Top 10 Most Dramatic Car Redesigns

Jason Siu
by Jason Siu

Some automakers truly revolutionize their designs when it comes to building a successor.

There’s always one car enthusiast making a joke about how the Porsche 911 has looked the same for decades, but there’s good reason for that. Modern classics like the Porsche 911 have never needed to be revolutionized because as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. For stagnant models that need new life, however, it’s common for automakers to redesign their vehicles from bumper to bumper.

SEE ALSO: The Short List: Top 10 Awful Cars from Great Manufacturers

But sometimes, companies take the bold leap to overhaul something that actually sells well. And in those cases, sometimes it works out well and sometimes it fails miserably, like the Honda Civic, for example. Thankfully, there are lessons to be learned each time a product does poorly, and in the case of the Civic, Honda learned from its mistakes to redesign it back to its former glory.

So what are some of the most dramatic redesigns cars have received in recent years?

10. Ford Escape

The modern-day Ford Escape is a stylish crossover that has recently received a mid-cycle refresh for the 2017 model year. But its significant redesign came with the 2013 model, when the American automaker ditched the boxy, straight-edged design for something sleeker. What’s even more impressive is that Ford didn’t need a reason to do a dramatic redesign on its Escape. Although it was essentially the same vehicle since it was introduced in 2001, the Escape was a sales success and even outpaced competitors like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. But still, Ford embraced its One Ford initiative so that it could offer the same vehicle globally, and the result is the Escape we know today.

Read our Ford Escape Review

9. Honda Civic

In the early to late ’90s, the Honda Civic was arguably the most popular sport compact car in the marketplace. Tuners worldwide loved the body style, and the ease of swapping in more powerful engines from other Honda and Acura models made the Civic even more appealing. But then something changed, and the Civic slowly started to lose its appeal over the years. It came to a point that Honda did its quickest refresh on the model after sales staggered, and even then, it wasn’t enough.

But then the 2016 Honda Civic arrived and while the exterior isn’t dramatically different compared to its predecessor, especially when you compare them side by side, the improvements are vast. It is actually so good that it was named‘s Car of the Year. And now that the coupe and hatchback have arrived, enthusiasts can patiently wait to see how Honda handles the sportier Si and hardcore Type R models.

Read our Honda Civic Review

8. Hyundai Sonata

Hyundai wasn’t always the standout Korean automaker it is today. But some would say that the arrival of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata shined a new light on the brand. Up until then, you could argue that most, if not all of Hyundai’s models were plain and boring. The arrival of Hyundai’s “Fluidic Sculpture” design turned the Sonata into a true contender in the midsize sedan segment and eventually other redesigns to Hyundai’s lineup vastly improved in quality, styling, features and performance. The difference a dramatic redesign can make for an automaker is oftentimes understated and in Hyundai’s case, it truly helped turn the automaker into a powerhouse in the U.S.

Read our Hyundai Sonata Review

7. Chevrolet Malibu

The Chevrolet Malibu has always been fighting an uphill battle against more popular options in the segment like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. But the American automaker made a real statement with the debut of the 2016 model, with dramatic restyling from bumper to bumper. The previous model’s styling was bland and boring, and even competitors like the Hyundai Sonata was more appealing. That all changed with the newest model that is not only modern, but aggressive and, dare we say it, attractive. It takes a bit getting used to, but the improvements Chevrolet has made to the Malibu means it’s now a viable option in a crowded segment.

Read our Chevrolet Malibu Review

6. Nissan Maxima

Like the Hyundai Sonata and Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan needed a serious overhaul for its Maxima to better compete in a crowded segment. And boy did it deliver when the 2016 Nissan Maxima arrived. Just look at how much better the styling is from one generation to the next! Its new style is divisive, but it’s hard to argue that the changes weren’t needed. The front end is much more aggressive and stylish than before, while the body lines carry more personality than ever in the model’s history. Under the hood is a 3.5-liter V6 providing 300 horsepower, so it’s quite nimble, too.

