By on March 29, 2012

You want a challenge? Try sitting in a design studio when tasked with redesigning an automotive icon.  I especially enjoyed these tasks, because you could to honor a brand and maybe even go retro on your vellum.  If I was still in that game, I’d go heavy on the E36.  That was my favorite of the 3-series, because it had a proper BMW look, without being tiny and cheap looking like the E30. And while this isn’t a retro 3-series by any stretch, the toning down of Chris Bangle’s flame surfacing continues.  And that’s a good thing.


I love Texas, except for our need for a front license plate.  And while the new 3 is far from the worst offender (the second-gen Chrysler Concorde takes that), this particular license plate is absolutely vulgar.  Luckily, the rest of the package looks surprisingly aggressive, yet restrained.  It looks like the Ultimate Driving Machine, and the headlight shot at the beginning really proves the point: note how the kidney grilles are pulled back like a dog beginning to growl at you! That is a nice touch, and the nose has a proper sports sedan flavor to it.


An important word to use when trying to sound smart about design: swage line. You see them starting from the hood bulge, fender tops and the middle/bottom of the fenders. The new 3 has a ton of them, and they do work here.  Usually.


Swage lines are really, really good at hiding the visual bulk of today’s stupid-tall vehicles.  Here are three of them in action.  Note how the bottom one blends into the door handles at first, ending into a crease at the tail lights.  It is a neat touch that even the last-gen Ford Focus (US-spec) used to keep from looking as hideous as the Chrysler Sebring. Not a big problem for Bavaria’s finest.


Yep, that’s the Hofmeister Kink in full effect…son! I always loved this element in BMWs, but the trimming on this C-pillar looks a little mundane in person.  Maybe that’s because other wanna-be BMW sedans on the market have that kinky-ness, and the 3 series is bigger and visually heavier. My other gripe is the door cut line, the sharp-straightness isn’t nearly as elegant as the curves elsewhere.  Bend that line around the wheel well, and make the rear door look more like the leg and hips of a lovely lady!


I like the use of negative area around the trunk and rear bumper, especially how the decklid almost looks like it has an integral spoiler. The rear door cut-line looks a bit more curvaceous from this angle, and another swage line from the C-pillar reaches out to the (lightly) Bangled butt. Notice the other line that blends the tall (lower) elements of the rear bumper with the round (upper) elements above the bumper. And more lines at the bottom of the bumper, near the exhaust.

If this car was a skirt-wearing woman walking in a summer breeze, she’d be wearing something made by an extremely hyper seamstress. Chill out already with the seams!


The busy-ness continues. The new 3 is quite tall, just like all modern sedans. Which bothers me, but the extra width (and elongated tail lights) keeps this whip from having a Buffalo Butt. Also note how these tires (225mm wide) look pretty skinny.  Who here remembers when 225mm tires looked absolutely wicked-thick on cars from the 1980s? I’m looking at you, BMW 635i.


Things are getting a little lumpy and bumpy when you get close. Could be worse, this could be the last-gen Camry.


Technology is great, except when it isn’t. The BMW shark fin is rather ludicrous. How I long for the days when antennas fit between the two panes of glass in a windshield!


More lumps and bumps, to hide that CUV-look.  Those swage lines do a fair job of hiding the new 3’s height, but this is getting silly!  Even body builders don’t flex their pecs this much! My kingdom for shorter (height) sports sedans!


Can you imagine this car with less ripples? Perhaps one day the E36 design aesthetic will come back into vogue in BMW’s design studio, and maybe we’ll have platforms that sit low enough to take advantage of it.

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49 Comments on “Vellum Venom: 2012 BMW 328i Sedan...”

  • avatar

    Nice analysis Sajeev. I’m not sure I agree with you in your comparison of the E30 vs E36 (I’m still a proponent of the large greenhouse school of design), but agree the F30 is far ahead of its predecessor and I happen to own an E90 in all its bangled ugliness (at least it still drives like a proper BMW). My fear is that the F30 has jumped the shark pricewise. A well equipped six-cylinder is in the mid-50’s and while I had trouble accepting that I was trading $45 large for my Civic-sized E90, I’m really having difficulty with another ten grand bump for the 300 hp model.

