“It’s a ballsy move, though, making a car look like its predecessor. But one that’s starting to spread – Audi’s in on the game too, with its new Q5, and BMW did it with the new 5 Series not long ago” writes Autocar.
The Golf is a text-book example of a product that has evolved gradually over the course of its 40 years on the market. Audi have also cleaved to such a strategy as do BMW (nearly). Mercedes have been less adept at this. Sometimes they’ve adopted quite florid designs such as the fintail cars and most of the current batch. At other times they’ve had the urge to
present carefully rational and conservative cars (and let’s also remember their vertical affinity custom) for a few model cycles.
So, there is a case for some caution in car design. However, a blanket statement to the effect that all car makers should aspire to gradual evolution is just that, a blanket statement. There are times when gentle updating of an existing design is the wrong move. The market shifts and perhaps there comes a time when it’s strategically wrong to do more of the same (ask BMW). It can be necessary to signal a change of character and technology. If everyone is doing the same thing, swimming the other way in the river of custard might be a sensible move. That can be “ballsy” to use the phrasing from Autocar.
Some manufacturers have studiously avoided gradual evolution and done well-enough. Toyota, for example, are quite a big and profitable company and one thing they don’t bother with is respecting the design heritage they have. Every new Corolla is a new design and they sell steadily. Renault, Ford and Opel have also been consistently inconsistent yet also still shift the products (and remember that VW has had plenty of dud years these last two decades, for all their product consistency). Even with VAG, you can pick out Skoda for their wandering style and it has not hurt them all that much). The design strategy also depends on the market position. For a commodity car, gradual evolution might be useful – as we have said here the Renault 5 and Clio could have benefited from evolution. Point, counterpoint: they sell buckets of them anyway. Their customers don’t worry too much about design consistency. Ford’s Focus has been through three entirely different looks and still shifts the metal.
About the only dogma that applies in car design is that dogma is best avoided. What every car makers should aspire to is the right product at the right time and that might mean a polite genuflection to past glories and it might mean a clean sheet vehicle.