What is a car facelift?

Much like the rich and famous, cars are treated to the occasional update every few years in what has become known as a facelift. The ins and outs differ from vehicle to vehicle but we try to cover the basics to get you up to speed.

What is a car facelift?

A facelift is essentially an update of a car’s looks, interior and usually some mechanical components too. The primary focus for most is the exterior — an updated front end is more uncommon than not, but changes at the rear of a design can also freshen up a car and give it a more modern appearance. You’ll often be hard-pushed to spot the differences between pre- and post-facelifts cars, which is why we used side-by-side photos to make it easy.

Interior and under-the-skin tweaks can occur throughout the lifecycle of a design, but the biggest updates are often packaged alongside some sort of exterior changes under the banner of a facelift – often a facelift occurs two years after a car was first released.

Why are cars facelifted?

Usually time is the biggest enemy of any sort of consumer good, and cars are just the same. If you consider that Apple’s iPhone undergoes a significant update every year, then it seems strange that a product as expensive as a car is only properly overhauled and redesigned every five to seven years.

That’s where facelifts come in, because they give a healthy refresh to a vehicle without the expense of a full redesign. This may be because the original design hasn’t performed as well as hoped, or sometimes the changes are made to bring an older design into alignment with newer models in a manufacturer’s line-up — for example the current Mercedes E-Class was heavily overhauled back in 2013 to bring it in line with its bigger (and smaller) siblings. Often a manufacturer will have a particular look that’s common across all its cars, and older models often get that face tacked on as part of a facelift.

Although they cost a lot of money, a facelift often reinvigorates interest in an older model and can lead to increased sales, plus they usually can command a small increase in price.

The Porsche 911 received a facelift in 2015 – can you spot the changes?

When does a facelift occur?

Unless a car dramatically fails to meet sales expectations, most manufacturers try to leave any major facelifts until roughly half way into a car’s lifecycle. This ensures that the values of the original design remain robust, and too many changes too often will just confuse customers.

Often after this initial ‘major’ facelift, manufacturers resort to making minor changes several times before the design is replaced. Updated rear lights, bumpers and fresh alloy wheel designs can make a surprising difference, especially nearer to the end of a design’s lifetime.

On the other hand, some manufacturers choose to make barely any changes — the Ford Fiesta is now nearly eight years old, but aside from an updated front grille 2013 (admittedly quite noticeable), little else has changed. Impressive (and brave) when you consider that the Fiesta is the UK’s top-selling car. Other cars, like the SEAT Ibiza, have been facelifted twice – the original car was released in 2008.

How much does a facelift cost?

Any changes to the production line can cost millions of pounds for manufacturers, but for prospective customers the amount is much, much less. Usually there is a small increase in price over the outgoing model, but this generally is compensated for by increased equipment levels and more efficient engines.

If you’re not fussed about having the latest design, a facelift might actually end up saving you money — manufacturers are always very keen to shift examples of the older design before it is replaced and you can sometimes save a bundle, especially with carwow’s help.

What next?

Head over to our car chooser for help picking your next car, then put it in our car configurator to see how much carwow could help you save. For more options, visit our deals page.

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