    Anyway, your styling analysis was a delightful read!

  • avatar

    I can’t get past how the hood stops just above the roundel, instead of including the roundel and the kidney grill as on many previous BMWs (I forget if the latest 5 and 7 do this as well). It just looks odd.

    • 0 avatar

      Also, judging from the pics, the fit isn’t all that great either. See how the left-hand corner of the bit with the roundel on pokes up above the bonnet in the very first picture? The other side seems to do the same in a pic lower down; only perhaps a little less. Have that bit be part of the bonnet, and you don’t have to worry about fit and finish of that line, since it won’t be there.

    • 0 avatar

      I hadn’t noticed the cut line at the leading edge of the hood, perhaps because the 328i I tested was a darker color (kudos to Sajeev for finding a silver car–nothing shows off a car’s lines, good or bad, like silver).

      Now that you’ve pointed it out I’ll notice it every time. They should have at least curved it to work with the grille and headlights.

      Sajeev–very nicely done analysis. Some day you might think about running through all of the generations of a car, highlighting what was kept and what was changed from generation to generation.

      • 0 avatar

        That sounds like a plan, Michael. As of right now I will stick with my plan of photographing what I see and commenting it. But maybe one day I will have the nerve to analyze a whole family of designs, on photos alone.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d expect it is to allow more scope for facelifting the car without altering the hood, as that is very expensive.

      • 0 avatar

        I wonder if it will keep repair costs down for relatively minor collisions. Where you used to be on the hook for the hood and bumper cover, you might get away with just the bumper cover now.

        Probably wishful thinking. Somehow I doubt BMW designs their cars with repair costs as a priority. And it’s still awkward.

  • avatar

    Sajeev writes: “the E36. That was my favorite of the 3-series, because it had a proper BMW look…”

    Huh? It was a basically straight-edges design, in stark contrast to the three-series before and after it, and to all other BMWs (except maybe one 7-series; ~third generation?) which were much more rounded.

    No no, the best 3-series is the E46 — pre-facelift, of course!

  • avatar

    This is definitely a major step up from the E90. The B8 A4 may look like every other Audi, but it also looks like it costs $10K more than the dowdy, cheap looking E90.

    It’s amazing how the E92 looks pretty much as good as the A5. The E90 and E92 aren’t THAT different, but all of those little changes make the coupe work.

    The F30 is the best looking 3 series sedan in a long time. I think the front end is much more successful than the F10 5, which looks flat and a bit piggish.

    • 0 avatar

      I seem to be in a minority of one with the E90. When I see an E90 with the 18s from the Sport Package, it looks poised and athletic to me. The new car, in comparison, looks relatively bloated and dull. More expensive, I’ll grant, which might be the appeal for others here.

      I don’t see a major difference compared to the current 5–perhaps I need to see them side-by-side. If anything, my problem with the F30 is that the front clip looks too much like that of the F10.

      • 0 avatar

        The rear of F30 looks exactly like F10. Most can distinguish frontal view between those two.

      • 0 avatar

        I tend to focus on the side view, while others clearly focus more on the frontal view. I also tend to focus on proportions, while many other people will focus on details like the light assemblies.

        When looking at the “front clip” (the part of the car ahead of the passenger compartment) I’m doing so from the side. As you suggest, when the new 3 is viewed from the front its “tear ducts” clearly distinguish it from the 5. The leading cutline on the hood also isn’t as ghastly on the 5.

  • avatar

    Great stuff, Sajeev.

    I was really struck by the grill on this one the first time I saw it a few days ago. It seemed a better representation of the BMW image from years ago, to my eyes at least. The distracting role of the “swag lines” (wow, you can really see the parallels with fashion and architecture here) is interesting. Fascinating stuff.

