The more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s an adage that can apply to the world of automotive design, especially when it comes to redesigning or upgrading iconic cars.
A case in point is the new Maruti Suzuki Swift, which is now in its third generation in India, but is still almost instantly recognisable as the Swift.
In fact, automotive history is fraught with examples of such iconic design, where the styling of the car has become so familiar and stands for certain values that designers have a tough time incorporating modern elements and features in it. Look at some of the classic designs of all time.
The classic Jeep Wrangler design has stayed the same for well over half a century. It has been given modern elements and the chassis has been reworked extensively to meet crash safety standards, but yet, the body is instantly recognisable as a Jeep.
The same is the case with the Mercedes Benz G-Class or G-Wagen. It still retains the overall shape of the model introduced in 1979, while being constantly updated in terms of features and performance. The latest 2018 G-Class, if placed side by side with a 1979 G-Wagen, would easily be recognisable as a face-lifted version—yet the design stays true to the original.
In some cases, like the Porsche 911 or Mini Cooper S, the design has seen a natural evolution, yet keeping the basic lines the same. The new Mini Cooper S is much larger than the original Mini, but the styling is similar. The reason such brands find it difficult to alter the design is because of the reverent fan following these vehicles have. Some have even achieved cult status.
Maruti Suzuki has seen this happen with the Swift in India. Ever since its introduction in 2005, the car has been a bestseller for the company, even being the highest selling car in the country for some months. Buyers loved it for its sporty design (reminiscent in some ways of the Mini Cooper, too) and nimble handling.
It got minor refreshes in 2008, when the diesel model was introduced, and a complete makeover in 2012. This second-generation Swift was a complete ground-up redesign of the car with absolutely no common body panels, but yet, to the average person, it looked just like a face-lift of the original car. Some of its iconic design elements such as a floating roof with blacked out pillars, bulging haunches with wheels placed at the four corners and swept up headlamps were retained. However, it got a complete makeover on the interior.
This year, Maruti Suzuki has just launched the third-generation of the Swift in India, which is again a completely new car. In fact, it is related to the Maruti Baleno, sharing its platform and underpinnings with it. But the overall design still screams “Swift.” The floating roof, swept back lamps and bulging haunches are all still there, but completely remade.
Companies have had a tough time trying to re-badge other products with iconic names. They just don’t work as intended. The original Maruti Suzuki Zen introduced in 1993 was discontinued in 2004. Maruti Suzuki tried using the brand name again on another product—the Zen Estilo, but the results were not the same.
Some things just have to be familiar. This is true for all automobiles, from the muscled-up Ford Mustang to the still-cute-as-a-button Volkswagen Beetle. What they say may be true: You can’t mess with an icon once it has a cult following.