By on November 6, 2019

In last Wednesday’s Question of the Day post, we discussed vehicles ruined by the facelifts foisted upon them by their manufacturers. This week we will flip the question around and consider the most successful examples of automotive nip/tucks; the ones subtle enough to look great, yet noticeable enough to catch a second glance.

One facelift in particular has always stood out to yours truly as a good example of how to do vehicular revision properly. Have a look:

This is, of course, the original Ford Flex, a model which met its end this year. What started out in 2010 as a new wagon-type crossover replacement for the outgoing Taurus X was modernized in 2013. New headlamps and a new grill accompanied restyled bumpers and new dark trim and wheel options. Changes took place on the inside too, with a new dashboard and steering wheel. As it aged, the Flex matured into a better-looking vehicle. It certainly stood in stark contrast to its Lincoln brother, the utterly horrible-looking MKT.

The Flex is a great example of how you can alter a car’s design without spending too many development dollars, resulting in a vehicle that’s better looking and more modern than the outgoing version. Let’s hear your selections for those automotive facelifts done right.

[Images: Ford]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

54 Comments on “QOTD: Automotive Facelifts Done Right?...”

  • avatar

    In my opinion, the Infiniti QX80.

  • avatar
    A Scientist

    The latest Dodge Charger facelifts, at least, beyond the SXT models. IMO, the crosshair grill never looked particularly good on the Charger, particularly the seventh gen where it jutted out from the front end like a giant schnoz. But the newest ones look outstanding to me, they finally got it right. I’ll a Scat Pack model, thanks

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I’d nominate the Grand Cherokee. The 2014 facelift made it look more expensive and less plain than it had before, especially the HID/LED lights, like my 2015 Overland had. The Grand Cherokee received a second subtle facelift in 2017 that included new side and rear lettering, reshaped headlights on base models, and a more-integrated grille and lower front fascia.

  • avatar

    I totally agree! They took the flex from a goofy mom-wagon to look like a lower Explorer of which it’s based on. Maybe they could have marketed it as the Explorer Sport and kept it alive for another few years.

    • 0 avatar

      The Flex is still a big shoebox which I like, but it seems most people (women) don’t

    • 0 avatar

      I go the other way on that. I think the 2010 Flex was more cohesive and better-looking than the 2013 refresh. So I think the refresh was a step backward there. The newer interior does have one good point, the elimination of the corny faux-aluminum trim. But the gauges went to the generic Ford semi-digital that doesn’t dim properly, so that might be a downgrade overall.

      As for the MKT cousin, well, they did their best with that refresh, but some fascias just can’t be helped.

      In general, I think facelifts usually make things worse, because of the compromises inherent in re-designing details without changing overall shapes. The original design is usually the best executed.

    • 0 avatar

      I liked the Taurus X. I just wish they kept it longer than 2 years. The interior of the Flex is what fails to me. The refresh in 2013 was nice, but it still wasn’t enough to overcome the polarizing boxyness. And it was longer than the Taurus X, which was good for cargo past the 3rd row. bad for parallel parking and garages.

  • avatar

    I’ll nominate the Lincoln MKZ, MKC and MKX – dumping the “Baleen whale” grille was a great move for these cars.

    Reaching back to the malaise era, I’d also go with the ’77 Firebird and ’80 Corvette.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    It might have been a bit more than a facelift- but the ’80-’82 Ford Thunderbird was such a dog, the Ford brass insisted on an early do-over. The Fox-body was updated for ’83 as the stunning “Aero Bird”, a car whose design language permeated through the industry for over a decade.
    I would also give Ford a nod for the milder update to the very oval-y ’96-’99 Taurus for 2000. The resulting car was waaaay better-looking.

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    Maybe not the answer that you are looking for but I think the facelift that turned the 1999 Chrysler LHS into the 300M was well done. Of course, I might be biased…

    I also think Mazda stepping back from that clown-face thing they were doing there for a while was a good move.

