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What Car’s Design Unexpectedly Held Up The Longest?

Not even GM ownership could make the Saab 9-5 look dated at the time of its release, but other cars from VW, Audi and Honda were also blessed with timelessness.

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2012 Saab 9-5
Photo: Saab

If the second-generation Saab 9-5 were to come out tomorrow, it would hardly look out of place among modern cars. The Saab would even put some new cars to shame with its sleek looks and uncluttered design. Without the context of Saab’s untimely death, it’s hard to believe the last of the 9-5s came out more than a decade ago. It’s also hard to believe a GM design from that time period has aged so gracefully. What other cars have held up the same way, with design that’s just as refreshing now as when the models were first released?

Despite the 2012 Saab 9-5 being a pretty tame GM model under its skin, the Swedish sedan looked way ahead of its time. In fact, if it weren’t for the crappy GM interior that undid the idiosyncrasies of the Saab cabin, the latter 9-5 would have had flawless, timeless looks all around.


I can think of a few other cars like this off the top of my head, which a lot of car lovers could agree on — like the best versions of the Corvette, or the simple design of models such as the first Audi TT or Volkswagen Jetta Mk.IV. But there are also some models that not a lot of people would agree have held up, when they have, in fact, held up. That’s more or less what what I mean by unexpected.

I’m thinking of the first Honda Insight, which went from being a basic but innovative rendering of what compact cars might look like in the future, to a toy that came with a Happy Meal from a Michael Bay movie. For shame, Honda.


The models that I’ve described here are more or less from the same time period, but your answers don’t have to fit into any given time frame — as long as the car models you pick are old enough that they can look to their successors and shake their heads wondering where it all went wrong.

People change. Cars should be given the freedom to change, too, but some changes threaten to undo the magic of an iconic design. Well, unless you’re a BMW designer, because the brand is apparently playing the long con. BMW seems to think a car’s “good” looks achieve longevity by...alienating people? No, that can’t be right. Can it? I suppose we can always ask the BMW Isetta.