Read our Nissan Maxima Review

5. Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Conservative German automakers are typically the punchline for jokes when it comes to redesigns. The Porsche 911 slowly evolves each generation and the BMW 3 and 4 Series haven’t seen any major significant changes in years. Mercedes-Benz had been following the same stale recipe like its other competitors, but with Audi’s resurgence in the marketplace, things had to change. When it came time to redesigning the popular C-Class, the German automaker held nothing back and delivered a real statement. Sure, the styling is starting to look similar across the company’s entire lineup, but that’s not a bad thing when it works so well. The differences are substantial with the latest C-Class model, both in coupe and sedan form. It now has a stylish, curvy body while the front end is much more refined and sporty. Best of all, it doesn’t look like designers gave up when it came to penning the rear end, as the C-Class coupe is quite attractive from the back as well.

Read our Mercedes-Benz C-Class Review

4. Toyota Prius

If this was a list focusing on the most divisive redesigns in history, the Toyota Prius would likely take the top spot. According to reports, the redesign of the Prius was delayed because it wasn’t aggressive enough, which resulted in the crazy-looking hybrid we have today. Toyota is trying to make the Prius seem more exciting and sportier, with aggressive and sharp body lines. But it’s hard to imagine that everyone has fallen in love with it, considering how quickly the company changed its mind when it came to the Prius Prime plug-in model. The Prime has more conservative styling than the standard Prius, which says a lot about the redesign. It will be interesting to see if this pays off for the brand and how the Prius fares in years to come, especially with gas prices dropping.

Read our Toyota Prius Review

3. Ford Mustang

As one of the most famous American cars in the world, Ford has to be especially careful when it comes to redesigning its iconic sports car. But the most modern iteration is arguably the sportiest one yet, with Ford being able to retain all the trademark styling elements that has made the Mustang so famous for all these years without ruining the car’s design. Comparing the two models side-by-side, you can see just how big of a difference sleeker headlights and a more sculpted front end does to the car. This generation also brings what might be the best Shelby GT350 model yet, sporting a 5.2-liter V8 engine with 526 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque mated to a six-speed manual transmission. It also ushered in a turbocharged four-cylinder Mustang, much to the dismay of hardcore enthusiasts, so the changes were as dramatic on the inside as they were on the outside.

SEE ALSO: 2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350: 10 Things You Learn While Driving the Beast

2. Ford GT

There’s no way around it, the new Ford GT is stunningly beautiful. It’s wild, it’s crazy and it’s gorgeous all bundled in a high-performance package. It’s so different than the previous Ford GT that the American automaker had it on display in Europe and hardly any passersby guessed that it’s a Ford. Still, Ford managed to keep the long, low-slung characteristics of the Ford GT on the latest model, but set it up for a modern age. The result is one of the most exquisite cars we will see for some time.

SEE ALSO: Learn How the 2017 Ford GT Came to Be

1. Acura NSX

But the most dramatic redesign in recent years has to go to the Acura NSX. The Japanese automaker did a spectacular job creating a luxury supercar and it’s not just the styling that has rewritten the books. Instead of your run-of-the-mill gasoline engine sitting behind the cabin, the all-new NSX has a hybrid powertrain featuring a twin-turbo V6 engine combined with three electric motors for a total system output of 573 hp.

Years ago, the Acura NSX was considered the Ferrari or Lamborghini from Japan. But over the years, the NSX lost its luster and gave way to the Nissan GTR, although the GTR isn’t as stylish. But now Honda is back on the map with the newest NSX and all the changes were for the better.

Read our Acura NSX Review

Jason Siu
Jason Siu

Jason Siu began his career in automotive journalism in 2003 with Modified Magazine, a property previously held by VerticalScope. As the West Coast Editor, he played a pivotal role while also extending his expertise to Modified Luxury & Exotics and Modified Mustangs. Beyond his editorial work, Jason authored two notable Cartech books. His tenure at saw him immersed in the daily news cycle, yet his passion for hands-on evaluation led him to focus on testing and product reviews, offering well-rounded recommendations to AutoGuide readers. Currently, as the Content Director for VerticalScope, Jason spearheads the content strategy for an array of online publications, a role that has him at the helm of ensuring quality and consistency across the board.

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