By on May 20, 2020

Some new vehicles remain mired in the muck of mediocrity, never to emerge in an improved form before their inevitable replacement. Others are able to reinvent themselves and become better vehicles than they were previously. They rise like a phoenix, changing from caterpillar to butterfly (or some other trite verbiage).

Today we talk about those vehicle models which raised the bar over their predecessor.

My example today is more of an up-down-up situation. Remember these?

The Highlander started in a good place. A right-sized offering, it was one of the initial crossover crop after the RX 300 invented the segment a couple years prior. It was decent looking enough, and did everything competently. They proved very long-lived and durable, aside from some which had engine sludge issues. Quality, while not 1992 Camry level (but what else is?) was pretty good, and they were all assembled in Japan. Then this happened.

The second-generation Highlander debuted for 2008, and was larger, more blobby looking, and — critically for the US market — had a third-row seat. There was more power, more modernity, and worse quality overall. It didn’t ride as nicely as the first generation, nor was it as quiet. Toyota was testing out low interior materials funding across the board in the late 2000s, and it was very evident here. Still reliable, but this step down isn’t anything I’d recommend.

The upswing happened with the third generation in 2014. Once again, Highlander increased in size and became more modern. While the styling is… eh, the quality difference between generation two and three is noticeable. There’s more sound insulation, an improved ride, and much nicer, near-Lexus materials on higher trims. Surfaces are nicely padded, stitched, perforated, and/or covered in soft touch materials. Color me impressed. I’m sure I’ll see at some point if the 2020 version holds onto the upward trajectory established here.

I’ve perhaps got more experience with Highlanders than some others, making this product swing more noticeable. My immediate family owned a first gen previously, and still own generations two and three. Do you know of any other examples of big time product improvement between generations?

[Images: GM, Toyota]

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139 Comments on “QOTD: Making Considerable Model Improvements?...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Honda’s CR-V started out as a tiny little SUV and has grown to be the #1 family crossover

    https://global.honda/content/dam/site/global/heritage/cq_img/timeline/products-history/automobile/CR-V/1995/01.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Along the same lines is the Toyota RAV-4. The 1st generation was a tiny, loud, cheap almost clown car like joke of a thing. Now, along with the CR-V it represents the default CUV.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        I mostly agree about the first generation RAV4, as far as loud, cheap clown car. (Although they’re durable cheap cars!) Tiny… sort of. The things are TALL! They are as narrow and short as they are tall (this speaks to the clown car proportions). I have a ’96 that I used to use as an airport car (long story). Sitting in my driveway next to my ’15 Accord, it looks only a little smaller.

        The present model RAV4 is certainly a much different vehicle.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          If you ask me, the current RAV4 is the clown car – assuming, of course, the clown is ugly. What a horrid looking lump it’s turned into…and it’s a complete yawn to drive.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            I’m sure the current model is a very *civilized,* comfortable lump of a clown car that is a yawn to drive.

            Disclaimer: I have not driven one.

            :D

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            I did rent a RAV4 for a day last summer, and yes, it was civilized and comfortable to drive, but isn’t that pretty much the norm these days?

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Why do Japnese vehicles always get improved sound insulation?

  • avatar
    jack4x

    For Corvette, the C2 over C1 and C5 over C4 immediately come to mind.

    The 2017 Super Duty over the 1999-2016.

    You may laugh but having owned both generations I thought the 1997 Grand Prix was a big step up over the 96.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Maybe because I bought one but I feel the C7 ‘Vette was the leap forward. For the first time the interior was on par with the car’s engineering and incredible performance. Every Corvette conversation went like this: the car is great on track, BUT… with the C7 you finally had the complete package. This is what makes the C8 going mid-engine seem so logical now: GM finally perfected the front-engine configuration.

      The C3 was a low point in terms of performance, but to me, as a child in the mid 70s its the best looking… sorry C2 fans.

      • 0 avatar
        FerrariLaFerrariFace

        Every corvette gen since the C5 has been a step up. But I agree with jack4x on the C4-C5 being the biggest simply because the C4 was such steaming pile of dog vomit.
        As you said, at least the C3 looked cool, and prior to being emissions-restricted, it had a couple years of decent performance for the era.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Agreed, the C7 was a more “grown up” ‘Vette, with a decent interior to match its’ looks and performance.

        But C3 was a “low point” in performance? Aren’t you ignoring the years 1968-1972. In fact, I’d these were C7s of their day – less of a street brawler, more of a poor man’s Ferrari.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          I’m largely pro C3 and C4. For me I dislike the styling of the C5 enough that it tempers alot of that gen’s performance enhancements.

          • 0 avatar

            Pro C4 checking in. Saw blades 4 eva. C5 has aged like milk in the sun.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            C4 C4 C4 C4 – yes yes yes yes…

            Give me a 1996 C4 with manual trans and targa top. I would daily drive that car with pride.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            Yep. C4 had a cheap interior but the styling is clean and it has aged well. With their prices where they are I can remedy the interior problems and probably add LS/LT power should I desire. Best thing about the C5 vs the C4 is the engine. Again, easy to remedy given the prices and I’ll have the better looking car.