    • 0 avatar

      The 300M was a really nice looking car – for the era – and I seriously wanted one in the early to mid aughts. But its replacement, the 300 was such a stunning vehicle in comparison.

      • 0 avatar
        Thomas Kreutzer

        I loved my 300M, but it was really let down by its interior – especially compared to modern cars. The first time I got into a rental 200, I thought “this is what my 300M should have been like.”

        The new 300s are good looking cars today. When they first hit the market they had the advantage of being so different. When I look at them now, however, they seem sort of clunky. Their evolution has been good though. My brother in law has a late model white 300 S-model and its good looks check all the boxes. They’ve had a good long run.

        I can’t help but wonder though, what would the 300M have morphed into if they had built it for the same number of years. I’d love to see one with big powerful V8 (if they could get it under that hood) and one of Chrysler’s modern interiors. I think it would be world class.

    • 0 avatar

      The LHS and 300M sold side by side….not sure what “facelift” you’re referring to.

      The 300M was supposed to be the Eagle Vision but was changed into a Chrysler at the last minute due to the demise of the Eagle brand. There’s a very early car that was photographed with the Eagle logo on it.

      • 0 avatar
        Thomas Kreutzer

        So my understanding is that the LHS was the original design but that Chrysler needed something shorter for the Euro/world market and decided to change it up some. Quite possibly because the Vision thing you are talking about.

        I know it’s not a “facelift” in the purest sense of the word, but that’s also why I wrote “Maybe not the answer that you are looking for…”

        • 0 avatar

          There was a slightly smaller New Yorker model for maybe one or two model years 94/94?, maybe that was the model you refer too? I don’t think 300M/Vision et al came out until MY96.

          • 0 avatar


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

            The first-generation LHS with the Jaguar-esque C-pillar ran from MY94-MY97. The similar New Yorker (basically an LHS with more exterior chrome and a bench seat up front) ended production after 1996.

            The second-gen LHS and 300M were introduced for MY99.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    The 1956 Ford, converting from the round running lights on the 1955 to oblong running lights. A subtle yet modern revision that made that vehicle even more handsome. One of Ford’s all time best designs.

    A botched redesign was changing the set of round headlights and smaller round running light on the original Cordoba to two stacked rectangular lights. Totally ruined the unique and handsome front end of that car, to a generic, boxy, ugly look.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    2004 Acura MDX. The refresh aped the new TL of the time with a new grille and lights, along with matte chrome to replace the shiny thin chrome on the original 2001 model. They didn’t try to do too much but I think it’s aged well, definitely better than the ’01 to ’03.

  • avatar

    The 2015 Focus. The 12-14 wasn’t unattractive but the headlights were a bit blobby and the lower grille, with the triangles on each side, was a bit busy. The 15 cleaned it up quite a bit with a simpler and more attractive face.

  • avatar

    I nominate the Cadillac XTS from MY 17 to 18 and beyond. Adopting the headlight styling from the CTS/CT6 and the changes to the trunk lid and taillights really made the car more distinctive. Prior to that, the XTS just seemed like a car that didn’t quite fit under its own skin.
    Also I give GM credit for doing a much-needed refresh on a car that was already slated for the chopping block.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I nominate the latest Highlander. The new face (2017) just seemed to work better with the overall design.

  • avatar

    Going back a little bit – as many drop-the-ball moments that Ford had with facelifts, their facelifts with the Taurus haven’t been that bad. I believe it was the 1992 that put a nicer interior and smoothed out the exterior a bit, especially out back with the little integrated lip spoiler and the smooth headlights. After the gawd-awful ovoid revolution for 1996, the facelift brought some angles back into play and a much better interior.

    I would also nominate the one and only S2000 facelift (too busy to look up the model year) – but both the front and rear got a little nip and tuck, the interior appeared to get some better materials (the seats especially), and the larger wheels and tires really set it off. For a car that came from the factory already at the top of its game, these little modifications (except for the lower redline…sigh) made it look even better.

