mustang post caused a brain pop for me. Many remember the cute metal detailing on the sides of the 59 and 60 T-birds, the 61, 62 and 63 T-birds and the scoops on the 63-67 Vettes. But the silliest version of this type of year delineating refresh was the 66 Mustang. The 65 was sublime. The designers knew it, couldn’t refresh it without breaking it and so they changed the chrome on the side panel. ICK!

  • avatar
    scott25

    The Koreans are usually the prime example of this (see the 2000’s refreshes of the Sonata and Optima, which usually just consisted of slathering on chrome and making the headlights and taillights uglier). Mitsubishi has been bad lately as well, due to extended model lifespans. The Mirage is particularly depressing. Another current bad example is the 86/BRZ, which looks like it got beaten up.

    Two of my least favourites were the refreshes of the Aztek and Element, where they eliminated the plastic cladding (and added the chrome grill to the Element). It eliminated most of their character and they looked naked without it.

    Also agree on the original Toronado above. A lot of 50’s and 60’s refreshes were unsuccessful. But the ones that went right, went right (‘57 Chevy?)

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Aztek didn’t so much eliminate the cladding as paint it to hide it.

      The final model year refresh of the Bonneville removed the cladding entirely and I think made it quite handsome.

  • avatar
    TheDutchGun

    05-09 mustang was better looking than 10-14. I feel bad for anyone who paid full price for a 2010 GT. Downgrade in appearance and the coyote didn’t come around until 2011.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I disagree. I think the ’10-’14 was considerably improved, and the ’13 and ’14 were particularly nice. But the ’05-’09 still looks great and I wouldn’t be embarrassed to drive one at all.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      I preferred the ’10-’14 as it had less of the “sad puppy eyes” look up front.

      but- I ordered a 2010 GT. a couple months after I took delivery the 2011 5.0 was announced.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Ouch! I think Ford should have held the facelift back until 2011, when the Coyote motor was ready. The pre-facelift version still looked good, and would have easily been able to carry them through 2010.

      • 0 avatar
        TheDutchGun

        My main gripe was with the rear, personally. I’m speaking about the GT level as well. The base model was a significant improvement, also more in 2011 than 2010 due to the added dual tail pipes and increased power in the v6.

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    I disliked the ’80 Firebird refresh, with its four separate headlights and protruding bumper, after the beautiful ’78-’79 Smokey and the Bandit version.

    I also disliked the ’70 Riviera, so bloated looking after the reasonably attractive ’69. The Toronado did not do much better; I disliked the ’70 Toronado compared with the ’69, but my family bought one anyway, as the ’70 Riviera was so hideous.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    The original Hyundai Tiburon of 1996 was not bad looking. Though a little on the bland side, it committed no egregious styling mistakes. Then came the bug-eyed and freaky 1999 facelift. Yikes! What happened? Did someone slip LSD into the stylists’ coffee?
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e9/2000-2001_Hyundai_Tiburon.jpg/1024px-2000-2001_Hyundai_Tiburon.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      WallMeerkat

      This exactly!

      I always thought that perhaps they’d been keeping an eye over their shoulder at the Celica, while the bug eyed Celica T200 was being run out, Hyundai decided that quad headlights was the way to facelift.

      In much the same way, I always felt that the Impreza owed something to the Corolla, originally with similar slim lights, then they tried the big ugly round bug eyes of the 90s E110 Euro Corolla https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_Corolla_(E110)#/media/File:1998_Toyota_Corolla_Sportif_1.3_Front_(1).jpg

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    My top pick is the 2019 Chevrolet Camaro. The 2016 model looked handsome and menacing, if not quite as confident and effortlessly-styled as its Ford Mustang cohort. For 2019, they gave the regular versions a freaky, Frankenstein-esque front fascia. The SS model looks even worse. And the less said about the rear fascia, the better.

    On the upper-end of the spectrum, I really liked the Bentley Mulsanne when it came out in 2011. But when Bentley gave it a facelift in 2016, things became seriously awkward. The flattening of the grille makes the Bentley’s front end look bulbous and unrefined.