          • 0 avatar
            jack4x

            The LS1 is 90% of the reason for my statement.

            Styling is subjective, I prefer the C5 but it seems I’m in the minority.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            My life and commute would have been perfect for a C4 as a daily driver from about 2009 to 2014 but hindsight being 20/20 I didn’t realize it at the time.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            I’d take a C4 over a C5 – never was a fan of its’ looks. C6 seems like a better bet.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            Yea, I’m a big C6 fan. You get the C5 mechanical goodness with IMO a much more attractive car. I know people hate that gen’s seats but there are work arounds for that these days.

  • avatar
    Clueless Economist

    Did you just use the Fiero as click bait?

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    How about pick-up trucks? 30 years ago they were hardly the size of today’s mid-size pick-ups and now they’re gargantuan

    https://consumerguide.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/90114051990918.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      The old ones weren’t so small and the new ones aren’t that big.

      postmediadriving.files.wordpress.com/2020/03/chrome-image-409361.png?w=800&h=520&crop=1

      The camper shell off a 1974 will fit a brand new pickup and work just fine, except the shape and lean of the cab won’t match.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        The beds may be the same, but nothing else is

        1990 F-150 Reg. cab SB

        Height 69.8 in.
        Wheel base 116.8 in.
        Length 194.1 in.
        Width 79.0 in.

        2020 F-150 Reg. cab SB

        Length 209.3 ”
        Body width 79.9 ”
        Body height 75.5 ”
        Wheelbase 122.0 “

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          At their scale, a few inches up and out is of little consequence.

          And it’s at buyer’s request. A pointer nose and seats that can actually tilt back from a straight upright. And you don’t have to take off your 10 gallon or hardhat.

          Also the rear bumper was optional on base pickups, so that’s a few inches there.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Over a foot in length and 6″ on the wheelbase and height is more then a “few inches”, but OK

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            It’s a huge improvement for relatively small size gains. And I know you don’t want to go back to 15″ wheels, crazy cab discomforts, and flat aero nose.

            Anyway the old ones are way bigger than midsize today.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            Most of that foot of length comes via them having to lay the windshield back. Look at the dash depth on a modern vs 90’s truck. This was for fuel economy and safety. Plus the cab is far more roomy. Solid trade off.

          • 0 avatar
            Maymar

            Several months ago, I happened to notice a really clean extended cab GMT400 (shocker, up in the rust belt) – except for length, it was proportioned similar to a Grand Cherokee parked near it. Then a late-model Silverado pulled up and absolutely towered over it. Way more body mass, but proportionally less greenhouse. The new trucks are more hulking, harder to see around (I’m sure more and more of them being 4WD helps a bit, where the height and clearance is more expected). I don’t doubt it’s what the buyers want, but it’s worse for anyone driving a car.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          A lot of the height of new pickups comes from larger tires and improved roll over protection. My 2010 F150 comes stock with 275/65/18’s. My brother’s 1987 F150 came with 235/75/15’s. My 1990 F250 had 8.5/16’s which is a 215.
          Length is due to increased cab size and crumple zones. My F150 has a huge amount of dead space between the bumper and rad.
          Width is due to improved side intrusion protection. The doors on my 2010 are much thicker than those on my 1990 truck.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            There’s pics online of a rolled ’07 or ’08 F-150 sitting on its roof, its A-pillars didn’t collapse and barely broke the windshield.

            Search: Shia LaBeouf DUI

            If you’ve ever had to push an era F-150, they’re tanks.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      Happened to notice this yesterday:
      • 1995 GMC Sierra 1/2 ton 2WD V8 curb weight = 3,929 lbs
      • 2019 Nissan Frontier King Cab SV V6 4×2 curb weight = 4,150 lbs

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        The 2019 Nissan Frontier has ABS, traction/stability control, airbags, crumple zones, side impact bracing, larger wheels, better frame, better brakes, and other amenities not found in 1995. It isn’t an apples to apples comparison. My 2010 F150 is a lot bigger and heavier than a Chevy of the same age.

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          Lou_BC,

          The thesis on the table is that pickup trucks have grown considerably over the past 30 years (Lie2me’s post). I am not attempting an ‘apples to apples’ comparison. My post observes that a “midsize” truck originally introduced in MY2005 weighs more (in its current iteration) than a “fullsize” truck originally introduced in MY1988 (in its 1995 iteration). This seems directly relevant to Lie2me’s point.

          We could make more extreme comparisons if we went the full 30-year distance and with newer designs (the Frontier is somewhat ‘dated’ as you know). To be fair, I did not pick a Crew Cab [more popular] and did not pick a high trim level [more content], both of which of course drive additional weight.

          It was eye-opening to me that my truck weighs less (as originally equipped) than the current-model Frontier in the article yesterday. Old fullsize to ‘current’ midsize. [Anywhere close was in fact a surprise.]

