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Buying a Car: What’s a ‘Facelift,’ a ‘Redesign’ and a ‘Refresh’?

If you’re interested in buying a car, you may see terms like facelift, redesign and refresh in reviews. These phrases usually describe some type of update to a vehicle, but what exactly does each one mean? We’ve listed some explanations to help make these terms easy to understand when you’re choosing your next car.

Refresh

In the automotive world, each new model year typically sees manufacturers updating vehicles with changes such as new features, paint colors and option packages. These updates are expected and considered to be business as usual.

A refresh is one step above these usual updates. The term describes a car’s conventional yearly updates plus some small exterior changes, such as a revised front or rear bumper, new lights or new wheel designs. In other words, a refresh is the smallest possible change made to a car in addition to the normal year-to-year revisions.

Facelift

A facelift is one step above a refresh. The term facelift, also called a major update or, by automakers, a reengineering, describes typical model year updates combined with a substantial stylistic change, a heavily revised interior and more new features than you’d expect from a simple refresh.

If a car has had a facelift, expect it to have a noticeably different look than last year’s model, along with updated features and new equipment. Its pricing may also rise compared to the previous year’s model, but a car that’s had a face-lift will still use the same engines and platform as its predecessor.

Redesign

A redesigned car has undergone extensive changes both inside and out and probably under the hood compared to its predecessor. If you’re looking at a newly redesigned car, expect the latest in technology, a highly modern interior and the sharpest, most up-to-date styling, and expect a higher price to match. Newly redesigned cars are less likely to tout incentives, deals or special offers compared with their predecessors, as they’re usually in high demand.

Refresh vs. Face-lift vs. Redesign

In case you’re still unclear, here’s a quick summary of the differences and similarities between a refresh, a face-lift and a redesign to help when you’re buying a car.

While minor updates with each passing model year are normal, a refresh combines those updates with some small revisions to a car’s exterior styling and possibly small changes to its interior. A face-lift adds more new features and usually offers a substantial stylistic update, both inside and out. Finally, a redesign is a full, ground-up rework of the car, usually accompanied by a totally new look, many new features, a new interior and a new powertrain.

While a refresh can come at any point during the car’s life cycle, a face-lift usually comes in the middle to help prolong the design and keep it fresh in the face of competition. Meanwhile, a redesign starts a car’s life cycle over again.

Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More

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