John LeBlanc's 10 worst redesigns | Wheels.ca
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Published On Sat Feb 06 2010

John LeBlanc's 10 worst redesigns

2007 Lincoln Navigator

John LeBlanc says that when it came time to redesign the original 1998 Navigator for 2007, Ford's designers put a little too much "shizzle" in their "nizzle."

SPECIAL TO THE STAR

A 2004 study published in the American Society of Plastic Surgeons' medical journal found that deaths occurring at office-based surgery facilities are rare – fewer than 0.25 per cent.

Unfortunately, the car design world can't boast the same survival rate. Inevitably, the elective surgery performed on some already good-looking vehicles has been fatally unattractive.

As examples, here are my 10 worst redesigned cars:

10. 2008 SUBARU TRIBECA

When the 2006 B9 Tribeca three-row crossover arrived, it not only announced a new type of vehicle for the Japanese brand, but also a new design language. With its central grille flanked by twin nostrils, think Japanese Alfa Romeo. I did.

But apparently the media didn't allow good ol' practical Subaru to have any kind of styling flair. As soon as the B9 Tribeca was first seen, the barbs and complaints flew hot and heavy.

Needless-to-say, Subaru recoiled from the public criticism with an about-face redesign for the 2008 Tribeca (the B9 was dropped), now looking like a Xerox the now deceased Chrysler Pacifica.

9. 2008 SCION XB

The original, 2004 xB from Toyota's U.S.-only Scion brand has ended up as a cult classic. It's small and boxy proportions were a slice of Japanese culture, served up fresh to a waiting, younger group of car buyers looking for something other than the Civics and Corollas their parents were driving.

But for the 2008 redesign (the one that's coming to Canada this Fall), Toyota lost Scion's original recipe.

Bigger, heavier, longer, blander-looking and not nearly as much fun to drive as the original, the second-generation xB was not much different than the mainstream Toyota Matrix. You know. The car your aunt drives to the garden centre...

8. 2004 CHEVROLET MALIBU

Although the previous Malibu was a bad rip-off of the 1991-1996 Toyota Camry, it's hard to explain why Chevy designers got out their ugly sticks for the 2004 redesign.

What's worse? The googly-faced headlights? Or how about those unrelated fender swaths that pull back from the wheel openings? While apparently, the '04 Malibu's wide, chrome porn-stache was created to resemble a Chevrolet truck – a design element that was hastily removed for 2006.

And don't even get me started about the Malibu hatchback that stirred up the ghosts of Chevrolet Citations from the past.

7. 2008 FORD FOCUS

Not only did we lose the practical five-door hatchback and wagon models for its 2008 redesign, Ford changed Focus styling from cutting edge to butter-knife dull.

The '08 Focus's protruding front bumper, oddly-shaped headlights, small tail lights and faux-fender vent work as well together as an Israeli-Palestine knitting bee.

I guess with an all-new (and much better looking) Focus not coming onboard until the 2012 model year, Ford had to do something with its almost decade-old Focus. Too bad the result looks as if each designer sketched an idea on the back of a playing card, then played 52-pickup for the final design.

6. 2010 MAZDA3

Mazda's 3 compact has been a perennial top seller in Canada since its debut six years ago. And one of its main appeals has been a clean, attractive, almost European design. But, for its mid-life refresh, you'll have to stroke out "attractive" and replace it with "huh?"

I know what Mazda was attempting. Apply a little RX-8 styling onto the existing Mazda3's architecture. Maybe throw in some of Mazda's forthcoming Nagare design language, just for fun.

Unfortunately, the car's perma-smile front end has resulted in a car Batman's' biggest rival, The Joker, would love.

5. 2007 LINCOLN NAVIGATOR

The original 1998 Navigator had been the epitome of understated styling. About the only thing separating the Lincoln SUV from the Ford Expedition it was based on were a generous heaping of chrome ladled on to its exterior.

But when it came time to redesign the 2007 Navi (see main photo), Ford's designers put a little too much "shizzle" in their "nizzle."

The planks of chrome slapped against its sides, the twin front grilles that together, looked like they could ventilate a nuclear powerplant, the over-designed headlights – it's tough to decide which of the '08 Navigator's exterior details is the more obnoxious.

PS: The less said about the Lincoln's rolling-bordello interior, the better.

4. 1996 FORD TAURUS

The original 1986 Ford Taurus was almost the perfect car for its time. One of Ford's first front-wheel-drive cars, its aerodynamic styling and handling reminded buyers of more upscale cars like the Audi 500. Subsequently, Ford ended up selling a bazillion of the things.

Then Ford screwed it up.

Instead of the crisp design of the first models, Ford got all adventurous, and repeatedly used an oval in the new Taurus's design.

Now, I'm not saying the '96 redesign killed the Taurus.

But here's a fact: Between 1992 and 1996, the Taurus was the best-selling car in the United States. The next year, the Camry took over the top spot.

3. 2002 BMW 7-SERIES

You want a controversial redesign? How about death threats directed at the car's designer?

That was the 2002 BMW 7-series, the work of then BMW head pen Chris Bangle – the namesake for the car's oddly proportioned trunk, or so-called "Bangle butt."

After the relatively conservatively designed pervious-generation 7-series, the new car was a shock. Thousands of BMW fashionistas and aesthetes wanted to ship Bangle back to design school.

Or worse. Some started online petitions calling for his firing. One even created an "I Hate Chris Bangle!" website.

2. 2009 ACURA RL

As a flagship model for its premium Acura line, Honda stubbornly wouldn't give luxury customers what they wanted: rear-wheel-drive, V8 engines and lots of people and cargo room.

Instead it launched the RL sedan in 2006. A vehicle that, when compared to rivals from Lexus, Infiniti and the German brands, was smaller, less powerful yet just as pricey.

Guess what? RL sales ended up about as flat as a Saskatchewan prairie.

Honda's solution: Throw a Knights of the Round Table grille at the front of the RL, chisel out the back deck, and ladle on the chrome for a quickie redesign in 2008.

Et voila! Instant schizophrenic design classic!

1. 2007 CHRYSLER SEBRING

Compared to its Cirrus predecessor, the 2007 Sebring was one big leap backwards for Chrysler's design department.

The front-drive Sebring styling was mash-up of the production Crossfire and Airflite concept – both rear-drive cars. And to the buying public, the proportions just didn't add up.

Not only were the '07 Sebring's looks, er, challenging, it was not as well made or did it drive as nicely as the Cirrus. So much for progress.

The antithesis of the über-cool Chrysler 300, three year's later, Sebring sales are running about one-sixth the number of Cirrus sold in 2001.

And they say, looks aren't everything.

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