          But since you’d like to move past that point into minutiae, the Sierra has an iron V8; the Frontier has an aluminum V6 – any weight difference there? Are you prepared to say that the C-channel frame on the Sierra is lighter than the fully-boxed frame of the Frontier? Should we consider the steel gauge thickness or the depth of the frame rails before drawing such a conclusion? Because I have my doubts.

          I did *not* say that current fullsize trucks are too big or useless or not competent or not desirable. And I didn’t mention size, only weight. (For now – I’m still working on the size comparison – lol.)

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            @ToolGuy – All valid points. I don’t find pickups appreciably bigger from a dimension perspective. I’ve owned trucks all of my life. I definitely don’t ever want to back to anything the size of my 1984 Ranger. Trucks have gained capacity. Some of that was to “game” the EPA and emissions rules of the ’70’s. A “heavy half” was outside the rules just like the SUV’s of the era. My current 2010 F150 is much more capable in every metric than my 1990 F250. My neighbour has a ’79 F250 extended cab long box. He’s running bigger tires (similar size to mine) and it doesn’t impress me as being appreciably smaller than current 3/4 tons.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Current pickups are definitely better at being everyday drivers, but that’s come at a price – literally. A four-door model with an option load equivalent to a base Accord pushes fifty large these days, which is just stupid.

      (And, yes, I know, these are marked up and then discounted, but still…I’d say 40 is a lot of money for a truck.)

      • 0 avatar
        redapple

        If the bed is the same size…..
        Why is the rest of the package so HUGE.

        Park an old one next to a new one.
        Bing.
        Jaw Drop.

        I HATE THESE MASSIVE PIG UP TRUCKS.
        They rarely park within the parking lot lines and ding MY DOOR. Waste our gasoline, block my view and on and on.

        All because you are macho man.
        Me big pig up.
        Me big man with small you know what.
        Take your own poll. The average F250 driver is shorter than the average F150 driver.

        • 0 avatar
          jack4x

          Show me on the doll where the truck hurt you.

          Also, back in the real world, my F350 is no wider or taller than a 1973 4×4 model, and if it were a regular cab, would have a 9″ longer wheelbase and 17″ longer overall length than the comparable older truck. So a foot and a half in almost 50 years but let’s keep freaking out about HOW BIG TRUCKS HAVE GOTTEN LATELY.

          It’s the increased sales of crew cabs and 4×4 driving the average size up and nothing more. Large trucks have always been available, they are just more popular now.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          So don’t buy one if you hate them so much. I very rarely see 3/4 ton trucks doing commuter duty. They are typically working. But do tell us what you drive.

        • 0 avatar
          randyinrocklin

          I drive a 91 and 04 MR2 and I’m an ant next to these behemoths.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        @FreedMike – A while back I ran my 1990 F250 reg cab 4×4 through an inflation calculator and found that a new comparable F250 is actually cheaper in price even before you factor in content.

        The Accord can’t tow 8-12K nor can it can’t carry 1,200 lb to 2,600 lbs. The Accord doesn’t have 3-4 engine choices (400 hp and higher) or multiple rear end ratio’s. 10 speed transmission or 8 speed?

        Trucks aren’t cheap but the content, capabilities, options, and versatility is hard to match.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    How about nearly every Hyundai/Kia currently on sale.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      The old ones weren’t so bad and the new ones aren’t so good.

      Yeah I restore balance to the site.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Well, if by “old ones” you mean stuff from the mid-’90s, I think you’re right. But the O.G. stuff from the late ’80s WAS that bad.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          It’s hard to tell. They went straight to the ghetto, passed around like cigarettes, and who maintained them?

          Today they lead a charmed life next to Hondas and such.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            I knew people who bought some of those original Hyundais, and there’s a reason they went “straight to the ghetto” – they were trash, and had no resale value, so they were off to the BHPH lot after the original owner dumped them after a year or two.

            I think the fact that Hyundai actually survived its’ launch years is a testament to how good a carmaker it is – their stuff improved dramatically in a very short time.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            They still have the absolute worst resale value (except German/EU) and first to the BHPH. But aren’t they being treated/maintained better?

            They were the cars the young, immature and first time buyers flocked to. Now they’re not buying cars, nor torturing them.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            You’re right, young, inexperienced owners snapped these up, but if they’d snapped up a Corolla or Civic (or even an Escort) instead, they’d have gotten a car that would at least run for three or four years with nothing more than oil changes. Not so with the original Hyundais. I knew people who had them – they fell apart even if you maintained them.

            (I think one of the reasons Hyundai resale value stinks today is that they’re discounted to hell when they’re new. My kid bought a new Elantra hatch last year for almost five grand off MSRP. Great little car, BTW.)

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            I saw the Escorts, Cavaliers and Aries disappear from the roads first. Except Hyundai knew its place. Cheaper than these and 40% less than Honda/Toyota.

