Cars change more often than model names do. A large proportion of the vehicles we see on the road today have the same badge as ones built may years ago. Even if no two components are the same, it’s still possible to think of the new model as a descendant of the older one.
Sometimes this family connection remains apparent even if the name does change. A modern Toyota Auris, for example, occupies the same market sector and is trying to appeal to the same type of customer as several generations of Corolla did in the past.
That example, and many others, will be looked into more closely in the following slides.
Keeping it in the family with first and last generation models
The original Audi 80 was one of several models in the F103 range, introduced in 1969. Others included the 60, the 72, the 75 and the 90. F103s were the first cars since the 1930s to carry the Audi name, which replaced the previous, more downmarket DKW one.
Although there were some variations (4000 in North America and 5+5 in Australia), 80 became a model name in its own right for four generations from 1972 until the mid 1990s. The final car’s replacement had a name more familiar to us today.
Audi changed its naming strategy in the 1990s, replacing two- and three-digit numbers with the letter A and one digit. Like the 80, the A4 was the company’s medium-sized family car. It is now in its fifth generation. There have therefore been nine generations of the 80/A4 in total, or ten if you count one model in the F103 range of nearly half a century ago.
BMW 3-Series (old)
The first 3-Series was launched in 1975 with a simple but effective three-box body shape which was carried over into the second generation and used until the early 1990s.
A more swooping style was introduced in for the third model, known internally and to BMW experts as the E36). Today’s cars are still recognisably derived from this design, though there are a great many detail differences.
BMW 3-Series (new)
The 3-Series you can buy new today is the sixth in a line which has been on the market for over 40 years.
There are fewer body styles than there once were. Previous 3-Series were available as coupes and convertibles. Strictly speaking, the current one is too, but those versions are now marketed as 4-Series.
Fiat 500 (20th century)
Fiat has been making 500s since just before the Second World War. The original car was known informally as the Topolino (Italian for ‘little mouse’) and lasted until 1955.
After a short gap, Fiat introduced the Nuova (‘new’) 500 in 1957 and kept building it for 18 years.
Another 500 – the first front-wheel drive version – was on the market for most of the 1990s. In the UK it was known not as a 500 but as the Cinquecento, but since cinquecento is simply the Italian word for ‘five hundred’ it’s reasonable to count this as part of the series.
Fiat 500 (21st century)
In 2004, Fiat displayed a concept car called the Trepiùno which bore a strong resemblance to the Nuova 500. Three years later, a very similar-looking car went into production badged as a 500.
It wasn’t the best supermini you could buy, but since it looked so much like one of the cutest cars in the history of the motor industry it proved to be very popular. More than a decade later, it’s still going after only one significant styling update.
The Cortina first went on sale in 1962 and continued in four generations (or possibly five, depending on how you count a major reworking of the last one) until 1982. All were extremely popular in the UK. So was their replacement, the Sierra, though in the early days its more aerodynamic styling led to unkind remarks including the term ‘jelly mould’.
The Sierra was replaced in 1993 by the Mondeo, Ford’s third name for its medium-sized saloon in the modern era. Early Mondeos were exceptionally good to drive, though this seems to have become less of a priority over the years.
Mondeos have also become much larger. The current model dwarfs the 1970s Granada, which at the time was the largest car Ford built in Europe.
Unlike the earlier versions, or indeed the Cortina and Sierra, the Mondeo is only moderately popular. While its predecessors were often among the most popular cars in the UK, the current car doesn’t even make the top ten.
Ford first used the Escort name in the 1950s for a cheaper version of the Squire, which in turn was the estate derivative of the Anglia.
The Escort range got going properly in 1968. There were two rear-wheel drive generations (both of which became extremely popular in various forms of motorsport) up until 1981, and then three front-wheel drive models (plus the four-wheel drive Cosworth) until 1998.
Ford could easily have kept the Escort name going, but decided instead to switch to Focus in 1998.
The Focus moved into its fourth generation earlier this year. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the previous model was the third most popular in the UK in terms of registrations, behind the Fiesta and between the Volkswagen Golf and Nissan Qashqai.
