By on October 30, 2019

Face lifts are a tricky balancing act when it comes to automobiles. A well-done lift can enhance looks while bringing youth or perhaps modernity to what was previously dated. But taken too far, results can end up cartoony, or even grotesque. We got a small dose of this particular topic recently on a Question of the Day post that covered bad Nineties sports car design from America. Specifically, we took a look at how Ford altered the appearance of the Mercury Cougar four times over its last few years as a personal luxury coupe. Today, we are all about face lifts and how they can go wrong.

The better examples will blend into your memory as something that was notable and yet also forgettable; that’s how mild redesigns are supposed to be. There’s a face lift that stands out to yours truly in a bad way:

It was a modification on the third generation Range Rover. When the new L322 Range Rover succeeded the P38 for the 2003 model year in North America, it brought with it good looks of slab-sided modernity, and a size more befitting its price and competition when compared to its smaller predecessor. But Range Rover has always been known for long product cycles, so numerous adjustments were made over the years. The first couple in 2005 and 2007 were subtle enough, but in 2010 things got radical. Here’s the result:

Gills on the sides increased in size, headlamps sprouted LED growths, the grille adopted a Gillette look, and everything became a bit too detailed (fiddly, in British English). Things got worse from there via more adjustments and additional trims, until the brand new model was introduced in 2013. What are your selections for facelift ruination in the automotive sector?

[Images: Land Rover]

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59 Comments on “QOTD: Automotive Face Lifts Gone Wrong?...”

  • avatar

    Facelifts are funny things. When fresh they create some excitement and maybe a more youthful appearance that the original item. However they don’t wear well and with the passage of time look even worse (sometimes horribly so) than the original item would have.

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    I think front end on the current Silverado is an abomination. I get that full-size trucks are moving up in size and getting closer and closer to Freightliners every year, but the current Silverado is just ugly.

    The funny thing is, I really like the 2016-2018. Sure, it’s still half-way to a semi truck but there is a cleanliness to the design I find attractive. It got a sort of granite-jawed face I like and it works across all the different option packages – chrome or painted, it still looks good.

    The current model is a mishmash of odd shapes and the giant cross bar across the front of the grill just looks like hell. Especially bad are the base model or work trucks with the black grill and black bumper. They look like something that should be over a cowcatcher or a bulldozer blade. Yuck.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      Fully agree. Rumor is they’ll be rushing a facelift to stage ala Honda Civic from a few years ago.

      It didn’t have to be that bad. Look at the new Ram – they went to a toned-down look and it comes off as refined, even perhaps classy. And Ram sales reflects this.

      GM needs to fire the Silverado design team and whoever put together consumer clinics. Massive failure.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. The new model has stretched the grille both up AND down, from what I recall, by somehow putting the bumper behind the grille, at least visually.

      But then, Toyota is no better and even Ford is too tall and ‘square’ for my taste. I like the looks of the current Colorado by comparison and the ’16-’18 Silverado wasn’t all that much worse at the time. I really thought GM was going to come down to something more sensible but both GM full-sizers have exaggerated their grilles again.

    • 0 avatar

      I saw an ad for the Silverado HD last night. WOW, what an ugly mug! I don’t understand at all what GM is doing, styling wise.

  • avatar

    The current Hyundai Elantra comes to mind.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, this. The pre-current version was a really excellent rendition of a sedan; I saw a few in real life and they were good enough that I thought, “Geez, that’s really pretty nice”. They punched way above their price-class visually. The pointy-triangle-theme on the refresh isn’t awful, but it doesn’t do anything to pull the cars out of their price-class like the previous design did, IMO.

  • avatar

    The least bad thing about range rovers is mid cycle refreshes.

  • avatar

    The RR refresh isn’t _that_ bad. A little busy looking but not as bad as for example the Lexus grille.

  • avatar
    Average Ivan

    The first generation Ford Ranger and Explorer (1983-1992, especially the refresh in 1989) was a winner. It was appropriately truckish for the vehicle on which it faced. After 1992, Ford lost its way and went down the aero rabbit hole.
    The next three generations were, at best, unfortunate designs.

  • avatar

    I’m not normally a popup headlights guy, but when the original NSX was facelifted to the fixed lamps, it totally ruined what was a great looking car.

  • avatar

    The transition from the 2002 to 2003 Chevy Silverado

  • avatar

    Sorry man.
    Cant agree.
    The Range Rover refresh is not bad. It is a good refresh.
    Not perfect, a little busy, but I ll take it.

    PS- A little off topic
    Question: What is worse than the Super Ugly Silverado?
    Answer: The Hideous Heavy Duty Silverado.
    This is an example of Horrible design.
    The design team and the design approver should be FIRED !

    But, having worked at GM for 10 years, I ll assume they got promoted !

  • avatar

    2002-2003 Chevy Cavalier. I have never liked these cars, but when they were refreshed in 2003, what were they thinking?

    Same could be said for the 4th Gen Camaro. The original pointy headlights looked much better than the blobby Chrysler 300M style units that replaced them.

  • avatar

    Range Rovers have only gotten uglier since they stopped having the International Scout to copy from.