            Back then, I would recommend them left/right and I made no enemies.

            If you can get one today for 25% plus off sticker, then we’re back where we started.

          • 0 avatar
            redapple

            H K products.

            The problem is resale. Question. Yeah, they are $5000 cheaper upfront. But they lose value faster than others when you sell i the car. I suspect.

            So, it possible that you spend more total $ for a vehicle thats not as good as a Honda or Toyota.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            Depends on how long you keep them. If you trade every 3-5 years then the resale hit could be a factor (Though I’m not sure even at 5 if that would be an issue). If you hold it for 7 years or more I doubt the resale will make up the difference on the front end. This isn’t an 85 LTD vs an Accord and this argument doesn’t hold the water it did 20 years ago. The warranty makes them less of a risk to hang on to for a while than some.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    I think a pretty broad stroke can be applied to the Korean automakers. Examples: First gen Kia Sportage. Kind of the purest definition of cost-cut, flimsy box of sadness. Compare it to now with far more comfort, power, technology, etc. Same with the Hyundai Sonata. While it’s debatable if the styling as improved with each generation, the quality and technology has (but I still have an issue with H/K/G lights – they seem to go out far quicker than other automakers!) to the point to where you don’t have to be embarrassed to say that you bought or leased a Sonata or Optima instead of an Accord or Camry.

    But, and I’m aging myself here, I think it was something rather slick that Nissan did around 1992 with the Maxima. There were some notable differences between the SE and the GXE, but the powertrain was the same. Nissan then decided to put the 190hp version of their 3.0 V6 in just the SE model. Now there was a real difference between the models, and since you could still get a stick with the SE, you could have a real sleeper sports car.

  • avatar
    ravenuer

    Why do they still call them “minivans” today?

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      On that point, the 06-12 Kia Sedona (I have an 09) was way better than the previous, Ford-based generation.

      However, lately Kia has made the middle row unremovable, wiping out its truck-like capabilities.

      Yeah, my 09 has a curb weight of 4400 lbs – not ‘mini’. Some of today’s SUVs are more like the size of the 84 Caravan, I think.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      This. People gripe about truck dimensions all the time, and while they have put on a small amount of size, minivans have blown up like an 80’s rocker’s waistline.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I submit the 1984 Civic. The previous gen was a solid compact car, but the ’84 was a leap forward in just about every way possible – it was stylish and well-mannered, and a pleasure to drive. It showed what a small car could be when done right.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Also: 1990 Nissan 300ZX, which was radically better than the model it replaced, and still looks terrific today. In fact, I’d take it over the current Z-car.

    • 0 avatar
      PeteRR

      I repossessed a 5-speed-equipped version back in 1990 from a USPS employee. I drove it back to our shop that night and it was a revelation. No contemporary American car I’d driven could compete.

  • avatar
    PeteRR

    GM’s rule is a successful car is only allowed to compete/exist against their established models for 3 years before being canceled. Prime examples being the Fiero and the Grand National.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      I actually saw a GNR in the wild about two weeks ago. It stood out to me but at the same time it blended in with the traffic nicely, just as they did thirty years ago.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Axle Rose or Slash? Did you ask if they’ll be doing any new material?

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you intentionally misspelled Axl to make a clever car pun.

          :D

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          You won’t hear from either of them, and you won’t see them at the same place. Until they’re broke.

          Well relatively speaking, last 100 mil or so.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            They have reconciled and were touring not long ago.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Yeah every time they go broke it’s love allover again.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            That’s any band. I am certain Aerosmith will be getting back together soon enough and even the Eagles did the same.

            As a fan of the 90’s era bands at least I won’t have to endure it as most of their front men didn’t make it out of the decade. Grohl had a good run with the Foo Fighters so I won’t have to endure someone trying to replace Cobain with that Nirvana reunion tour that would have happened otherwise. Cobain, Staley, Weiland, Cornell, Delores o’riordan, and so many others. There are probably more 70’s bands still together and alive. I have no idea how so many hair bands are still among the living (Cocaine is a #elluva drug). Looking at you David Lee Roth.

  • avatar
    StudeDude

    The Gen 2 Ram trucks beginning with the 1994 MY was a true sea change for Dodge and truck buyers. Suddenly the also ran of the truck world had a great product for the public.

  • avatar
    Runfromcheney

    One I can think of right now is the all-new Nissan Sentra. Not only is it 1000x better than the car it replaced, but it is the first time the Sentra has not been an undistinguished also-ran since the early 90s.

