By on March 20, 2020

In this time of stress, fear, and uncertainty, please forgive the gendered headline, online Millennials. It applies to all genders.

Having said that, this week’s release of the 2021 Hyundai Elantra, a bread-and-butter product for the Korean brand, got this author thinking about design. Specifically, the decisions taken by design teams between major styling revamps.

I poo-pooed early teasers of the new Elantra a bit, but the harsh light of day reveals a longer, more visually expressive sedan with a greatly improved face and fetching hood (too bad about the carryover base engine). There’s a lot to digest in Hyundai’s new designs, but at least there’s something to look at.

The ’21 Elantra replaces a refreshed sixth-generation sedan that turned this writer’s stomach in every way. The design alterations foisted upon the Elantra for 2019 turned an arguably handsome, clean sedan into a weird nightmare, and the passage of time has clearly not made the heart grow fonder. At least with the mid-decade refreshes of the expressive Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata, the automaker opted for an extra helping of boring. This was something else.

Mistakes were made, and it seems Hyundai learned from them. Good stuff.

But as we talk about the worst refreshes in recent memory, your author’s mind latches on to a long-gone nameplate offered by an equally defunct brand. It’s the brand that built excitement… or at least tried to.

The Pontiac Sunfire, also known as the Official Car of Quebec (an accolade it shares with the Nissan Sentra), was an odd duck in that, during its decade of existence, it only went through a single generation. Refreshes were mild but constant, but it was the final iteration of Sunfire that took things from generic to grotesque.

As the 1990s gave way to the new century, Pontiac joined the club in rethinking the eradication of grilles. The lowly Sunfire began gulping air again, though by the time it left the market it had grown a face only a mother could love. The leading edge of the hood hadn’t retreated towards the cowl, but it looked like it had. Blame that low-hanging, Firebird-mimicking fascia. Because Pontiac wasn’t willing to give the model a full styling revamp, the addition of a mesh grille made the Sunfire appear as if it had sacrificed hood space for grille. That’s not where grilles belong. An awkward look, and an ignoble end to a car loved by few.

Thinking back over the past two decades, what, in your opinion, is the worst mid-cycle refresh?

[Images: Hyundai, General Motors]

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35 Comments on “QOTD: The Worst a Man Can Get?...”

  • avatar

    When Lincoln couldn’t decide on a decent grille, well they are still having trouble. First they tried a retro 1964 Lincoln grille, then they went all Baleen Whale with a 1940s retro grille and now they’ve settled on a Jaguar grille

    I’m so confused

  • avatar

    2019 Camaro easily.

    • 0 avatar

      “2019 Camaro easily”

      Agreed. There was an article on here a while back that had the production Camaro next to the Nascar Camaro. The race car version had the bigger greenhouse and an overall better look to it than the production version. Chevy took everything bad about the original design and made it worse.

    • 0 avatar

      While hardly the worse, the revisions to the ’98 Camaro weren’t great either, going from a shark nose to a bass mouth. At least it made up for it with the switch from LT1 to LS1.

  • avatar

    1991 Firebird. You could practically see the glue they used grafting that ridiculous nose on.

  • avatar

    The only thing that comes to mind was the last refresh of the Lexus IS. I dont recall what year it was but I was actually considering the car and recalled I looked elsewhere after seeing the changes to the front end. Lexus GX also comes to mind.

    But, basically anytime a automaker comes out with a new design language and tries to graft it onto existing vehicles in a refresh, the results can be a big miss. See Lincoln, as another poster already mentioned.

  • avatar

    Let’s not forget the Pontiac G6 GXP coupe, with it’s giant Bugs Bunny teeth grill (which BMW seems intent on replicating on the new 4 series coupe). Also the GM U body minivans, where they restyled them with giant elevated front ends to try and make them look like SUVs.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The Acura silver beak was bad. It seems to be evolving out now.

  • avatar

    I know it’s a sister car for the lead article photo but the Sonata is absolutely horrendous, photos look bad but in person it’s even worse. The Elantra is bad but the Sonata holds that uggo award.

    • 0 avatar
      Secret Hi5

      New Sonata looked good in the initial glamour pics, but it looks bad in the flesh.

      I was going to nominate the 2010 Pokemon-face Mazda3 for the article, but that was a new generation, not just a mid-cycle refresh.

  • avatar

    For me it’s all about taillights. MFRs making the wise and sensible upgrade to LEDs, then taking them away in a ridiculous backwards step. Accord going from 2007 to 2008. Sienna in the re-do around 2011 provided LEDs, then took them away around 2015 yet left the rest of the vehicle looking exactly the same. Escape had a redesign around 2017, and that plus 2018 had LEDs, then they left everything the same for 2019 but took away the LEDs. Really stupid.

