Journal: Which Cars Evolved To Look Even Better As They Aged?

Which Cars Evolved To Look Even Better As They Aged?

By Andrew Golseth
March 2, 2016

This morning, while cruising down the highway I came upon a 2007-2009 model year Nissan 350Z. I recognized the car’s year range from the mid-cycle refresh updates, which include a revised hood reminiscent of the older Z models, larger machine-polished five-spoke alloys, and more attractive xenon headlights and taillights.

Now, the early 350Z is by no means “ugly,” but Nissan did a spectacular job refreshing the Z. The surprisingly unmodified and spotlessly clean black example I ran across caught my eye this morning—and a 350Z normally doesn’t. It got me thinking, “Man, they really nailed that refresh.”

Shortly after, once the coffee started turning gears, it dawned on me: many enthusiasts think that original designs often can’t be improved up. So I started thinking, “What other cars look better after a mid-cycle refresh?”

It certainly took a minute, because I too tend to believe what’s originally released is hard to beat. Perhaps it’s a bit of regularity? We see the car for years in one light, so when a manufacturer goes about tweaking it, we freak out? I don’t know, but I started to recall a few cars that look better when the designers got the green light for plastic surgery.

I’m a tad biased because I owned a number of these, but the DC2 Honda Integra Type R is one of those cars that looks better post-facelift… or in this case… a backside enhancement—no, not like the Kardashian’s. You see, the ’96 spec Honda Integra Type R looks fine. In fact, I tend to believe it’s one of H-car’s finest from the ’90s. The 15” Enkei eight-spokes look sporty enough and the rest of the car looks stunning, especially in Championship White.

Here’s the mid-cycle refresh for the model. It’s subtle, but it’s certainly an improvement. The fascia was left alone with the exception of factory projector HIDs—the lens have a circle etched in front of the projector to distinguish the look from the early standard lamps. The wheels were bumped up to 16×7” ten-spoke units that really improve the car’s stance by filling out the wheelwell a bit more. That rear-end treatment though? Biggest improvement. Again, it’s not loud, likely unnoticeable at first glance to those non-ITR fanatics, but the rear bumper is slightly taller—as in, it hangs lower to the ground. From the profile, it helps level the side skirt with the back of the car and from the rear a faux diffuser adds some flair and compliments the rather tall factory wing.

Another car I believe looks better post facelift is the Ferrari Testarossa. Now, the original is perfectly ’80s. With its boxy Pininfarina body, flip-up headlamps, and massive side blades—known to “slice like a ninja, cut like a razor blade… so fast”—the original iteration of the Testarossa is fine. Small alterations were made throughout production—not in one swift update—such as the painted front lower valance, larger diameter wheels, and two mirrors.

Now, as fond as I am with classics with just one side view mirror, the Testarossa’s high-mounted driver’s-side-only unit (yes, like the one on Miami Vice) always looked quirky to me. A later ’Rossa with two mirrors mounted down low, where they should have always been mounted? Yes, please, and thank you! Now, the 512TR revisions? Uh…

Finally, one of my very favorite saloons came to mind—the E38 BMW 7-series. To this day, I think a 2001 BMW 740i M Sport is the greatest sedan ever to rein from Munich—over any M5 (put down the pitchforks…you can’t shank me through the internet).

Now, that’s not to say when it debuted in 1994, it was perfect. I’m sure it was fine back in the ’90s, but unpainted side skirts and half painted bumpers on a Bavarian flagship? Unacceptable! 1998 brought the first major aesthetic changes, often referred to as the mid-life facelift: more attractive tail lights helped out back, while the glass rectangular headlights were ditched in favor of plastic units, but featured Xenon projector low beams with a squinted lens look—which became BMW’s corporate headlight shape for the early 2000s.

The ’98 mid-life facelift was an improvement, but the E38 still had that “unfinished” look thanks to the unpainted plastic cladding. Thankfully, for the final production year, BMW fixed this by offering full color-matched bumpers and skirts, and offered the M Sport model with “Shadowline” window and bumper trim (black in place of chrome), and machine polished 18” M Parallel wheels. All of which were great improvements over the original design.

The Nissan 350Z, Honda Integra Type R, Ferrari Testarossa, and BMW E38 7 series are just a few examples of mid-cycle alterations done right. What says ye, readers? What vehicles do you think were better off after factory updates? Let us know in the comments!

Photos courtesy of Honda, Nissan, BMW, Porsche

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4 years ago

Alfa 166
Abarth 500, latest facelift makes it look more powerful and sporty

Mike Aldridge
Mike Aldridge(@bikingmike)
4 years ago

The Porsche 944 turbo/S2 looks so much better than the earlier cars, with the much more integrated front bumper design and rear valance which gives the car a much cleaner and more visually muscular look.