    Some other examples I think of:

    1. The 2011 Kia Optima. Not only was it light years ahead of the forgettable model it replaced, but it created the template that all the other manufacturers copied as the boring sedan slowly died during the 2010s
    2. The 1986 Ford Taurus. Same with what I said about the Optima above, but 10x more so.
    3. The first gen Dodge Intrepid, Stratus and Neon. Not only were they 100x better than the boring K-cars they replaced, but they took the entire industry by surprise given how conservative, predictable, and by-the-book Chrysler had become in the late 80s/early 90s as Lee Iacocca resisted change. I remember reading that Chrysler’s stock price doubled overnight when the Intrepid was unveiled.
    4. The 2000 Ford Focus, it was a thunderclap when it replaced the ho-hum Ford Escort which at that point was a rebody of a 10 year old platform. Same goes for the 2012 Focus, while not as revolutionary it was a major improvement over the model it replaced, which like the Escort was just Ford continuing to slap new bodies on the same old, tired bones.
    5. The 1992 Cadillac SeVille. In one redesign the SeVille went from a unsellable joke to a credible import fighter. Shame about the Northstar’s poor reliability.
    6. Same for the original Oldsmobile Aurora, though in its case the 1991-96 Ninety-Eight it replaced wasn’t a bad car, it just wasn’t anything special.
    7. The second generation W-bodies. Especially with the Intrigue, Grand Prix and Regal. They went from dates 80s throwbacks to cars desirable enough to command a loyal following.
    8. The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, it was a revolution over the 05-10 model. Honorable mention to the 2014 Cherokee and 2017 Compass. While they may not be great vehicles they are still 10 times better than the terrible vehicles they replaced.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      No on the Sentra. The B13 was peak Sentra. The current one has a whopping 9 extra HP that was available in 1991 to pull around way more weight.

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        Abso-freekin-lutely. Three little letters – the SE-R – made that model. A lot of fun to drive, reliable, decent interior materials, and a great engine. I don’t think the Sentra has ever been able to match it since.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          I remember the ads where Nissan compared the SE-R with the BMW 2002.

          • 0 avatar
            redapple

            I had an SE-R. It was supposed to be the holy grail. It was not.
            Not fast. Sh/t MPG. Real bad quality.
            My Civic Si was much better.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            @redapple wrote:
            “I had an SE-R. It was supposed to be the holy grail. It was not.
            Not fast. Sh/t MPG. Real bad quality.
            My Civic Si was much better.”

            But… but… it looked like such a fun sports sedan on the back of R&T!!

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            By the standard of the day it was quite good. The Civic Si did in my opinion become better, but in 1991 it was playing catch up.

            Yes, the Honda was built better…not sure when this wasn’t the case Honda vs Nissan. They lost the plot with the B14 however and haven’t found it since.

    • 0 avatar
      Runfromcheney

      I thought of a couple more:

      1. The Mercedes-Benz W204 and W212. After a decade of selling low-quality blobs that seemed to only sell on the badge, these two redesigns heralded the return of the “Old style” Mercedes.
      2. The 2003 Cadillac CTS. It was a revolution when it first came out, nobody ever thought Cadillac could or would ever build a car like it. The 2008 redesign gave it that extra dollap of refinement that made it a credible alternative to the Germans, which were rather vulnerable during those years. Shame that the CTS’ goodness wasn’t able to translate to the rest of the Cadillac line, so the brand ended up being a one-trick pony. Plus in typical GM fashion, despite all it did to reinvigorate the Cadillac brand, the CTS died just to launch a new naming scheme that will probably only last a few years.
      3. The original Chrysler 300. Cab-forward had run its course and Chrysler’s lineup was again becoming dated and uncompetitive. Here comes the 340 HP, RWD 300C. It was an amazing reinvention that came just at the right time. As with the CTS, its a shame that the 300C’s goodness didn’t translate to the rest of the Chrysler line, so they just wound up as a one-trick pony with the 300 but nothing else desirable and it too is about to die unceremoniously.
      4. The 2010 Buick LaCrosse. After 15 years of trying, GM had finally fielded a credible Lexus competitor. Bonus points for the gorgeous styling that was like nothing else at the time.
      5. The original Mazda3 and Mazda6. Mazda went from a forgettable also-ran to the darling of the buff books.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      In regards to the Optima, I don’t think it was as big of a leap forward was the prior gen. Yes, it was far more stylish, and got people to notice the changes Kia had made. But the prior gen was just as well built and drove just as well, it was just anonymous.

    • 0 avatar
      StudeDude

      Totally agree regarding the 1st gen Intrepid as well as the Chrysler Condorde and Eagle Vision. Chrysler with the help of Lutz, Gale and Castaing completely transformed the company from Kcar to Cab forward leading edge design overnight. Everything was good until the Merger of Equals.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Buick Lacrosse.

    The W-Body was reliable as the sunrise by the time it wore a Lacrosse badge (Series III 3.8L V6 was basically bulletproof) but the inside was Playskool and the front clip was…

    The next generation was a significant step up across the board (slab-sided looks that haven’t aged well aside). The generation after that was also a major step up.

    The next vehicle that comes to mind is the Nissan Altima. The first Altima was wretched, born out of a functionally bankrupt Nissan (by US accounting rules, Nissan would have been bankrupt in the 90s) it was a miserable car not even close to the Camry or Accord. The next generation was vastly better (but still lagged behind).

