Car talk: The shape shifters

The changing face of cars through different car generations

Over the course of a lifetime, a car can change size, shape and even class. Some for the better, some not so much. This week we're looking at a few examples of these shape shifting motors and the changes they've gone through through different car generations. From super minis to muscle cars, keep reading to see some of the biggest model changes in automotive history.

The Mercedes A-class

mercedes car generations

The Mercedes A-class started life as a subcompact city car back when it began production in 1997. The original car wasn't the prettiest motor in Mercedes line up but was certainly unique with its unusually tall yet relatively short body. The A-class was also unusual for Mercedes in that it was a front wheel drive machine when the German manufacturer typically favoured a rear wheel drive set-up. Despite later models being given slightly more powerful engines (they made a 193hp version if you're feeling brave) the A-class was never really created with performance in mind.

That all changed in 2013. The new A-class was no longer a subcompact city car but now a full sized hatchback ready to take on the BMW 1 series and the Audi A3. It looked sharper, it drove better and once AMG got hold of it, it became a monster of a hot hatch. It had hit the gym, put on some muscle and come out swinging at its rivals with nearly 380hp and a 0-60mph time of around 4.5 seconds. The A-class was no longer just your nans grocery runner, unless your nan had a need for speed.

The Nissan Micra

micra evo car generations

The Nissan Micra has been around since 1982 and first came to Europe in 1983, the first edition (the k10) was a boxy little thing that was loved at the time for its brilliant economy and class topping reliability. The second generation built on this success, using a lightweight all aluminium engine for even better economy, the Micra won an array of awards in its second form and was the first Japanese car to win 'European car of the year' in 1993. 

In 2002 however, Nissan completely lost the plot and decided to turn the Micra into a bubble car. To further add to their lunacy, Nissan also released a convertible version and if you ever feel the need to go immediately blind, we suggest typing the words 'Micra C+C 2005' into your preferred search engine. Questionable looks aside however, the 3rd edition Micra  was a brilliant little car and was well received by critics and continued to build on the cars success with better equipment and much improved safety standards, setting a new standard for city cars of the era.

After the 3rd version, the 4th generation tamed down the bubble car image a little but it's the latest version that represents perhaps the biggest change in the Micra's history. The new Micra looks worlds apart from the previous generations bubbly aesthetic with sharper, more modern styling and looks much more in line with it's closest rivals. Nissan have even put an N-sport version into production.

The Camaro fourth to fifth generation.

camro evo car generations

The Chevrolet Camaro is a name synonymous with American muscle car culture (though yes it is technically a pony car), Its been in production since 1966 and was Chevrolets answer to the successful Ford Mustang. The first gen Camaro came with a range of engines all the way up to the legendary 427 V8 that made a terrifying 425hp, and it was stylish too. The second generation Camaro built on the success of the first gen with new styling and much better handling while retaining the same platform that made the original great.

The style took a new direction when the third generation arrived and by the time the 4th generation was released, the Camaro had morphed almost completely into a Corvette-esque wedge. Despite some success, The Camaro was unable to match the heights of its glory years and was all but finished in 2002 after sales dipped and people began to fall out of love with the dated design that had been running the same platform for 35 years.

In 2009 however, the Camaro was back in business. Much like the Mustang a few years earlier, the Camaro looked back in time for aesthetic inspiration. Armed with a 425hp V8 and a fresh retro-futuristic look, the Camaro was once again selling well and became the pin up car for every teenager when it starred as Bumblebee in the Transformers film. Since then, the Camaro has continued to build on its new found success with the staggeringly fast ZL1 now making around 650hp.

The Chevrolet Impala

impala evo car generations

While we're talking American cars, lets discuss the Chevrolet Impala. As car generations go, this old girl has seen a few of them. Named after a South African Antelope, the original Impala was a masterpiece in 1950's design that still looks beautiful to this day. The stunning paint work, chrome trim and awesome lines made the original Impala a car for any petrol heads garage. In fact, you don't even have to like cars to appreciate how good looking this car was.

Fast forward 50 years and all of that charm had been well and truly lost. The Impala had aged, and not well. Sure, it may have better economy and a few more mod-cons but looks wise it had become boring, bland and anything but stylish.

By the time the 8th generation came around, the Impala was looking about as far away from its routes as possible. It featured none of the original cars glamourous design, was only available in front wheel drive and, for the first and only time in the cars history, came without a v8 option. The once iconic car looks to be discontinued for good after the 2020 model year though we really hope it follows in the footsteps of the Camaro and comes back better than ever.

All Kias, but shout out to the Optima.

kia evo car generations

On the opposite end of the spectrum we have KIA, a brand who over the last decade have made fantastic progress and are seeing their sales grow and grow. The Optima (known as the Magentis in the UK) wasn't impressive by any means when it first entered production, and it had a staggeringly low 1 star safety rating (IIHS,2001). Compared to other cars in its class, the Optima lacked quality and if you got one as a hire car, you'd strongly consider walking. 

Oh how they've changed. Two generations later the KIA Optima received a 5 star safety rating from the IIHS, the same organisation that rated it so poorly just a decade before. Not only did the car receive a 5 star rating but it also received a 'top safety pick+' from the institution. The Kia Optima has since won multiple awards including International car of the year twice.

The KIA Optima is a symbol of progress for the Korean brand who are now releasing plenty of stylish models with a reputation for reliability. The new KIA Stinger for example is now a genuine contender amongst its contemporary rivals, and that transferable warranty of theirs is the best on the market.

The Toyota Celica

celica evo car generations

In 1970, Toyota released the Celica as a direct response to the success of the Mustang, the Camaro and other similar pony cars. It featured similar styling and a rear wheel drive set up much like its competitors but without the big thumping V8 heart. As the Celica aged it followed the trends of the Camaro and Mustang, evolving into a more sporty look over time. The 4th generation made a departure from its traditional setup in favour of a front wheel drive arrangement.

By the time the 5th and 6th generations had run their course, the Celica had built a bit of a reputation in the world of motorsport, with a host of rally victories and a world championship to its name. The 7th generation Celica aimed to build on this success by offering a lightweight coupe with stylish looks, making use of a 1.8 litre Yamaha developed engine with VVT. This 7th generation would be the last for the Celica that despite fairly decent sales was dropped in 2006. Unlike the pony cars which it originally imitated, the Celica never got that retro reboot and ended its production life as a sportscar.

The Seat Toledo mk3

toledovolution car generations

The second generation Seat Toledo arrived in 1998 and was a bit of a shakeup to compared to the first generation model. Like many cars at the tail end of the 90's it swapped the boxy look for a more fluid shape and received a host of upgrades. This generation of Toledo was built on the same platform as the Mk4 Golf and signs of its hatchback routes showed a the rear of the vehicle, with the boot creeping towards hatchback territory. Seat would go one step further and release the brilliant Seat Leon as their proper hatchback model a little later on, producing the Toledo as a sort of hybrid between the sedan and hatchback alongside.

When the third iteration of the Toledo was released, it made the previous shake up look like a light retouching by comparison. This Mk 3 Toledo abandoned all signs of its saloon heritage and morphed to resemble a squashed MPV of sorts, apart from the name badge and stubby tail section you'd have no reason to think that they were the same model just a generation apart.

The car was well received and noted for its reliability, staying in production until 2009 when sales started to drop. The final generation Toledo appeared in 2012 and reverted back to its compact sedan style, looking much more believable as a successor to the first two generations.

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