Asian Heritage: The Design Evolution of the oldest Asian cars still in production
We took the oldest Asian cars still in production to determine the lineage of each entrant. The list includes a rally-bred compact, a lightweight roadster, and a perennial bestseller in the midsize sedan category. And for good measure, the list includes a quirky compact SUV that is currently making waves in the off-road scene.
Back in the 60s, muscle cars with large V8 motors were dominating the streets. But during the 1970s energy crisis, lighter and more fuel-efficient cars were experiencing a growth in demand. Japanese carmaker Honda was quick to pounce by introducing the Honda Civic in 1973. With the Civic leading the way, the Honda Accord came next in 1976. Both the Civic and the Accord haven’t looked back since.
The first-gen Honda Accord hatchback had a squarish profile and was the size of a VW Golf. But unlike other small cars back then, the Accord came with luxury features such as air-conditioning, an AM/FM radio, power steering, and a digital clock. Over the years, the Accord has grown in size to offer plenty of room for both passengers and cargo. The third-gen Accord was a bestseller. It was noticeably larger and came with a more powerful 2.0-liter engine, but the fourth-gen Accord from 1989 to 1993 put more emphasis on luxury with a sleeker profile, leather seating, a power sunroof, anti-lock brakes, and a Bose audio system.
The growth spurt went on until 1998 as the sixth-gen Accord was properly classified as a midsize vehicle by the U.S. EPA. It came with a larger 2.3-liter engine and a new 3.0-liter V6 with 200 horsepower. As the eight-gen Accord entered the market in 2008, it gave up its midsize status to qualify as a large car by the EPA. However, the revised ninth-gen model was smaller than the previous version while maintaining the same degree of cabin roominess.
The current tenth-gen Accord is lower and sleeker. It also has a tapering roofline to mimic the design of a two-door coupe. This is ironic considering the coupe variant of the Accord was dropped for this model generation.
The first-gen Hyundai Elantra started life as a humdrum compact powered by a Mitsubishi engine. But as the second-gen model was introduced in 1995, the new Elantra had a curvier body shape and a new lineup of Hyundai Beta engines. The new millennium ushered in a larger third-gen Elantra, but it lost the curvy body style of its predecessor.
In 2006, Hyundai introduced the fourth-gen Elantra with ‘coke bottle styling’ and a longer wheelbase. But what left the biggest impression is the fifth-gen Elantra with its swooping lines and curvaceous design. Hyundai further refined this look with the sixth-gen model by giving it a sleeker profile and a lower roofline.
The year 2020 ushered in the seventh-gen Elantra. It has marginally grown in size and has the longest wheelbase of all previous generations. Taking cues from Hyundai’s ‘parametric dynamics’ design idiom, the current Elantra has bolder styling and a larger grille.
The Mazda MX-5 needs no introduction. It’s the world’s most popular two-seat roadster and has won numerous awards for its fun-to-drive demeanor. The first-gen Mazda MX-5 was released in 1989 and was clearly inspired by post-war British sports cars like the Triumph Spitfire and MG B. It came with pop-up headlights, a folding roof, rear-wheel drive, and four-wheel independent double wishbone suspension. Naturally, the first-gen NA-model MX-5 became a smash hit.
Mazda was not about to mess with a proven formula when the second-gen NB-model MX-5 entered the fray in 1997. It had the same proportions as the first-gen model while borrowing certain styling cues from the third-gen Mazda RX-7. However, the second-gen MX-5 came with a fixed headlight design. The third-gen NC-model MX-5 was all-new and shared no exterior body panels from the first two generations.
The present fourth-gen MX-5 is shorter and lighter than the third-gen model. It also comes with sharper styling cues as a result of Mazda’s ‘Kodo’ design idiom. The fourth-gen model also welcomed the addition of a RF variant with a folding hardtop roof.
The original Prince Skyline was marketed as a luxury car, but it wasn’t until the third-gen model that the Skyline wore a Nissan badge. Whereas the first and second-gen models were relics of the past, the third-gen Skyline was looking into the future with its sleeker and sportier profile. The third-gen model also previewed the quad-tail light cluster that Skyline’s are known for. As the fourth-gen Skyline entered the market in 1972, it became known as the Datsun 160K, 180K, and 240K in other markets.