And since there seem to be a number of Alfa 156 owners on here ( I’m one too), I prefer the earlier nose and tail treatment. The facelift taillights had the slope reversed so it kinda makes the rear of the car look slightly flabby rather than tight and lean.

4 years ago

The first golf cabrio massively improved. So did the saab 900 turbo

Jim Levitt
Jim Levitt(@jrl1194)
4 years ago

Try E39

Avinda D. Perera
Avinda D. Perera(@dimitries115)
5 years ago

Mercedes does it all the time. The w124, w210, w211, w204, w212 all excellent facelifts. Others that have caught my eye, probably the Carina GT refresh, at210, the LandCruiser j78 Prado, both made significant changes which kinda keep the two still fresh. Check even the new Toyota Premio and Allion nzt260, brilliantly done.

Chaims Hamza
Chaims Hamza(@jameshamza80)
5 years ago

I think the Alfa 159 was a truly inspired up date of the 156 idea but could never have the same impact of the original.I don’t know if that counts but it is more similar concept visually than say an e23 and e30. like a good cover tune It has the perfect balance of elements of the original and something new. I don’t know if it counts as an update or a new model, but if not, then I’ll have to hit you with the queen of updates, the ’68 Citroen ds.

Chaims Hamza
Chaims Hamza(@jameshamza80)
5 years ago
Reply to  Chaims Hamza

E24 was a good job done for BMW, a refresh that took a car into a new era, I can’t think of many cars that did that unless you count budget cars from developing countries and they are successful for different reasons

Avinda D. Perera
Avinda D. Perera(@dimitries115)
5 years ago
Reply to  Chaims Hamza

Yeah the 159 was an all new car compared to the 156. But conceptually a ‘refresh’. The 156 did however get a face-lift, which is still quite contemporary and looks more modern that some of the current offerings from Germany

5 years ago

I think the S2000 ap2 looks better than the ap1, the mid cycle refresh of the 90-91 crx was a nice subtle change for the front clip and the rear lights. The NSX feels like it was better before the pre 2000 facelift, but i’m partial to pop ups. 🙂

As for the Z i like the 370 more than the 350, the 370 has more of the silhouette of the 240 Z which is still the best looking Z .

The new Audi R8 doesn’t look as good as the first generation, which is weird because they look similar but somewhere they lost the plot.

5 years ago

FJ60 Land Cruiser
Volvo 240
First generation Isuzu Trooper
Range Rover Classic

Tim Scott
Tim Scott(@noddy)
5 years ago

Lotus Espirit. 2nd Generation smoothed it all out and stretched its life by another 10-15 years.

richard brown
richard brown(@73rebzcar)
5 years ago

great article, andrew

as a z guy (73 240z and 07 350 grand touring), of course this was read immediately. the bulge in the hood for the ’07, ’08 model year (’09 was the first 370z), is how i too start to distinguish. part of this was due to the introduction of the engine design going to dual air intakes and revised plenum…they simply went to pay homage to the first gen z’s with the bulge, which really sets the car off. i also have a first gen 2000 xterra v-6/six speed; it’s hood was like the first 350’s yet they added a power bulge when the v-6 was revised. this gave the x a bit of a refreshing as well, along with round headlights and a revised grille.

the pic nissan sent you of the sunset z was actually the track model (brembo brakes, rayes forged wheels, underbody diffusers) which made way to the grand touring. personally, the rays wheels and brembo brake package stand out the most from any of the z’s.

you are spot on related to all three pieces you referenced. often, and most successfully, it’s normally subtle. all three manufacturers were extremely successful with these.

luv the variety in which y’all bring interesting articles to us.

Marian Sima
Marian Sima(@mariansima1976)
5 years ago

Audi TT second generation was a huge improvement to the first aaaaand they messed it up again with the third gen hahahaha.

Stephan P
Stephan P(@alfettaracer)
5 years ago

Maserati Quatroporto.
I never liked the first gen, although it’s growing on me now, second gen was better. Even though I don’t like most new cars (too generic) the new ones look fantastic.

Bobby Pridgen
Bobby Pridgen(@rapridgen)
5 years ago

I would have to say the early ’60 Ford Starliners.

Adam Penman
Adam Penman(@adpenman2301)
5 years ago

We’re all taking big cars here, but my first thought went out the the little Italian convertible: the Fiat Barchetta. That facelift turned a well proportioned car into a piece of perfection (a small piece though!)

My second thought went to a real obvious one, the Mazda MX-5, this car has remained largely unchanged for its entire production run, but each facelift/”new model ” send to improve again and again

5 years ago

No, not the Nissan ZX, man. It’s not growing to look better, your eyesight is getting worse, that’s all.
Actually, my sister has one, since new, she loves it like she loves her first child (she doesn’t have any kid), so I just way it takes all kind.

Martin Philippo
Martin Philippo(@martin-philippo)
5 years ago

I got one! The Volvo P1800 turned into the 1800ES with that beautiful glass rear door.
Yep, that was an improvement!