    Meanwhile, it’s interesting to me when cars don’t get a refresh at all because they have short lifecycles. The outgoing “F15” BMW X5 is one such example. I know no one cares because it’s an SUV and a Bimmer. But the F15 debuted from 2014 and lasted through 2018. It got technology upgrades, but no actual facelift or “Life-Cycle Impulse” in BMW-speak. The only notable change is that on the earlier models, the six-cylinder gasoline and diesel models had circular tailpipes, while the eight-cylinder and plug-in hybrid used larger square tailpipes. For 2017, all models got the square tailpipes.

    • 0 avatar
      WallMeerkat

      Never really liked the front end of the Mulsanne. Traditionally Bentleys had round headlights all the same size, like the Flying Spur or the early 2000s Continental GT, and were good looking.

      However the single big round headlight styling treatment (with a smaller round light) looks like a cross between a London Taxi and a bug eye Impreza. Not good looking. Not elegant.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    One comes to mind. I love the 2010-2012 Taurus, but the ’13 refresh doesn’t look good. I don’t care for the front end, I don’t care for the instrument cluster. The rear looks fine. The only 2013+ I find decent looking is the SHO.

    I also liked the 1995-1997 Contour more than the refresh. Same with the Explorer.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      In its final year, Ford cost cut the hell out of the Taurus.

      Dual note horns? -Gone (Same with 2019 Explorer and Police Versions)
      Center Console Light? Gone
      Leather? -Cheaper

      And probably other items that I’m forgetting.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    1937 Ford was awful compared to the beautiful 1936. They didn’t get it right again until 1939.

  • avatar
    PentastarPride

    I was a little disappointed when the second-generation 300 was refreshed in 2015. The taillights and rear end sort of lost their distictiveness and almost looked Cadillac-ish. I also wasn’t sold on the honeycomb grille and front end with all the rounded-off edges. I also heavily preferred the original 2011-14 guages and steering wheel. That said, it has kind of grown on me and after all, it’s still quite the looker compared to other fullsize luxury cars and is definitely my first pick when I retire my 2013 200.

    With the Charger, it’s the opposite. I never really liked the design language of the pre-refresh of the second generation, and didn’t like the first generation at all (my jadedness from the discontinuation of the Intrepid may have been a small factor in that). After the 2015 refresh, I can say that I do like the design language of the of the Charger. However, I don’t like it enough to choose it over the 300. The 300 just has more panache and is a woefully underrated luxury car.

    On that note, what’s with Hyundai’s fascination in grafting industrial exhaust fan shutters onto the front ends of their cars? I think it started with their Genesis sedan.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I think the interior is markedly better on the 2015 LX cars, especially the Challenger. But I do think the revised front fascia on the 300 looks awkward.

      However, at some point (I think it was 2017) Chrysler began putting a unique set of front and rear bumpers on 300S HEMI models, and I think it looks better.

      It looks like this:
      https://bit.ly/2yJnpy4

  • avatar
    George B

    2016 Honda Accord. Never understood why Honda spent development money and retooling cost to make the grill, tail lights, and wheels look worse. I’d have kept the 2013 grill, upgraded the headlights, and used the attractive machined alloy wheels from the hybrid on non-hybrid EX and EX-L trim levels.

  • avatar
    Tomifobia

    Ah, one more. Basically the same car, when Ford changed the Five Hundred’s clean (if unexciting) front end into the reborn Taurus’ wall-eyed “Chromer Simpson” face. Yeesh.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Spot on. I always thought the original Five Hundred was an excellent design all around, and just a great car overall, let down somewhat by a weak-ish engine and the optional CVT was always a buzzkill. I thought it was quite handsome from all angles, and I loved the packaging (huge trunk and interior, great visibility). All it needed was the 3.5L from the refresh, without all of the ugliness to go with it.

  • avatar

    Did anyone noticed that Fusion was also updated for 2017 and a bit more in 2019?

  • avatar
    Dan

    A couple of standout uglies in my book:

    2004-ish GMT800 Silverado, wherein GM took their excellent evolution of the GMT400 and went for angry instead (why?) but actually hit squinty.

    2013-ish Grand Cherokee, wherein Chrysler finally addressed the godawful gearing, and also addressed that their bold American truck (SUV, whatever) looked like a bold American truck instead of an Audi.

    2015-ish Chrysler 300, wherein Chrysler looked at what BHPH owners were doing to make their cars worse and made most of them factory standard. The 2011 was a classy car. This wasn’t.

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