    • 0 avatar

      Was the back pedal on LED taillights a design or an economic decision? I know that replacement of these LED taillights has gone from a $2 bulb to a multi hundred dollar job. As stupid an idea as run flat tires and saving a few dollars on tire tools and jacks. Wait until all the stop/start systems begin to eat their starters and batteries. Progress???? HAH!

    • 0 avatar

      Toyota is top offender at saving pennies by removing LEDs already implemented on their tailights.
      Not only the Sienna got their LEDs removed in 2015 (and got a bulbous, cheap looking tailight design in the process), the Camry also had their LEDs removed in 2012 and just got them back in the current generation. Tacoma got the same after going with LEDs in 2009 to then have them removed on base trims around 2012, then removing them altogether in 2016MY. The Rav4 had LED tailights back in 2016, then had them removed in 2013. I can’t think about any OEM applying this logic as incessantly as the big T

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Love that Sunbird. (/sarc)

    Check out the panel gaps on driver’s door in second picture. Legendary GM excellence!

    • 0 avatar


      They did the same thing with the last two years of the ’95-’05orwhatever Cavalier. Just went “Let’s try this??” and came up with a front end that looked like it had already been in a slight (but very real) car crash.

      • 0 avatar

        They did it with the 1991 refresh, too. It was generally unchanged since the mid-80s, and the little grille they had there had changed some, and become black as was the styling of the time. In 1991 they slapped a flat panel that was slightly angled in it’s place, and it looked terrible.

  • avatar

    I have no idea if this includes ’90s cars, but I’ll nominate the ’97 Lincoln Mark VIII. The original front end treatment was natty and futuristic; the refresh just made it blobby and generic.

  • avatar

    2008 Ford Focus. Every single thing got uglier.

    2016 Lexus LX. New fascias screwed up off-road capability, factory 21s look like Pep Boys wheels.

  • avatar

    2015 Camry refresh. Just awful.

  • avatar

    Easy: ’03-’05 Cavalier, even worse than the Sunfire. At least the Sunfire’s tail lights improved with the final rehash.

    ’03-’05 Saturn L. Like a modern take on the 74 AMC Matador sedan.

    ’00s -’07 Monte Carlo Sad sack halfway retro [pallid ’73 Monte styling cues] and bull nuts tail lights. Hideous

    ’01-’06 Mitsubishi Montero [ not the Sport] Horrible lumpy looking thing.

    Post S-10 and GMC trucklets, Canyon and Colorado: with cladding they looked like a carnival parade entry. Eye sores. And still eye sores even without the goober plastic crap.

    So many from GM.

    But: Ford Focus ’08-’12 [?]

    The current Civic: They managed to take a new car and make it look like a teen tuner clapped out 20 year old one. A travesty in motion.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    The 2016 Honda Accord with its extra chrome and creases was a huge step back from the shockingly handsome prior version. That was the unfortunate end of the Accord’s three-year reprieve from the ugly stick beating Honda’s been dealing out on most of its cars since the turn of the century.

  • avatar

    Why a mid-cycle refresh in the first place? Just make a half-dozen little changes each year, like Volkswagen did with the bug, and a couple exterior trim changes to mark each year.

    They could maybe make an option or two standard as the tooling is paid off, and try putting some color back into the interiors. Working out the bugs along the way would help too.

    Change the styling when you change the platform, every 6-8 years. If it’s a platform that sells, it’ll keep selling with minor improvements.

  • avatar

    May be not exactly what is asked here but….

    Considering that Honda Del Sol was CRX in Europe, it was horrible refresh over CRX here.

  • avatar

    The refresh of the last generation Escape always turns my stomach, though not nearly as much as the new generation.

    I’m not sure if this strictly fits the criteria for the article, but the 2nd generation Mazda3/6 are pretty gross (at least visually).

  • avatar

    I own the last year of the Elantra with compelling and flowing design – a 2016 – that has turned out to be a wonderful car. Then the bland years happened with the version afterwards. I would refuse to buy anything made after 2016. This Elantra for 2021 is compelling on so many levels. And with the hybrid, I’d consider trading my car at some time to get the great gas mileage. But there is going to be an N model and I wonder how much fun that will be?

    I don’t want bland. And if people will buy that absolutely hideous thing called a Civic, this Elantra should be a hit.

  • avatar

    Sadly everything that Toyoduh and Honduh build is uglier each generation that is thrown at us since the early 2000’s. I guess Honduh has learned their buyers have no eyes and don’t care as long as the sludge they buy lasts long enough to impose a tax upon the next person buying into the mirage. And then there is Lexus. Dry heeves turn into projectile applause.

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