What is a facelift?

2016 Volkswagen Passat SE
The facelifted 2016 Volkswagen Passat. Photo © Aaron Gold

Definition of Facelift

A facelift is a major change or changes to a car's styling (often including new sheet metal and/or interior design) with minimal changes to the underlying machinery.

Also Known As: Restyle, mid-cycle refresh

Alternate Spellings: Face lift

Why does a car need a facelift?

Most new cars are produced on a six-year cycle. A model is introduced and sold for three years with minimal changes.

The car then receives a series of major updates, and is sold for another three years before being replaced by a new model.

A key element of this mid-cycle refresh is the facelift. Vehicle manufacturers want their cars to look different, but they don't want to invest anywhere near as much money in the refresh as they would in a redesign. Hence the facelift: Changes to the styling that will give the car a new look without requiring major re-engineering.

What changes when a car gets a facelift?

Facelift changes usually involve body parts and panels that bolt on to the structure. Up front, the bumper, front fenders, hood, grille and light fixtures will usually change, as these parts can be reshaped and still use the existing attachment points, Out back, the rear bumper, tail lights, and trunk lid will be changed as part of a face lift. The door skins (the outer sheetmetal on the doors) may change, though these are usually left alone.

Designers may also add, delete or change the car's chrome trim.

Additionally, an automaker may update a car's interior as part of a facelift. Again, the parts will be limited to those that can be easily changed: Fabrics, trim panels, and garnish pieces such as wood or aluminum. The designers may change the pattern on the dashboard, but it is rare that the dashboard itself will change, as this is a rather large casting.

The gauge panel may be swapped out for a new one, and electronic equipment, such as the stereo or navigation system, may be updated with new software or replaced entirely.

What (usually) doesn't change when a car gets a facelift?

Generally speaking, body parts that also serve to provide structural support will not change as part of a facelift. This includes the roof, rear fenders (also known as quarter panels), and the bodywork that surrounds the windows. Though the length of the car may change (due to new body parts), the wheelbase (the distance between the center of the front and rear wheels) generally will not change. (Of course, there are exceptions to this rule.)

What about mechanical changes?

The mid-cycle refresh will often include changes to the car's mechanical bits -- new or upgraded engines or retuned suspension and braking components. However, as these changes are not cosmetic, they are technically not considered part of the facelift.

Example of a facelift

Compare this photo of the 2012 Volkswagen Passat to this photo of the facelifted 2016 Volkswagen Passat to see an example of a facelift. The changes are pretty subtle -- more so than most facelifts -- but you can see that the front bumper, hood, and headlights have been changed.

Compare the interior of the 2012 car to 2016 car's interior, and you'll see subtle changes to the dashboard center console trim, steering wheel, and gauge panel.

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Your Citation
Gold, Aaron. "What is a facelift?" ThoughtCo, Nov. 27, 2015, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-facelift-533108. Gold, Aaron. (2015, November 27). What is a facelift? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-facelift-533108 Gold, Aaron. "What is a facelift?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-facelift-533108 (accessed September 20, 2017).