Martin Philippo
Martin Philippo(@martin-philippo)
5 years ago

I find it very difficult to think of a car that improved with the years.
They’re cars, not wine!

Leon Prinsloo
Leon Prinsloo(@leonpmu)
5 years ago

Then I feel very sad for you, as petrolhead (which I shall dangerously assume you are, considering the website you are visiting), then you cannot see that sometimes a revision on a nice car can actually make it that much better.

Now I know that the article writer is talking about older genration vehicles, but it can also apply to more recent cars, for example, I now drive a 2017 Kia Cerato/ Forte5 (look at the Australian Kia site to see the design and I think this design is a huge improvement on the 2015 model, the front end has much better lines and a more aggressive face. Schreyer and his team have got it sorted.

Somebody here mentioned the Lotus Esprit, and I fully agree.

Slothy McEatsalot
Slothy McEatsalot(@kevinleeknl)
5 years ago

While I love the simplicity of the old cars (the original 911, Mini, BMW 2002, etc. ) I think there are quite a few whose successors are better lookers. The 997 to the 991, for instance. Or the C6 to C7 Vettes, perhaps even the new NSX, Civics, and Accords. But, I these are all improvements done with facelifts, nothing radical. The only one that comes to mind in that respect is the new electric Morgan 3 wheeler with a whole new drive train and concept beautifully integrated into its heritage. I think its looks rival, and in some ways exceed, the aesthetics of the classic petrol version.

Michael Grayen
Michael Grayen(@michael-grayen)
5 years ago

Pretty boring post. I don’t think Integra is appropriate vehicle to be mentioned on Petrolicious. I apologize for sounding a little rude. I just want to express my feedback as a Petrolicious subscriber. Because hey, comments are here to share opinions.

Cameron S
Cameron S(@chester-sing)
5 years ago
Reply to  Michael Grayen

While you are at it, may I ask how you determined that the Integra is not worthy of a feature? Do you have some sort of judging criteria?

As for boring, you are entitled to your opinion. I just wished you had kept it to yourself. We are in the Petrolicious channel after all – a channel for people who I presume to aim to be tasteful.

Karl Muth
Karl Muth(@karlmuth)
5 years ago

Obvious examples, in my view, are the post-refresh 512bbi (see your video on the guy with the silver one parked in his office), the B5 S4 (1998 onward looked a lot better than 1995-1997), the 997.2 GT3 versus the 997.1 GT3 (particularly the tail lamps), the later Gallardos (but particularly the final cars), and the 575 vs. 550 (as Mr. Lange correctly mentions below).

JB Corvettes
JB Corvettes(@mandkmotors)
5 years ago

C2 Corvette was a vast improvement over the C1. Then went downhill for a while

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange(@365daytonafan)
5 years ago

If you count it as a facelift rather than a new car the 512TR was better looking than the Testarossa IMO, although Ferrari messed it up again with the F512M.

In a similar vein I prefer the headlight treatment on the Ferrari 575 to the 550.

Eba Normaalne
Eba Normaalne(@madis503)
5 years ago

series 5 RX-7 vs. series 4.

Max Biddy
Max Biddy(@davidguest4)
5 years ago

The Alfa Romeo 156 went from quirky to an absolute beauty in one facelift, on the inside and the outside.

It’s a shame they didn’t give the GTAs the Giugiaro face.

Razvan H
Razvan H(@razvan29)
5 years ago
Reply to  Max Biddy

I was just about to say the same thing, but I think the da Silva pre-facelift version will age better, and this is coming from an 156 facelift owner.

Also the GTV 916 is a soon-to-be future classic.

Dave McGowan
Dave McGowan(@davidlondrake)
5 years ago

I get that they were underpowered and overweight, but how about the ’96 update to the 6th generation Celica? Got rid of the smiley front fascia, and ST models got side skirts, just like the GT’s.

Robb Currie
Robb Currie(@orangecelica95)
5 years ago

The 98-01 Subaru Impreza was a big step forward from the 93-97 pre-facelift .

5 years ago

Have to take issue with your M5 comment 🙂

Very subtle, but second gen E39 M5 over first gen. Tiny clean up that make it even more perfect

Wes Flack
Wes Flack(@wesflack)
5 years ago

E30 , in markets with diving boards.

5 years ago

The second generation RX-7 1986-1991

In 1989 Mazda color matched the side molding and changed the taillights from the very 80s blocks to smoked lenses with circular cut outs. There were other changes, but those made it look a lot sleeker.

Ray Jay
Ray Jay(@hamfisted)
5 years ago
Reply to  jolocho

No one will remember the 2nd gen. It apes the 944

5 years ago

Bit confused. That’s the rather more portly E65 7er, no? E38 was easily the looker of that series in my book.

The just-departed Jaguar XF, maybe?