Ford Fiesta (1976)
Superminis are so popular nowadays that it’s difficult to understand how radical the Fiesta was when it first appeared.
It was the smallest car Ford built at the time, and close to being its first front-wheel drive model.
Ford spent a long time deciding on a name. Fiesta was actually owned by General Motors, but GM hadn’t used it for many years (and even then only on a special version of an Oldsmobile) and allowed Ford to use it for its completely different car.
Ford Fiesta (current)
Ford has not stopped building Fiestas in over 40 years. Today’s car is still derived from the one introduced in 2008, though there have been many detail changes.
According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, it is the most popular car in the UK by a tremendous margin. It has easily led this country’s registrations for several years, beating the Volkswagen Golf in 2017 by 94,533 units to 74,605.
Honda Civic (then)
The Civic was the first Honda sold officially in the UK, arriving here in 1972, and was popular because it was economical and simple.
Later generations featured technical advances such as the VTEC valve timing technology which added performance or improved fuel economy depending on model. The eighth-generation car marked a major departure in terms of styling. From 2005, Honda was clearly trying to appeal to a younger customer base.
Honda Civic (now)
Today’s Civic is the tenth in the line. Much larger than the original car, it is however lighter than the ninth-generation car and has a lower centre of gravity.
In other markets, the Civic is sold as a saloon car. Hatchbacks are built at the Honda UK Manufacturing plant in Swindon.
Jaguar XJ (pre-2009)
Jaguar’s first XJ was launched in 1968. It was known as the XJ6 or XJ12 depending on the number of cylinders a particular engine had, or alternatively as the Daimler Sovereign.
The styling was so elegant that Jaguar retained it with few major changes (apart from a notable but brief switch from round to rectangular headlights) for 41 years.
Even the one with all-aluminium bodyshell, introduced in 2003, distinctly resembled the one sold when the Beatles were still performing.
Jaguar XJ (2009 on)
Although he admired the appearance of the 1968 car, Jaguar Design Director Ian Callum objected to the fact that the company was selling something which looked very similar in the 21st century.
He and his team were able to do something about this in time for the launch of the new XJ in 2009. Although it is technically similar to the previous model, it looks completely different.
Jeep was originally a nickname for a small US Army truck designed for use in World War II.
It was built by both Willys and Ford. Willys then developed a post-War civilian version which, like the military car, had a very simple front grille consisting of seven vertical slots.
As a direct result, the Jeep logo consists of seven vertical lines to this day.
Jeep history is far too complicated for anyone to be able to say that the Wrangler is a direct descendant of the army Jeep, but there are obvious parallels.
Both are rugged off-roaders with bodies mounted on separate chassis, and only moderate levels of passenger comfort. The Wrangler first appeared in 1986, and is now in its fourth generation.
Kia Rio (early)
Kia launched its first Rio at the turn of the century. The Korean manufacturer was not known for its quality produces back then, and the best that could be said of the Rio was that it was cheap, it kept the rain off and it was quicker than walking.
The second and third Rios, based on the same platform as the Hyundai Accent, were better, but still far from class-leading.
Kia Rio (modern)
The current Rio was introduced in 2017, and is easily the best yet. In particular, the styling (a joint effort involving Kia’s German and Californian design offices) is arguably more attractive than that of the previous models.
The new car was quickly criticised in the media for its poor-quality interior, but it’s well-equipped, practical and pleasant, if not exciting, to drive.
Mazda MX-5 Mk1
The once popular category of inexpensive two-seater sports cars had almost completely vanished when Mazda started work on the original MX-5.
The project demonstrated that other manufacturers had missed a trick. The Mk1 MX-5 quickly became the most popular cars of its type in history. It was built from 1989 to 1997 and immediately followed by a second model, then a third.
Mazda MX-5 Mk4
The fourth and current MX-5 is shorter and lighter than its immediate predecessor. It was named World Car of the Year in 2016, at about the same time that total MX-5 production reached one million units. The Fiat 124 Spider and its more powerful Abarth derivative are essentially restyled Mk4 MX-5s, though with turbocharged Fiat engines rather than naturally aspirated Mazda ones.