  • avatar

    I think the reason BMW and Mercedes have to make bold design cues is so that when The Japanese or Koreans try to copy their product, it becomes obvious that they are copying.

    I like the way this 3 series looks, but, I’d rather buy a C-Class or CTS coupe.

  • avatar

    Way too mean, angry and aggressive front end, much more than on e36 or on any other 3 series.
    The nose is also shark like, not just the fin.

  • avatar

    Huge fan of the new front. Not exactly sure of Sajeev’s beef with the license plate holder design, looks pretty tasteful to me.

    Now if the 3-er only had front seats that don’t look like they belong in a Nissan Versa. Drove a brand new 2012 328i yesterday: seats are shockingly thin all around, not supportive, and covered in vinyl that makes no effort to pretend it’s leather. I was surprised.

  • avatar

    I saw a red F30 328i being test driven yesterday by a prospective buyer and I can’t say I liked it. The nose is much more pointy now and loses that pug-nose blunt shape seen from the E36 to the E90. It remins me of a .45 caliber bullet, which I’ve always liked, and is unique to the BMW line. Like all new designs, I’m sure that the F30 will become familiar soon enough and we won’t give it a second look. BMWs in this metropolitan area are as common as Civics it seems, only outdone by the staggering number of Prii driving around.

  • avatar

    Every other 3 series looks like arse. The E30, E46, and F30 are the desireable ones. The E21, E36, and E90 look like aborted cockroach eggs.

  • avatar
    word is bond

    Everything behing the Front wheel arches is disappointing. What a massive vehicle.

  • avatar

    I guess style preference is a very personal and subjective thing…every time I see a properly sorted out (meaning not slammed or running on HUGE rims and such) E30 I just smile. I miss my 1985 E30…simple and clean. If it weren’t for the fact that the last E30 (not counting the convertible, which went on for one more year) left in 1991, I’d seriously consider having one again as a play toy. Certainly true that my E36 325is that followed was a better car, but the tall greenhouse and squared off lines appeal to me (probably why the 2002 is still “the one” car for me). I have a hard time warming up to today’s BMW…with the exception being the E46.

  • avatar

    As if the outside isn’t a mess already, then you get into the interior…. got into one of these at the big auto show last weekend. Holy crap! Lines and angles everywhere inside, with no sense of flow, and a stupid TV screen that looks as if it’s popping out of the dash, which would of been alright if it actually “popped” out of the dash instead of just sitting there.

    Why people like these cars is beyond me. Visually, I much prefer the looks of the simple Audi 4, but, the mechanic in me knows to run far away from their cheaply made VW components (looks good, sure they drive good, but built like utter garbage).

    Which, if I was in the market for this type of vehicle, I’d go Merceds all the way. Clean tasteful styling, without the the cheaply sourced parts that underpin cars half their price.

    • 0 avatar

      Completely agree, I saw the new 3 at the auto show as well. Hated that pseudo pop up screen. And there was this incredibly bizarre extremely textured wood. Do not like the medial edges of the headligh assemblt at all. Do not like, in general the excessive lumpy bumpiness and all the affectation. To hide mass and bulk? I guess that explains it, end result of an ugly car remains.
      As far as the best BMW, I actually really like 2005-2006 E90, very tight design.
      Not sure why all cars have to look like an ameoba these days.
      Saw the new A7 at the car show as well. That is actually a very interesting design that I thought was successful. Any thoughts on that car Sajeev?

      • 0 avatar

        The weird thing about that wood you are talking about. I LOVE it in the 7’s – it’s a prestige option and you rarely see it on a black or silver mainstream package. I have seen it twice in the last 2 years on different cars – one was this insanely pretty teal color with a coral interior, the other was a special order blue on blue. But I think it would look/feel very strange in the much smaller cockpit of the 3 – in the 7, you have these huge swaths of wood where the grain is just nice to look at and feel.