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    So on the negative end of this equation where the replacement was a step down I’ll toss some out:

    Lexus SC3/400 to the SC430. I mean, just look at them.

    The 96 Taurus. How the heck do you add a V8 to the SHO and it is slower than the duratec. And they were so ugly.

    The 1958 Thunderbird. I know, sales say otherwise, but do you want a First of Second Gen?

    Nissan 350Z. I know, much time had elapsed between it and the Z32, but again, park them next to each other…which one do you want?

    1974 Mustang. Another one that sales say otherwise, but do you want an original, or a Mustang II.

    As for the winners that made you forget the old model:

    I’ll catch heat, and technically the outgoing model would soldier on in some places for quite some time, but the 1974 Golf/Rabbit vs. the Beetle was a massive upgrade and the GTI variant spawned a segment.

    1977 GM B Body (Impala, Caprice, Etc.): People like the big bodies but the downsized version was the best executed downsizing…big inside, well styled, and well liked.

    Gen 1 Taurus. Literally an upgrade over the entire domestic industry to that point.

    10th Gen (1997) Ford F Series. This is where trucks became viable daily drivers. With respect to being long lived as pickups, maybe not the massive upgrade, but with respect to reading the market and giving truck buyers what they wanted and upgrading the experience of living with one day to day, they nailed it and that was the one that brought us the default layout of 4 doors on a half ton with a short bed that is everywhere today.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Just to irk everyone, the 2004-2006 GTO was better in every non-subjective way than any previous GTOs.

    I’ll just let that ruminate.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I like the Monaro but “non-subjective” is doing a lot of heavy lifting there.

    • 0 avatar
      PeteRR

      In every way?

      In terms of looks, they were the same bland Pontiac style that GM had been proffering for decades at that point. They looked identical to the very awful ’90s Grand Am.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Styling is subjective @pete…he said non subjectivve way.

        • 0 avatar
          PeteRR

          When the styling is as bad as the 2004 GTO was, it isn’t subjective. It becomes objective fact.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            Go look up the model it replaced…the last of the breed…the 1974 Ventura based GTO that everyone pretends doesn’t exist. Yes, the modern one is a step up.

          • 0 avatar
            PeteRR

            So, “it’s third worst looking GTO ever made” is your defense of the car?

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            No, my defense is that styling is subjective. Some people liked the fact that it was a bit of a sleeper and performance and reliability wise they aren’t even in the same universe…That is my defense.

            Styling wise, the only GTO worth a darned is the 64-67…The rest are pretty much equally blah. I don’t think the 74 is really any better or worse than the Gen 2 cars honestly. The modern ones look like Pontiacs of the day, just like all the rest of them. Just so happens the Tempest that spawned the first ones was a good looking car.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “they were the same bland Pontiac style that GM had been proffering for decades at that point. They looked identical to the very awful ’90s Grand Am.”

        I’ve always thought this was an odd criticism because the GTO is literally a Holden with no Pontiac-related design outside of a different grille. It was as much of a straight rebadge as GM had ever done to that point.

        So I guess people think Holdens and Pontaics looked the same?

        • 0 avatar
          PeteRR

          You can’t criticize the styling because they put zero effort into it?

          Go look at a late ’90s Grand Am and this iteration of the GTO and tell me how they differ.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            They both have the blacked out pillar and the mirrors & hoodline are similar, but I don’t consider these to be especially identical. YMMV.

            i.ibb.co/c841n5C/GTO.png

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      agree x1000. Any arguments to the contrary involve subjective things like “styling” and “sound” but on any track the new one would destroy the old one while giving you years of reliable service the old one couldn’t match.

      Now ask me which one I’d rather have though.

      with respect to the styling arguement, remember the modern one didn’t replace the original, or the Judge model. The last of the “old” GTO’s was the 1974, based on the Ventura. I’d argue the modern one is a giant step up.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      Trunk space! I found one.

  • avatar
    multicam

    Oh my God. This is the perfect excuse for one of my favorite Wrangler-related rants. Two things to understand up front, though: one, I love all CJs/Wranglers; even the JK which I’m about to destroy is still better than some boring-ass generic CUV blandmobile. And two, I fully recognize that the Wrangler almost certainly would not exist today if the JK didn’t exist (specifically the four door). I should also include the disclaimer that I’m biased against the JK because I have owned (in chronological order) a 2006 TJ, a 1994 YJ, and now a 2019 JL.

    The 1997-2006 Jeep Wrangler (TJ) was the perfect Jeep. It had classic styling, a solid engine, perfect dimensions, it did away with leaf springs, and it had sufficient creature comforts to not make you want to blow your brains out while still remaining spartan and easy to work on. It gave birth to the greatest out-of-the-box off-roading value of all time, the Rubicon. Its massive aftermarket support ensures that to this day you can create exactly the Jeep you want and keep it running as long as you put in some elbow grease.