The fifth-gen model was larger and had a longer wheelbase. It also came with a more basic design as it transitioned from a sporty compact into a premium family sedan. This trend went on in the sixth and seventh-gen model, with the latter inheriting a boxy design idiom which was most prevalent during the early 1990s.
However, the eight-gen Skyline R32 had a sleeker and sportier form. It came with slimmer headlights and a more compact shape. Nissan went back to the drawing boards in 1993 by making the R33 Skyline larger and heavier than before despite retaining its sporting profile. Without a doubt, the tenth-gen R34 is the most iconic Skyline with its muscular stance and quad-round taillights.
The eleventh-gen Skyline had a curvier and more elegant shape while the twelfth-gen model became known as the Infiniti G35 and G37 in North America. This trend continues in the 13th-gen model which became popularly known as the Infiniti G50.
The Impreza sedan gave Japanese carmaker Subaru some real bragging rights in the rallying scene of the early 90s. The first-gen Impreza arrived in 1992 and was available as a 4-door sedan or station wagon. The second-gen Impreza went through no less than three facelifts from 2001 to 2007. The first ‘New Age’ Impreza was the legendary ‘bug eye’ model with round headlights and fog lights. It was also longer and wider than the previous model.
The next facelift was the ‘Blobeye’ Impreza while the ‘Hawkeye’ version followed next with a new grille, new headlights, and a larger hood scoop. The third-gen Impreza was available in hatchback and sedan body style and came with curvier styling and more rounded corners. The fourth-gen model was the same size as before, but it had a longer wheelbase and more conservative styling.
The current fifth-generation Subaru Impreza is based on an all-new platform and is still available in sedan and hatchback form. The new Impreza is slightly longer and has a longer wheelbase to offer more room, but its new platform is 100-percent more rigid to offer a sportier driving feel.
Unlike car-based crossovers built atop a unibody construction, the Suzuki Jimny is a genuine sport-utility vehicle with a ladder frame chassis. This makes it infinitely more capable in off-road driving than, say, a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4. And with its diminutive ‘kei car’ footprint, the Jimny is becoming more popular as a daily driver.
The first-gen Suzuki Jimny came in 1970 and became Suzuki’s first big global hit. Unbeknown to many, the first Jimny was based on a rebodied HopeStar On360, which was a series of small, off-road vehicles built in Japan by the Hope Motor Company during the late 1960s. Suzuki bought the Hope Motor Company in 1968 and introduced the first-gen Suzuki Jimny two years later.
Clearly, the Jimny was inspired by the original Willy’s Jeep with its rugged stance, round headlights, and upright windshield. It’s the same story in the second-gen model, but the third-gen Jimny had a more rounded and sleeker profile. The latest fourth-gen Jimny is a return to form with its upright design and squarish profile.
The Toyota Crown earns the distinction of being the longest-running nameplate in Toyota’s history. First introduced in 1955, the original Toyopet Crown was primarily conceived to meet Japan’s growing demand for public transportation. It has suicide rear doors, classic round headlights, and a compact footprint. However, the vintage styling gave way for a sleeker profile in the second-gen Crown released in 1962. With an enlarged grille, integrated quad-round headlights, and a clean-sheet design, the second-gen Crown has grown in size to offer more room. It also spawned the Crown Eight model which is even longer, wider, and more luxurious.
The fourth-gen Toyota Crown was the first to ditch the Toyopet name. It still had the familiar large grille and quad headlights, but the spindle-shape body has tapering front and rear ends. Meanwhile, the sixth-gen Crown had a more conservative design with cleaner lines and square headlights. The seventh-gen model gave way to a single-block headlight design while retaining the large center-mounted grille.
The ninth-gen Toyota Crown released in 1991 was a departure from the old-fashioned styling of previous models with rounded styling elements and a streamlined design. However, the 13th-gen model had a taller profile with wider and more rounded shoulders while the 14th-gen Crown debuted the razor blade grille design. The latest 15th-gen model is completely redesigned with slimmer headlights, a V-shaped grille, and a sloping roofline.
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