20 craziest car redesigns of the past 20 years

20 craziest car redesigns of the past 20 years

Call them craziest. Call them most radical. Call them most significant. Whatever. These are the car redesigns of the past 20 years that ventured furthest from their predecessors and the automotive norm of careful evolution.

These are cars that totally chucked away the old playbook from one generation to the next. Some were massively successful in rejuvenating or flat-out establishing their brands. Some were "what were they thinking?" flops that required subsequent course correction for the next generation. Some went beyond styling to include fundamental mechanical differences. Some are on sale today.

Now, to be clear on the criteria here, the redesigns must carry the same nameplate, so no Kia Optima to K5. The nameplates must also have been in continuous production from one generation to the next, so no Jeep Cherokee, Ford Maverick or Dodge Challenger. All are also in alphabetical order.

Acura TL

2009 Redesign

Oops. The Acura TL was one of the best-selling luxury sedans at the turn of the century, and with the third-generation model (above left), it reached new heights in terms of both popular and critical reception. It was a great car, and although its sales began to cool as that generation got on in years, it would fall off the cliff with the fourth-generation TL introduced for 2009. It was bigger. It was worse to drive despite offering super-handling all-wheel drive. Worst of all, it was hideous front and back, with Acura's new Robo-beak grille drawing the most disdain. Not only would the TL never recover its former glory, Acura's own fortunes largely mirrored it. Today's TLX is very much in keeping with that third-generation model, as is Acura's wider re-focus on driver engagement, but they're only digging out from the hole started with that '09 TL.


2021 Redesign

In most ways, the redesigned 2021 BMW M4 was an evolution of the car it replaced. If you simply looked at it from the side or from the back, you'd see a tidy evolution and go, "Sure, they're both M4s." And then you'd get to the front. "Gaaagh!" has generally been the response when viewing ol' beaver teeth up there. Ditto the M3 and every 4 Series. Maybe history will be kinder to this redesign, but at the moment, BMW still seems absolutely bonkers.

BMW 5 Series

2004 Redesign

The M4's beaver teeth of today was the 7 Series' "Bangle butt" of nearly 20 years ago. That was in reference to that car's controversial rear end and the head of BMW design, Chris Bangle, who didn't actually design the thing. While that 7 Series might have been controversial, it was the subsequent 5 Series redesign that was a much greater departure from what had come before. The preceding, "E39" 5 Series was effectively considered the perfect sedan and today is considered a classic, which is a rare distinction for any sedan. Check out used car values for the E39 M5 ... they're insane. Then check them out for the succeeding E60 M5 ... they're lower despite all that V10 awesomeness. Front to back, the E60 was a radical departure from the tidy, clean proportions of the E39. I recall Car and Driver describing its face as "a Z3 with kabuki makeup on." It was also an evolutionary dead end as the next-generation 5 Series largely returned to business as usual.

Chevrolet Silverado HD

2020 Redesign

Chevy keeps insisting that its customers really love the new Silverado HD front end. If so, good for them. Others have been less appreciative. Still, regardless of whether you love the look or find it ghastly, you can't deny that Chevrolet really decided to shake things up with this latest generation. First, this is just about as bold as a pickup redesign gets, at least after the 1990s. There's nothing evolutionary about that, ah, face. Second, it makes it easy to pick out an HD versus a Silverado 1500. We're guessing all those customers particularly like that.

Ford Escape

2013 Redesign

Here's the first of several redesigns on this list where it looks like we're looking at cars built 10 years apart rather than one. Or just completely different nameplates altogether. The Escape was one of the first compact crossover SUVs, but it largely followed the truck-based SUV playbook of being upright and boxy. There was a massive overhaul for 2008 (pictured above), but the platform and general boxy concept carried over. For 2013, the automaker's "One Ford" policy saw the Escape aligned with the Kuga sold in other markets. And when you look at the previous Kuga, it's pretty obvious who the new Escape's real father was. So, in a way, they were completely different nameplates.

Ford Fusion

2013 Redesign

Here's another from the One Ford era, but whether you called it Fusion in Flint or Mondeo in Manchester, this was a radical departure for Ford's midsize sedan. People at the time "criticized" it for looking like an Aston Martin, but come on, that's like criticizing your significant other for looking like Gal Gadot or Regé-Jean Page. While the 2011 Hyundai Sonata declared that family sedans didn't need to be anonymous, this Fusion showed they could actually look really good. Still does. RIP.

Ford Mustang

2005 Redesign

Sure, this redesign turned back the Mustang clock visually, but there's no denying that the 2004 and 2005 Mustang look absolutely nothing alike. And, for the first time since 1979, there was an all-new platform.

Honda Civic

2006 and 2016 Redesigns

The Honda Civic from 2001 to 2005 might have been a tad conservative by comparison to its predecessors (and boy are Hondaphiles still grumpy about it switching to a MacPherson strut suspension), but it still followed Honda's evolutionary norm. There was nothing normal about its successor, the 2006 Honda Civic, which was bold, a bit weird, and quite simply a stunning departure for its brand. From its extremely cab forward proportions to its unusual split instrument panel, this was not Honda as usual. It was therefore even more unfortunate that the company not only went the conservative, evolutionary route for the next-generation model for 2012, but so badly phoned in the entire car there was an emergency refresh a year later. For 2016, which was a year earlier than the Civic's usual generational cadence, an all-new Civic arrived with a bold and decidedly different look in terms of style and proportion. Once again, fortune favored the bold.

Honda Pilot

Every Redesign

One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn't belong ... When Honda went about redesigning its trendsetting three-row family crossover, it decided to really stir the pot (perhaps not unlike the '06 Civic) and go with a boxy, truck-like design. Unfortunately, the rest of the industry was making rounded, wagon-ish three-row family crossovers in the mold of the original Honda Pilot. Critics panned it, and fewer people bought it. Perhaps learning a lesson, Honda went back to a rounded, wagon-ish three-row family crossover design for the third generation. Sales were indeed a bit stronger, but it now faced increasing competition, especially from those with a more rugged look. You know, like the Kia Telluride and its boxy, truck-like design.

Hyundai Elantra

2011 Redesign