Also known as the W201 series, the 190 was an unusually compact Mercedes saloon with traditional styling, pitched against similar models from Audi, BMW and Saab.
Still well thought-of today even though it went out of production in 1993, the 190 was available in a very wide variety of forms, and had an excellent record in motorsport.
Famously, a race for identical 190s driven by past and present Grand Prix stars was held at the new Nürburgring circuit in 1984. The winner was the youngest and most inexperienced driver, Ayrton Senna.
The C-Class took over from the 190 in 1993 and was for four years the smallest Mercedes you could buy until the A-Class came along. The current version was launched in 2014 and is available with saloon, estate, coupe and convertible body styles.
Nissan Micra (old)
Nissan’s first Micra was launched in 1982 and became popular largely because it was incredibly easy to drive.
Later versions, including the bug-eyed third-generation car, were increasingly built down to a price, leading to complaints in the media about poor quality.
Nissan Micra (new)
The fifth Micra was launched in 2017, and it was immediately apparent that Nissan had reversed its policy of maximising profit at the expense of everything else.
The new car was larger and more adventurously styled than any of the others, while still being very easy to drive. It would perhaps be going too far to suggest that it’s the best of the current superminis, but it’s a strong contender.
The beautiful little 205 knocked Peugeot’s reputation for building dull cars out of the park when it arrived in 1983. It was replaced before the end of the century but is still regarded as one of Peugeot’s finest cars.
The range was wide, and included everything from the very basic Junior to the sporty Rallye, the legendary GTI and the mid-engine T16.
Competition versions of the T16 won, appropriately enough, sixteen rounds of the World Rally Championship between 1984 and 1986.
The 205’s successors – named, reasonably enough, the 206 and 207 – were quite popular but not regarded as being as good as the original.
The 208, launched in 2012, was a considerable advance over both of them, though it remains controversial because of its small and low-set steering people, which some people like and others don’t.
The most extreme version of the 208 so far has been the T16, a competition special with a 3.2-litre twin-turbo V6 engine, four-wheel drive and enormous aerodynamic aids.
In 2013 the world’s most successful rally driver, Sébastien Loeb, took it to the annual Pikes Peak hillclimb in Colorado and absolutely demolished the existing record, reducing it from 9 minutes 46 seconds to 8 minutes 13 seconds.
The 356 was the first car with a Porsche badge to go into series production, though Porsche had been heavily involved in the design of the Volkswagen Beetle.
Like the Beetle and the later 911, it had an air-cooled ‘boxer’ layout engine mounted behind the rear wheels. It could be described as the link between the other two cars, though as a sports model it’s more of a pre-911 than a post-Beetle.
Famous people drove 356s. One was Jim Clark, who raced a friend’s example (which he then bought for road use) and later became twice F1 World Champion.
Another was singer Janis Joplin, who had hers repainted in a psychedelic colour scheme. It was sold at auction for well over £1 million in 2015, long after Joplin’s death.
The successor to the 356 was the 911, which was introduced in 1963 and is still going strong today after many revisions.
Nowadays it is much larger, more powerful and more luxurious than the 356 ever was, and the engine is even water-cooled following a change of policy in 1998.
Compare a modern 911 with a 356, though, and you can see that they are at opposite ends of an almost continuous automotive line which has so far lasted for 70 years.
The Renault 5 was an early and very successful attempt at building a small front-wheel drive hatchback.
In its original form it was launched in 1972 and not replaced until 1984, when Renault created another 5 with similar looks but completely different mechanicals.
The 5 Turbo was an extraordinary mid-engine derivative intended for rallying. It won the Monte Carlo Rally at its first attempt but suffered from being introduced just as four-wheel drive cars were starting to dominate the sport.
The 5 was replaced in 1991 by the Clio, which was based on the same supermini concept (by now much more popular than it had been 19 years before) but was styled quite differently.
The Clio is now in its fourth generation, the current model having been launched in 2012.
Very unusually, the Clio has won the European Car of the Year award twice, first in 1991 and then again in 2006.
SEAT Ibiza (Fiat and Porsche)
The original Ibiza was the first SEAT officially sold in the UK, though the Spanish company had already been on the go for over three decades.
Earlier SEATs were Fiats built under licence. By the time the Ibiza came along, the collaboration with Fiat had already gone sour, though the new car did have some Fiat technology.
Porsche was also involved, having worked with SEAT on some Ibiza engines. This was noted by System Porsche badging which gave the still little-known manufacturer a marketing boost.
SEAT Ibiza (Volkswagen)
Volkswagen became a majority shareholder in SEAT in 1986 and full owner four years later. All Ibizas from the 1993 second-generation model onwards have essentially been re-engineered VW Polos, and therefore also close relatives of the Audi A1 and Skoda Fabia.
The current Ibiza was launched in 2017 and was the first Volkswagen Group model based on the new MQB-A0 platform.
Subaru Impreza (classic)
The original Impreza was launched in 1992 and very quickly built up an excellent reputation, mostly due to its success in World Rally Championship events.
Most famously, Colin McRae won the WRC drivers’ title in an Impreza in 1995. Richard Burns and Petter Solberg did the same in second-generation models in 2001 and 2003 respectively.
During this period, Imprezas were sold in the UK as either saloons or estate cars, always with four-wheel drive ‘flat-four’ petrol engines. Even the less powerful ones were widely praised for their excellent handling.
Subaru Impreza (current)
Subaru’s decision to pull out of top-level motorsport killed the marketing strategy for the Impreza, which is far less popular in the UK now than it used to be.
These days, it’s available only as a hatchback and with continuously variable transmission (CVT), though it still has four-wheel drive and a choice of ‘boxer’ engines.
A much higher-performance saloon version is still available (though not for much longer) but it’s sold in this country as a WRX STi rather than an Impreza.
The Corolla was introduced in 1966 and remained on sale in the UK for 40 years over nine generations. The name is still used in many other markets.
It is sometimes referred to as the best-selling car in the world, having long since overtaken the original Volkswagen Beetle (which itself overtook the Model T Ford in 1972).
But it depends on what exactly you’re counting. The Beetle and the Model T were developed over their lifetimes but were never radically changed. Corollas of different eras have no relation to each other. At best, you can say that Corolla is the world’s best-selling car name.
As far as the UK market is concerned, the Corolla was replaced by the Auris in 2007. The early versions were criticised in some quarters for being rather uninteresting, though this was hardly a problem for Toyota since it had become phenomenally successful by producing exactly this sort of car.
The Auris is now going into its third generation. Since 2009 there has always been a petrol-electric hybrid version in the range. Cars sold in the UK (and elsewhere) are built at Toyota’s Burnaston factory in Derby.
Vauxhall Astra (early)
The Astra started out as a Vauxhall-badged, right-hand drive version of the Opel Kadett sold in the UK only. Confusingly enough, right-hand drive Kadetts were also on sale here for a few years before Opel was withdrawn from the market.
The first and second Astras (the latter being much the same thing with a more aerodynamic body) survived until 1991. The third was sold in other countries as the Opel Astra, the Kadett name having been discontinued.
Vauxhall Astra (current)
The Astra is now in its seventh generation, and still sold as a Vauxhall in the UK and an Opel everywhere else.
Although nothing has been confirmed, there is speculation that its replacement will be based on a French platform, following the sale of both Vauxhall and Opel to Groupe PSA, which includes Citroen, DS and Peugeot.
Volkswagen Type 1
The first Volkswagen was envisaged as a cheap and reliable car for ordinary Germans by Adolf Hitler, with Ferdinand Porsche largely responsible for the design.
The Second World War prevented the car from going into mass production immediately, but it was revived in the 1940s and became immensely popular – even in the hippy community which was otherwise less than enthusiastic about anything to do with the Nazis.
In 1972 the Beetle (as it was nicknamed) became the best-selling car of all time, overtaking the Model T Ford.
Volkswagen has twice devised retro cars based on the Golf platform and recalling the Type 1. Both were officially called Beetle, which the original car never was.
They were also front-engined and front-wheel drive, the exact reverse of the original car, and had the visual character if not the exact shape of the Type 1, the current model being slightly closer.