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These cars are dinosaurs: Pickups, minivans, hot rods that haven't been updated in ages

Nathan Bomey

Call them Jurassic cars.

As the 2019 New York Auto Show kicks off with media previews this week, automakers are gearing up to tout their brand-new car designs, powerful and efficient engines, slick interiors and advanced technology.

So why are so many vehicles becoming dinosaurs?

While the auto industry touts brand new vehicles to come, many already on sale haven't gotten major redesigns in ages.

For example, the Nissan Frontier has gone 14 years without anoverhaul. The Dodge Charger hasn't gotten a complete makeover in 13 years. And the Toyota Sienna hasn't been redesigned in eight years.

To be sure, these Jurassic cars aren’t necessarily at risk of turning into fossils. In fact, some of them are still selling well and raking in profits.

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With a periodic engine tweak here and a refreshed fascia there, Jurassic cars can be marketed as new even when their underlying chassis and body style haven’t changed much at all.

These vehicles are either paying the bills for other expensive projects – like futuristic self-driving cars – or they’re not worth redesigning because it would cost too much, said Ivan Drury, an analyst at car-buying advice site Edmunds, which assembled the list for USA TODAY.

“And if you need to (discount) them, it’s OK because you’ve already paid all the development costs,” Drury said.

Ironically, analysts say that the auto industry is trending in the other direction: redesigns every three to five years.

But these 14 vehicles are clearly an exception:

1. Nissan Frontier

Last redesign: 2005

Starting price: $18,990

It’s remarkable that this midsize pickup is nearing a decade and a half without a makeover. It’s the Jurassic car that most analysts immediately mention when this topic comes up.

“It’s an ancient, ancient vehicle,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader. But it shows that “midsize trucks are selling so well that even an ancient” one can still hang on.

Yet it “doesn’t steer well or handle with confidence on pavement,” its “fuel economy lags far behind rivals’ MPG,” its rear seats “have tight legroom” and its “interior materials look and feel cheap,” according to Edmunds.

But it’s priced to sell. Still, expect a redo soon – we think.

2. Dodge Charger

Last redesign: 2006

Starting price: $29,220

The Fiat Chrysler Automobiles large sedan has gotten many updates since 2006, such as interior improvements and exterior styling tweaks, Drury said. But its underlying chassis is still based on one that former Chrysler owner Daimler used for its old Mercedes E-Class, he said.

The Charger is still popular in part because it's getting harder and harder to find an eight-cylinder engine on a car like this.

3. Toyota Tundra

Last redesign: 2007

Starting price: $31,420

This full-size pickup got a lot of changes in 2014, but it didn’t qualify as a total redesign, Drury said.

The vehicle has struggled in stiff competition against the Detroit Three’s stalwart Ford F-series, Ram, and Chevrolet Silverado pickups.

Toyota probably figures that “redesigning something you know will not compete” well isn’t worth the investment right now, Drury said.

Plus, the brand's midsize Tacoma pickup is selling well. So why bother?

4. Dodge Challenger

Last redesign: 2008

Starting price: $27,845

Fiat Chrysler has kept customers buzzing about the Challenger with extreme variants such as the 840-horsepower 2018 SRT Demon and the 797-horsepower 2019 SRT Hellcat.

But the standard Challenger is the one that most people purchase, and it's graying.

5. Dodge Grand Caravan

Last redesign: 2008

Starting price: $26,790

This minivan was once thought to be on its deathbed. But Fiat Chrysler kept it alive as a cheaper minivan for sale to commercial customers and consumers who don’t want to pay for the nicer, newer and generally more expensive Chrysler Pacifica.

That was probably a smart decision. The company sold 151,927 Caravans in 2018, making it Dodge’s best seller. “It’s pure upside profit,” Brauer said. “I could see Grand Caravan going for a while.”

6. Ford Flex

Last redesign: 2009

Starting price: $30,575

This boxy SUV had a polarizing design from the beginning. You either love it or hate it. But that might be what keeps it going.

It’s performed particularly well in California, Drury said. But “redesigning it would be very difficult because it has a shape that is hard to deviate from,” he said.

Don’t expect it to be around much longer, as Ford emphasizes its other SUVs. “It’s not long for this world,” Brauer said.

The 2017 Nissan GT-R

7. Nissan GT-R

Last redesign: 2009

Starting price: $99,990

This luxury sport coupe is an iconic model for Nissan – the type of “halo car” that’s designed to generate buzz for the brand, even though most people can’t afford one.

It was “an instant classic” when it first arrived, Drury said, but it’s aging.

Nissan recently released a teaser image hinting at a 50th-anniversary special edition of the GT-R to be unveiled at the New York Auto Show.

8. Nissan 370Z

Last redesign: 2009

Starting price: $29,990

This two-seat coupe is suffering in a market that’s transitioned to larger performance vehicles. Sales fell 24.8% in 2018 to 3,468.

Nissan also teased a 50th-anniversary version of this car to be revealed at the New York Auto Show.

9. Toyota 4Runner

Last redesign: 2010

Starting price: $35,110

This midsize SUV is made for offroading and has an intensely loyal following. Which might be one reason why it hasn’t been redesigned in nearly a decade.

“It just has achieved this status of drive-it-until-the-wheels-fall-off, million-mile vehicle,” Drury said.

10. Infiniti QX80

Last redesign: 2010

Starting price: $65,400

This large luxury SUV doesn’t have the third-row space that families have come to expect in this segment. But its strong eight-cylinder engine remains attractive to some. Sales rose 7.4% in 2018 to 19,207.

11. Jeep Grand Cherokee

Last redesign: 2011

Starting price: $31,945

You’re reading this right. One of Jeep’s iconic models hasn’t gotten a big overhaul in eight years. Customers might be noticing: This midsize SUV was the only not-discontinued Jeep model that posted a sales decline last year, falling 6.6%.

But 224,908 still sold, so this vehicle qualifies as a profit juggernaut at this point.

“They’ve done a good job of freshening that design up,” Drury said. “Don’t-mess-with-success could be part of their current mentality.”

12. Toyota Sienna

Last redesign: 2011

Starting price: $29,190

Talk about loyalty. This minivan’s fan base runs deep and wide. Toyota hasn’t done much to it, likely because minivan buyers typically care more about functionality than looks.

“You can change the design all you want, it’s not going to matter,” Drury said.

13. Chrysler 300

Last redesign: 2011

Starting price: $29,220

To Fiat Chrysler’s credit, “they’ve put some money into it” to keep this large sedan from getting too stale, Drury said.

But this one probably keeps going in large part because the segment is shrinking and loyalists don’t have many other options.

14. Jaguar XJ

Last redesign: 2011

Starting price: $75,400

Large sedans are falling out of favor among luxury buyers, who typically prefer SUVs these days. That may mean the XJ’s days are numbered.

“They’re investing elsewhere,” Drury said of XJ manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover. “It probably won’t even get redesigned anytime soon. It might even leave the lineup. They’re going full SUV.”

Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: These cars are dinosaurs: Pickups, minivans, hot rods that haven't been updated in ages