    The BMW E46 facelifts were hideous as the poor car became a bridge to the atrocities that would follow it.

  • avatar

    Both the ’95-’05 Cavalier and Sunfire started off decent looking for a cheap GM, but both of their subsequent refreshes got progressively worse.

  • avatar

    The mid-2010’s Camry; when they did the refresh it became this blobby and offensively amorphous thing with the worst DLO fail in recent times (until the cadillac ct5)

  • avatar
    A Scientist

    Fourth Gen Camaro circa 1998…*gags*

    • 0 avatar

      Honestly, I liked the 4th gen model over 3rd and 5th generations. Liked it enough that I bought one and put over 160K miles on it. And personally, I liked having the liftback on it too.

      • 0 avatar
        A Scientist

        I liked the 4th gen too, just not after the ’98 model facelift. At least it had the LS1.

        • 0 avatar

          What was the “facelift”? Better cooling, I hope. Thing HATED hot weather!

          • 0 avatar

            It went from the pointy nose and hooded headlights to the Billy Big-Mouth Bass front end with blobbier headlights. Great mechanical improvements, stylistically a step backwards.

          • 0 avatar

            Sure you weren’t looking at a Chrysler?
            They had a model that looked a lot like the Camaro but had those lights and other shapes. The Camaro didn’t change much with the exception of tri-color taillamps until they dropped the model in, ’03, if I recall.

          • 0 avatar

            The sharp nose was traded out for a curved and jelly bean headlight nose for the refresh.

          • 0 avatar

            I see…. Glad I missed that one. Looks too much like a Chrysler model around the same time.

  • avatar

    In my lifetime, the original Oldsmobile Toronado is the standout example of facelifts gone wrong. The ’65 and ’66 were graceful and beautiful, as per the designer’s intent. Every succeeding facelift added ever more tacked on looking design elements.

    I’ll also mention the 70 Camaro and Firebird. IMHO none of the succeeding facelifts improved on the originals.

  • avatar

    Worst MCE/Refresh/Facelift?

    • 0 avatar

      I kinda like it, but then again I’m not right.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, this Mitsu direction was terrible. I was going to say the 8th gen Galant, but going back and looking at both versions I think I like them both now. But the 9th gen Galant was from the era of this Diamante and sported an awkward blob of a snout for a couple years, followed by refresh with a camouflaged snout meant look a little more normal, to finally a clean design with no snout bulge. Mitsu made a lot of ugly after 2000…

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    Probably the 2008 Dodge Dakota. The 97 was a good looking vehicle, and what DCX didn’t ruin with the 2005 redesign got worse on the refresh for 08. Kind of a shame.

  • avatar

    Ford can sometimes really muck up a mid-cycle refresh. For example…

    1st Gen (in the US) Focus. Decent looking sedan. Refresh added the awful fender “vents”, taillights that didn’t quite work, and a pasted on grille.

    1999 Squared-off Mustang. Tried to reduce some of the aero-blob look of the previous one, but ended up looking like adding Legos to a wad of Silly Putty.

    Third-gen Explorer. Decent looking, but a little generic. The forced oval taillights and other minor tweaks really looked out of place.

    First gen Fusion. Don’t get me started on the grill and lights refresh. They just didn’t “fuse” with the original design.

    Ford isn’t the only one. It kills me to say this, but Mazda knows how to muck up a Miata refresh – excellent original design, but redone lights and grilles, especially on the NC, just didn’t work. The forced “smile” grille still makes me cringe.

    Nissan has a bad habit of just throwing a different set of lights and grilles on as well (especially jarring on the Altimas and Sentras over the years) that don’t work, but the refresh of the 1998-ish Maxima was just awful as well.

  • avatar

    Another answer: 2016 Lexus LX 570. Went from a pretty standard big SUV to the worst-ever application of the predator grille, with layaway-plan-looking 21″ rims added to boot. Too bad, because the facelift was a big upgrade of the interior.

  • avatar

    Cranking up the way-back machine here — Chrysler really botched the 1959 facelifts on the 1957-58 Forward Look cars, from light and graceful to contrived.

    Also agree with the comment on the first-gen Olds Toronado getting progressively worse from the original 66 to the final 70. Then the 71-78s were no improvement either.

    Same with the 66-70 Riviera. The 71-73 boat tails were dramatic if not necessarily graceful from all angles, but what a downgrade the 74-76s were, not to mention the plain 77-78 models.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, we had a 1970 Toronado, and it was so much less attractive than the ’69, which was less attractive than the original two years.
      The upside was that my parents bought the ’70 Toronado instead of replacing our ’64 Riviera with a ’70 Riviera, which was just hideous.
      We ended up keeping the original Riviera until 1996.

  • avatar

    I think Porsche does a great job with face lifts.

    997.1 to 997.2: excellent, minor nips & tucks to the exterior including LED tail lights. Interior has better ICE.

    958.1 to 958.2: I think the later cars look more modern, especially with the shortened and widened rear tail lights.

