Many models have been for sale for a long time; in fact, some seem to be kept around because the nameplate is an iconic and positive image for the brand. Vehicles like the Honda Accord, Toyota 4Runner, Volkswagen Beetle and Dodge Grand Caravan are great examples of this. People remember and associate those models with the companies that build them. No need to say you own a Honda Civic—the very name imparts the Honda brand association. Manufacturers have sometimes struggled with naming vehicle. The Taurus, for instance, spent a couple of years as the Ford Five Hundred. The what? It didn't fly with the public and back came the Taurus name in short order. When Lincoln began launching its new lineup, even it had a hard time remembering which vehicle was which: MKX, MKS, MKT, MKZ…. Vehicles that the younger car-buying generation probably doesn't remember have been resurrected, the Dodge Dart being the most recent example. Though nothing like the original model that bore the name, the advantage is still clear: people hear Dart and think Dodge. They recognize it. It’s already familiar, which hopefully equates to more rapid public acceptance. The ultimate expression of this is, of course, sales.
For other models, however, there has been nearly uninterrupted production for 10, 20, even 40 years under the same badge—though the vehicle itself may have changed drastically over that time. At the most basic level, vehicle manufacturers can make several types of changes to models, from minor refreshes to major redesigns, from platform and class changes to pricing revisions. The impetus for these changes may be strategic, even if that means leaving the vehicle nearly untouched for long periods of time.
Major redesigns occur variably, as one would expect. It's very rare that a major redesign occurs after four years, much less a shorter interval. Five or six years is seen as average. Generally speaking, Korean manufacturers have the shortest intervals, European the longest. Then again, one of the oldest designs is that of the Ranger, which remained basically unchanged from 1998 to its retirement in 2012. Platform changes occur at the same or longer intervals, naturally. This is a grayer area, as one could argue the Ranger's platform never changed since its debut in 1982, though it saw changes in its engineering and wheelbase over the years. The Subaru Legacy/Outback's platform, for example, has never changed since its introduction, though it has seen wheelbase and interior volume increases over the last 22 years.
A vehicle can undergo a complete exterior (and interior) redesign while retaining the same platform and wheelbase. It's safe to say that when a wheelbase changes—and certainly when a platform changes—the manufacturer completely redesigns the look of the vehicle. At these times of major change, what happens under the hood? It depends. New engines and transmissions are often introduced with a redesign, but occasionally they carry over—and sometimes new drivetrains appear during a model cycle. Usually, a platform change requires a new drivetrain because of synergies between corporations. This can get tricky, and here's an example of the potential complexities: The new-platform Dodge Durango sports one new engine and one carryover engine, both Chrysler-sourced, along with a new transmission from Mercedes-Benz.
Along with the Durango, we've highlighted a few other vehicles that are excellent examples of the evolution of a vehicle. Why is all of this important? Because as you shop for a new or used vehicle, this information will affect which model year you consider. On our new car pricing pages we tell you what the last change for a vehicle was and when the next change is expected. You can often get a better deal during the last months of a current but long-in-tooth design, or you can wait for the next generation of the model and benefit from all the advantages—or suffer from the disadvantages—that might come with it. Knowledge is power; Choose Your Car Wisely.