    Then Jeep released the abomination known as the JK. The JK (2007-2018) is bloated, heavy, and initially came with the dismal 3.8L V6. They added two doors to appeal to soccer moms and dads (it worked, incidentally), doing away with the LJ (extended wheelbase TJ). They even offered a 2WD version of the Unlimited for a while! But the nail in the coffin for the JK was the styling. “But all Jeeps look the same!” I hear. Wrong. The JK’s styling and design is the definition of boring; the shining example of phoning it in; the epitome of bland. It’s like the designers got two thirds of the way done and just said “eh, good enough. It looks like a jeep from 20 feet if you squint.” Seriously, it’s so simplistic and uninspired that it looks like it could have been a quickly-thrown-together vehicle mod for Grand Theft Auto 3.

    Let’s start with the front end. The grille is the standard seven-slot affair that we’re used to on Jeeps, but in their infinite lameness the JK designers felt the need to put the word “Jeep” above the grille slots. WHY?! It’s redundant. The fact that it’s a Jeep should be self-evident. And this forced them to awkwardly pare the grille slots to allow space for the brand name; they’re little stubby grille slots compared to the CJ or TJ, for example. Lame. Next issue: the fenders. They rival the Avalanche in sheer acreage of black plastic (this applies to the JK’s plastic bumpers too). Not only is the quantity of black plastic offensive, but they didn’t have the courage to break it up in any interesting way. Contrast this to the TJ’s fenders, which tastefully blend a reasonable amount of plastic with metal, or the JL’s painted fenders (an option), which do the same except they’re fiberglass or something. The JK offered painted fenders but they’re completely unbroken by plastic or character lines so it has the same effect as acres of black plastic: too much unbroken color that blends the fenders into the body, turning the Jeep into a rolling mass of nearly uninterrupted color. Next issue is related to the fenders: the turn signal indicators. They’re arbitrarily placed on the JK’s fenders with no integration into the fender design whatsoever. Just two lame circles that they slapped on there because they knew they needed them. Again, contrasted against the TJ’s or the JL’s indicators which are integrated into the design, the JK’s just look amateurish.

    Next major issue: the body panels, doors and hood. They’re just flat, unbroken expanses of metal that offer no interesting character lines and communicate the laziness of the design. This is what makes me think the JK’s design was unfinished and could have been a vehicle model in a circa-2001 video game (GTA 3). I have nothing else to say except BORING.

    Then there’s the powertrain. As stated earlier, the 2008-2011 models were burdened by the 3.8L V6 which might have sufficed in the lighter TJ but the new JK was heavier and larger, and felt it. The old 4.0 is still missed to this day by many Jeepers, myself included, for its familiarity and ease of wrenching. The 3.6L V6 Pentastar helped in 2012 but was initially plagued by cylinder head failures. I may be focusing on design but the JK’s additional girth represented a step backwards in performance. My TJ fit into many places the JK just won’t.

    Now we come to the resurgence: the JL (2018-current). All of the issues with design and styling were addressed, as noted periodically above, and suffice to say it’s a better Jeep in every conceivable measure. It’s like they took the JK and finished designing it. The JL, though larger than the JK, manages to look and feel smaller. It integrates design elements of the CJ, YJ and TJ while carrying little forward from the JK. Let’s review just a few of those homages:
    -The CJ: the outer grille slots curve around the headlamps. Cool. The grille slots extend the proper length (namely, they fill the whole front end and you don’t have to look at the pointless word “Jeep”).
    -The YJ: the front end has a rake to it, angling towards the driver about three fourths of the way up.
    -The TJ: fenders composed of black plastic and body-color painted portions; fenders integrate turn signal indicators. Hood has character lines again.

    I should note that I haven’t even touched on the interiors of these respective models, but believe me when I say that the JL’s interior far surpasses the Fisher-Price, craptastic interior of the JK.

    I must note that of course, the JL isn’t perfect. I have mine in two-door variant, Rubicon, with manual transmission and only three options checked out of dozens available (mine was factory-ordered because it’s a unicorn). The transmission (built by Aisin, the manufacturer of the AX-15 which appeared in many Jeeps prior to the JK) feels like a completely different animal and is far more car-like, a trait which has polarized many jeepers but which I appreciate, having grown tired of the tractor-like transmissions found in all prior jeeps. Unfortunately it’s under recall for periodically exploding, so there’s that. But up until the release of the JL I thought I’d never find myself in a new Jeep again and they won me back. They ruined my plans of finding a pristine, stock-ish 2005-2006 era Rubicon. I think that says it better than anything.

    TLDR: The TJ was awesome, the JK sucked, and the JL is now respectable again.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    The greatest single upgrade in the history of the automobile would be the Model T replacing a horse or horse drawn cart.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    2nd gen Corvair with IRS. Fixed the original’s most glaring flaw, too late for anyone to care. And started a long GM tradition of introducing a brilliant concept gimped by ruthless cost cutting, and fixing the damage after it was too late, which has made them the company they are today.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I don’t know if the original was that bad. The air cooled performance car they were following also used a swing axle.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I know a Corvair coupe owner. He is fond of saying: “Nobody whines about the Beetle’s swing axle.”

