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5 Cars That Could Use a Little Retro Styling

Doug DeMuro recently posited the question of whether the retro design trend is dead. I think it’s definitely on the decline — but I also think it still has at least a little steam left. We’ve seen the retro design trend go too far into the absurd with oddities like the Chrysler PT Cruiser, but we also see modern cars that look great — partially thanks to design cues from a classic predecessor, like the current Dodge Challenger.

There are a few cars on the market today with names that invoke a predecessor with a well-deserved classic status. However, their present-day versions can leave a bit to be desired in the looks department and I think could use a little retro inspiration. Here are five cars that I think could benefit from a little retro styling.

Chevrolet Camaro

Chevrolet Camaro

Yes, the current sixth-generation Camaro does have some retro design cues, most notably in its overall shape and some character lines in the body. But with the most recent face-lift for the 2019 model year, I think the Camaro would have been better off moving backward rather than forward in design. I can’t say I’m a fan of that new face, especially on the SS model, and I think the pre-face-lift version of the current-gen Camaro looked much better with just the right balance of retro and modern. Find a Chevrolet Camaro for sale

Nissan Pathfinder

Nissan Pathfinder

The Nissan Pathfinder is a model what we’ve watched gradually evolve from a rugged off-road SUV to a mall-crawling family crossover. It’s not hard to see why, as Nissan started selling significantly more Pathfinders when the current generation was introduced for 2013. I don’t think the current Pathfinder is a bad-looking SUV, but some of those old Pathfinders sure looked cool. I have no problem with the Pathfinder turning into a family SUV, but how cool would it be if it was still nice and boxy with those classic slanted windows in the back? Find a Nissan Pathfinder for sale

Volkswagen Jetta

Volkswagen Jetta

The Volkswagen Jetta is another car that doesn’t necessarily look bad — but I think it’s a bit boring and could be made much more interesting with a little retro inspiration. Along with the most recent generation of the Jetta, it just kind of blends in with the crowd and doesn’t have much character. If it borrowed a few design cues from its past — like boxier headlights and taillights and more straight lines rather than flowing curves and soft edges — I think it would stand out a little more. Find a Volkswagen Jetta for sale

Toyota 86

Toyota 86

The Toyota 86 is named after the old Toyota AE86, but the two cars really don’t have anything in common aesthetically. That said, the 86 is a nice spiritual successor to the AE86 in the sense that it’s a lightweight sports car with a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout. One of the cool things about the old AE86 is that it was available as either a coupe or a hatchback, which I think would be a cool treatment to give the 86 for enthusiasts looking for a more practical hatchback. There’s a lot of positive nostalgia for the angular look and the pop-up headlights of the AE86 — and I wonder if a car that looks like that would sell today. Find a Toyota 86 for sale

Mercedes-Benz SL-Class

Mercedes-Benz SL-Class

Now here’s a car that I think is wasting its fantastic pedigree. Like most of the cars we’re talking about, the current one isn’t an ugly car, but compared to some of its predecessors with the same name, it’s a bit dull. The original Mercedes-Benz 300 SL is widely praised as one of the most beautiful cars of all time, and the gullwing doors on the early models are iconically cool. It had such a classy and elegant design, while also looking decidedly sporty — and you could say the same about the current generation of the SL-Class. But the new one is just kind of bland when compared to the original. I think Mercedes-Benz should look at what Jaguar is doing with the F-Type, which is borrowing a few design cues here and there from the E-Type while making a decidedly modern luxury sports car. Find a Mercedes-Benz SL-Class for sale

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  1. I wish VW would just build the Jetta to the higher-grade Mk4-MkV models but then I guess they’d have to charge $30k+ for it which doesn’t make business sense. Guess you can always buy an A4 for around that since they discount them a lot. 

  2. 16-18 Camaro is far better than the 19, but thankfully they mostly fixed it with the 2020 update. 

  3. The Chevy Silverado should go back to their boxy roots like this one that Doug needs to write about.

  4. Great article, and I agree with a lot of those selections.  I have a 2017 Camaro and I think the design is one of the best ever, and probably as good looking or better than my 1968 Camaro.  The boxier Pathfinder and a more retro designed SL are brilliant ideas.  Why not?  Everything on the road today mostly blend into one another, and it doesn’t have to be that way.  Nicely done article.

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Eric Brandt
Eric Brandt
Eric Brandt is an author specializing in Oversteer content, new car reviews, and finding the best car, truck, and SUV deals each month. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Eric can often be found exploring the north woods on his 1983 Honda Gold Wing when the weather allows it. Father of four, husband of one, and unapologetic minivan enthusiast. Eric mastered driving stick by having a 3-cylinder Chevy... Read More about Eric Brandt

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