    Original Testarossa to 512 TR: great ’90s-ification of a very ’80s style.
    512 TR to F512M: awful adoption of F355 cues to a car with ’80s proportions.

    The obvious example of face lifts gone wrong is Countach. I like the 25th Anniversary cars because they’re so OTT, but I respect that the earliest cars were more loyal to the original designer’s intent.

    As to that RR in the post, I’d contend that the update was done to make the big RR more visually similar to the RR Sport, especially as to the perforated grill.

  • avatar

    The original NSX had pop-up headlights then Honda/Acura foolishly updated the car with fixed headlights. One step forward, two steps back.

  • avatar

    !!Saturn Ion!!

    The refresh was so forced that they had to mold chrome “tear ducts” into the refreshed front clip to match the existing headlamp housings. So janky!!

  • avatar

    My neighbor’s wife got a facelift. Now she looks like one of those aliens from Area 51. Told the dude he should have just upgraded to a newer model. That didn’t go well.

  • avatar

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the “botched” RR facelift occurred at the hands of Ford, not too long after being handed the keys to Land Rover. The interior/infotainment also saw a lot of Ford parts being swapped in for the presumably no longer available BMW ones. Say what you will about BMW, but they seemed to “get” RR better than Ford. Of course, neither company owned Land Rover for very long–always good to offload before they bankrupt you!

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I always like the looks of the full size Chevy especially the Impalas from 1961 thru 1970 and then when they redesigned them in 1971 they became bloated. Most of GMs full size cars were much better in during 1961 thru 1970. Same thing with the full size Fords and Mercury which during that same era became larger and bloated.

    Agree on the 57 and 58 Chrysler products having a better design that was botched up in 1959 but 1960 and 1961 Chryslers, Plymouths, and Dodges were hideous.

    Some of the mid 70’s Ford and Mercury intermediates were ugly as well.

    The AMC products from the mid to late 70s had to take the prize for being the ugliest vehicles of their time especially the Matador.

    I would like to see more simple functional designs in vehicles without all the creases. Something along the lines of the 56 Lincoln Mark and 60s Continentals–simple but elegant and understated.

  • avatar

    What about the the 1986-87 ‘Luxury Sport’ trim Chevy Monte Carlo’s? The standard and SS trims had a classic, squared off, 4 headlight design that even today looks classic and attractive.

    By comparison, the Luxury Sport trim with it’s one-piece Euro styled headlights looks just wrong on the Monte, though the painted bumper’s they had are more subjective and really didn’t add or take away anything. I’ll be fair and point out that when the front end of the Caprice got redesigned in 87′ with very similar one-piece headlights, it suited the vehicle and didn’t take away any of the styling. I see how GM was just trying to update/ modernize the aesthetics as the 90’s drew near, it just didn’t work on the Monte. Hell, I’d say the Cutlass pulled the look off better, but it still looks softer and somehow more bloated in my mind compared to that classy and angular 4 headlight design.

  • avatar

    Pretty much any Mercedes facelift. Obviously the current generation of Mercs are mostly atrocious to begin with, but any time Mercedes issue a facelift it ruins any balance of design cohesiveness from the original.

  • avatar

    The most recent version of the Camaro SS is terrible. They’re already working on fixing it.

    I love classic Mopars, but Dodge ruined the Coronet line in 1970 with the twin loop chrome bumpers. The 68-69 cars look fantastic.

  • avatar

    The screwups that come to mind are:

    the 1962 Chrysler New Yorker. My mother had a ’60 that looked good, but the ’63 that replaced it was hideous, and the “Corroded copper” color didn’t help.

    1979 Firebird. I looked and looked for a 77-78 in decent shape, but they were all either Esprits or T/A’s with T-Tops or were just totally trashed. My ’79 was a very reliable car for the most part.

    The 2010 Camaro was a disaster, made worse in 2016, and then made worse AGAIN in 2019. WTF is going on at GM? The trucks look terrible, the Camaro, the C8 isn’t even good. They used to be at least close to the best looking cars in general, now it’s FCA’s muscle cars and the Mustang, and I don’t even like Mustang’s basic styling!

  • avatar

    Almost any generation of Subaru over the last twenty years. Don’t like Subaru’s style this year? Wait two years and it will be changed. Did like our style? Too bad, buy now because its going to be overhauled again. At least that is what it felt like.

  • avatar

    The exterior/interior refresh of the 2006 PT Cruiser was terrible. Chrysler should have put that money into softening up the parkbench-esque seating and upgrading the quality of the front wheel bearings.

  • avatar

    I’m not a big fan of the 5th generation Civic Type R over the previous generation but my vote for absolute worse was the 3rd generation Taurus. That thing was hideous.

  • avatar

    Would it be fair to have a question of the day regarding twins badged separately? I often find that I have a strong preference for one over the other. For example the original Vibe looks better than the original Matrix, but the facelifted Matrix looks better than the facelifted Vibe.

    The thrust of the question wouldn’t necessarily have to be about facelift, but about which looks better.


    • 0 avatar

      (Corey – minor point – if there is another facelift article we might want to define terms – facelift and major model are two different things… many understand but perhaps not all.)

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