  • avatar

    In my humble opinion, the last generation (S197) Mustang improved over time, culminating in the 2013-2014 refresh with HIDs. The taillights were also better too with the blacked out surrounds.

    I’m still on the fence with the S550 – it looks more European, has more power, drives and handles better, and has a better interior, but I still don’t like it as much as the previous generation.

  • avatar

    The 1965 Riviera, with hidden headlights, tail lights integrated in to the bumper, and no fake side scoops, was an improvement over the original 1963-64 model.
    The intent was always to have had hidden headlights, but Buick was not able to get them into production in time on the original model.

  • avatar

    The 1977 Gremlin cleaned up the original 1970 design, with a trimmer front overhang and enlarged rear window. A lot of AMC designs got cluttered up over time but this was an exception.

  • avatar

    Current Mustang. I think the 2018 front and rear clips were far more cohesive than the original 2015 versions.

    Every single one of Acura’s debeakification facelifts. Beyond the beak, all of them improved fascias and lights at both ends.

    The facelift + wheelbase stretch that turned the Infiniti EX37 into the far more appealing first-gen QX50.

    The subtle facelift on the 2014 Audi A8. The D4 A8 was already peak Audi styling and the nips and tucks made it perfect.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I always liked the looks of the 63 Riviera. I don’t believe the 65 was as much of an improvement as it was different. 63 Riviera had classic lines as did the 63 Grand Prix both were great looking cars.

  • avatar

    I never wanted a Buick LaCrosse until the 2017 model. It looked sleek and well proportioned compared to the previous one so I bought one. It’s a shame it didn’t sell and was dropped.

    • 0 avatar

      As the owner of 2017 LaCrosse I would easily vote for this as well…But…This was much more of a total redesign than facelift.
      When I was shopping for one, I wouldn’t consider anything prior to the 2017 MY.

  • avatar

    Disagree on the Flex – actually think pre-refresh looks nicer. Agree on the horrendous-looking MKT.

    I’ll nominate the refresh on E90 3-series BMWs. The changes were fairly small, but while-pre LCI cars look very dated to me, the refreshed cars remain fairly sharp despite being at least 7-8 years old now, or even 10 years old.

  • avatar

    Ford Fusion. the 2016 styling changes take it to next level goodlookingness. Too bad its dead…

  • avatar

    2000 Taurus.
    I consider it a heavy facelift from the fish-faced model. And it looked great. Even better with the 2003 grille update.

    1988 Cavalier.
    Great, solid styling, like most GMs from that era.

    1996 Chevrolet Astro.
    Loved the new muscular front end. And the dash design.

    1988 Mustang.
    The new flush headlights and grille suited the vehicle.

    1987 Thunderbird.
    See above. This new look was perfect for the car.

    I liked the newer blacked-out grille

    1999 Chevy Blazer
    This new nose and interior made this a handsome little devil.

    2009 Escape
    See above

  • avatar

    Jaguar XJS. I thought the 93-96 cars looked much more modern and cleaner, yet the changes were relatively cheap and minor – bumpers and taillights. The interior was revised too, nicer gauges and seats.

  • avatar

    Previous gen Explorer. The 2011 generation had a very soft and busy front end and no cohesiveness with the tailights, while the 2016 refresh brought a more SUV-like handsome front end and matched better with the profile and back.
    Also the 2017 Escape refresh was a nice one. As a former owner of a 2008 I was so pissed when I saw that tall Focus unveiled as a 2013 Escape. Both the front and and tailights where hideous but corrected in 2017

Read all comments

Recent Comments

  • TimK: I will never buy a vehicle with a turbocharged engine. Twin turbos and reliability are mutually exclusive. CAFE...
  • roadscholar: Does Tesla make money on the cars they sell?
  • roadscholar: I’m seriously considering a new Elantra N as my stick-shift practical toy. GTI and BRZ just...
  • Luke42: “As the this recall, it can’t be possible because Hondas are perfect. /s” I’ve been...
  • Luke42: If you price in a very bright future, I’d put their market cap about the same as one of the Global Big...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber