Like a once cheek-pinchingly cute child gone wayward into a life of hard drugs and reckless over-eating, some car models start out great but then topple from grace. The Nissan Maxima comes to mind (as much as we try to push it out). Then there are those automobiles that have only gotten better with time, tweaks, and tender loving care. Some have evolved gracefully, while others desperately needed a hefty dose of attention. Here are five models basking in the glow of recent changes that have brought them into their primes.
Jaguar XJ (8th Generation: 2009-present)
As much as we can appreciate classic design that endures (Porsche 911), sometimes the road to greatness isn’t all roses and hot sheetmetal. The XJ flagship sedan essentially went unchanged in its basic design for half a century, making it a study in stagnancy rather than evolution. In fact, Jaguar briefly squared off their car in the ’80s, a bad move amongst bad moves, and then returned to the original round headlamp style as if to say, “Oops!”. Head designer Ian Callum came to Jaguar and changed their whole design language in 2009, making the new XJ bold and, thankfully, completely different from the volumes of old XJs. It was a ballsy move that worked. We’re anticipating an even better one soon.
Land Rover Range Rover (4th Generation: 2012-present)
This one’s the obvious icon in the group. Range Rover could’ve rested on their longstanding laurels and still garnered respect. The current all-aluminum Range Rover marks only the fourth redesign since 1970 and retains the same iconic shape of the original without staying stuck in the past. By some blessing of the automotive gods, the Range Rover has become just as impressive on road as it is off — and that’s a huge accolade. If you want an SUV that’s as sporty as it is regal, look no further. Toss in the big supercharged 5.0-liter V8 and you’ll have 510 hp and 451 lb-ft of torque at your kingly command.
Ford Focus (3rd Generation: 2011-present)
The original that came to us in 2000 was unlike any hatchback we’d ever seen: slender nose, high-mounted tail lights and driving dynamics that made us ask, “That’s a Ford?” Sure, the styling took some getting used to, but we were converts after seeing the letters “SVT”. Unfortunately, North America got the Ford’s World Car dregs in 2008, when our version looked a car we’d wish upon our worst enemy, especially with that slabbed rear end and non-sequitur faux front fender vents. In 2011, Ford decided to make nice by bringing us a Focus worthy of worship. Great to look at from every angle and even better to drive, it made us want to come home again. The spectacular ST made us fall in love all over again.
Cadillac CTS (3rd Generation: 2014)
No American brand needed a stronger injection of new life than Cadillac a little over a decade ago. Hopelessly stuck in the land that time forgot, the American luxury brand tried to break free but failed miserably with the oversized Cavalier knowns as the Catera. Then came the first CTS, a huge step forward in design and dynamics that originally targeted the BMW 3-Series. It drove and handled well and moved quickly, but the design was too radical and as angled as a Rubik’s Cube. The second generation brought aesthetic and dynamic improvements but still failed to depart from the overall angularity of the first car. Caddy nailed it with the third generation car, bringing a more muted but sophisticated style that’s undeniably handsome. Plus, in Vsport trim, it’s as satisfying to drive as any sports sedan we’ve come across.
Porsche Boxster (3rd Generation: 2012-present)
The term “baby 911” is about as flattering as being called “little brother”. You’re not as tough, not as handsome, and you sure whine a lot. That sounds pretty harsh when you’re referring to a Porsche, but when the Boxster came out in 1996, it was indeed the baby. The soft styling and 201 hp, 2.5-liter flat-six engine didn’t help its moniker much, though the car itself was key in turning Porsche’s financial situation around. The second generation bumped power to 240 and styling evolved favorably, but not dramatically enough for us. What arrived in the third version has been nothing short of awesome. 265 hp from its 2.7-liter flat six is downright sonorous, and the body we’ve all waited for carves out a unique identity that rivals its droptop 911 brother. It’s easily one of the most beautiful convertibles to ever grace the street.