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          Put them out front and you basically get the Twin I Beam that was on every Ford Truck for like a million years.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            4Wheel and Off-Road often referred to Ford’s system as the “Constant Camber Change” axle.

            I had a subscription when I was a teen and that line would make me chuckle.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            “Constant Camber Change”

            Hehehe… I hadn’t heard that one.

            I remember pretty much all of the used car literature was very unkind to Ford’s Twin I-Beam front suspension, giving it low marks for hot holding alignment settings and putting funny wear patterns on your tires. I don’t know what made it so bad but that was a recurring theme. But I guess it was strong or something? Ford sure kept it around for a long time.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            Yeah, not so good on road, but flexy off road at least.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            The Twin I Beams could be fixed in your driveway in minutes if you knew what you were looking at. There was nothing wrong with the design, geometry or beams themselves.

            It was the muffin size, rubber bushings at the end of the radius arms, seen hanging below the frame, about even with the door mirrors.

            It would dissolve by engine oil, trans fluid etc, not to mention exhaust heat would crumble it quickly.

            Just back off the big nut and replace it, preferably with a prothane bushing.

            It was really a great design, giving you the best of both worlds, independent with articulation close to a solid axle, 2wd or 4wd.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            Thanks, @DenverMike. That makes sense about the bushings.

            I wonder if those were the same muffins that Aerosmith (and later, RUN DMC), were singing about in the song Walk this Way…

          • 0 avatar
            MRF 95 T-Bird

            I had a friend who had a couple of Twin I Beam Ford trucks; a second generation Econoline and a F-100. Every time he needed to get a wheel alignment for them he would gripe about the shop that did it because it would last for less than a year. Then he found another shop that was well versed in them and his alignment would last for a couple of years of smooth driving.

  • avatar
    MKizzy

    Nissan Altima. Starts as a mini Infiniti J30. Then the 2nd generation is introduced as a barely styled compact wedge not even Nissan cared about. Then it was gifted with a big, stylish growth spurt in 2002 which made its competitors take notice until Nissan went cheap again and made it boring with weird,bulging headlights and a exploding CVT. The 2019 appears to be a big upgrade inside and out but the jury’s still out on its durability.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Nissan is very good at building a car for 5 or more generations but managing to get all of the good into only one of them. See the Altima, Maxima, Sentra, and even the Z to an extent.

    • 0 avatar
      dividebytube

      I had a ’97 Altima GXE… yes it had 50 more hp than the Stanza it replaced but boy… the interior of the Altima felt cheap compared to the ’87, which had better seats and just felt very well screwed together. The Altima, on the other hand, was louder on the highway, had worse seats and more interior rattling.

      I did like the baby J30 look, a car that I was fan of. And one of the reasons I bought the ’97 over the refreshed ’98.

      The 2002 Altima, however, eclipsed both of them. Especially with the VQ 3.5V6 option over the truck 2.4L. I wanted one of those so bad since they were good sleepers (of the era).

  • avatar
    Moparmann

    On the negative side: 1st generation Scion xB, a delightful box, purchased by in many cases by the “wrong” (older) demographic. 2nd Generation “How can we improve this?” make it bigger, heavier, UGLIER, and suck all of the delight out of it! :-)

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    9th-Gen Accord (2013-2017) over 8th!

    Better in every way, especially the first three years! Timeless styling, a V6 that could rip-snort like an F-18 going off a carrier, much improved interior quality (even if the carpeting was chintzy, the bass-boat flecked pattern on a couple of the pieces was out-of-place, and some of the plastic would scratch if the sun hit it just so).

    The latest Accord bested the 9th inside, but the obvious loss was the weapons-grade TORQUE of the V6! The down-low torque in my 2019 Touring 2.0T, combined with the very well-executed 10-speed slushbox, makes the car feel faster! But the sound is not as guttural as ye olde J35, and it will run out of breath sooner than aforementioned 6, fortunately at a speed which is beyond where one’s license would be in jeopardy should a LEO come upon you whilst at that speed! IIRC, I’ve seen 1/4-mile times which bear this latter point out.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    1974 – 1978 Mustang was the low point in that lineage. Everything before it was better and everything after it was better.

    It is safe to say that the current GT350 is superior to any prior Shelby if one looks at performance. Same can be said for any generation of GT500.

    I’d even go as far as saying that the new GT500 is better looking than the 60’s era cars. The 60’s era GT350’s are better looking than the current GT350.

    A Challenger HellCat is better than any prior hemi Challenger other than nostalgia and Barrett Jackson sales pricing (if you can find one with a transmission that matches).

    • 0 avatar
      randyinrocklin

      I just saw a Mecum auction in Kissimee, that had a 69 and 70 Shelby GT500. They went for between 300k and 400k. Wow, they were nice, the commenter made a comment on the design of the hood scoops, it was way kool.

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