        Love that unfinished wood. Hate taking it in every year for cleaning/oiling ;)

  • avatar

    I love this Vellum Venom series –thanks for putting it together, Sajeev. And, I think you’re totally on-point about the E36. I saw a clean, black E36 sedan the other day and was blown away by how it managed to look both sporty and stately (and right-sized). Those were the days…

    One request, though, Sajeev: I think your column would benefit from better photography. The above F30 photos are a little under-lit and unclear for a design analysis.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for your kind words…now about the camera: I mentioned in the first VV that I would only use my camera phone. This is both for convenience given my schedule, and it gives a certain raw-ness that I want to keep, because I think it complements my thoughts.

  • avatar

    By the way, front plates, while technically required in the great state of Texas where everything is bigger, are not really required. I haven’t had them on the last 4 years, never pulled over, for that, once.

  • avatar

    It’s a shame that sat-nav display is not a real pop-up unit for a $40k+ vehicle. I also find it weird to have angle pad located on passenger side dashboard.

    Sajeev, do you find it interesting that dealership is surrounded by lot’s of tramps.

    p/s I reckon that location is Mid-town Advantage BMW. I might be wrong.

  • avatar

    This is a great series. I come from the engineering mentality, and I’ve only just started to meet Designers and think about Design. This is a great way for me to explore this kind of more artistic, but still practical, way thinking.

    BTW, is there any chance you could do an illustrated article on common design features and vocabulary? I can guess what is intended form the context and the pictures of the particular car you’re talking about, but it might be a great way to educate the less design-savvy members of this audience, such as myself.

    • 0 avatar

      Here’s a second request for a vocab definition article. Would really like to know what “flame surfacing” refers to.

    • 0 avatar

      Some automotive design glossaries:

      Car Design News and Car Body Design are both web sites aimed at designers and students of design but they’re still worthwhile for the average auto enthusiast. They have tutorials and other resources.

  • avatar

    I like these articles, too.

    There’s a rule in writing that until you’re a master, you should keep it simple. Same goes for design. Bangle was a master. IMO.

    This thing is nice from the front. The back is overdone.

    And, slit windows suck. If you want to lower the height, you better keep the greenhouse reasonably large.

  • avatar

    Another great one, Sajeev. Could you do interiors, too?

  • avatar

    Nice post, Sajeev.

    Can’t stand the tails. HATE the Tear-Duct-ed headlight assemblies bridging the gap btw the usual hlpod area and the rim of the grille. Bad choice on their part, both of them.

    ++WORD on the appreciation for older bmw designs!

    I think the E46 must have been the first time I noticed other carcos copying the Hofmeister Kink,

    notably Infiniti G35.

    Tough job for Anyone doing the new 3, though. “Don’t screw it up, kid. It’s only the bread-and-butter of the whole company. -No pressure!”

  • avatar

    Not bad. The only truly ugly part of the design is the license plate holder. Can it be removed?

  • avatar

    I find I like the F30 MUCH better in the metal than in pictures, inside and out. I haven’t driven one yet though. I am certainly hoping they import the F31, it would be nice to have something to replace my e91 with at some point. I am hoping for more cargo space, a return to the more e46 wagon-like greenhouse rather than the too tapered e91 version. Looks sexy, but hurts the space too much.

    As to those going on about the pricing – it is only marginally more expensive than the e90 was, and has more tech. Plus it is the new shiny! For those whining about the vinyl seats, stump up for the leather. Yes, I know it was free on the old 328i the past couple of years, that was an aberration. My sparsely optioned manual-transmission RWD ’11 e91 was $45K US MSRP…

  • avatar

    Can we every once in a while refer to different era BMWs by years produced instead of their corporate series #? I’m not a BMW owner or fanatic and half the time don’t know WTF the writers or comments refer to.

  • avatar

    My BMW resume spans E23, E30, E36 and the firstborn is running an E39 right now. Don’t forget that the E30 was completed in about November 1982 and has stood the test of time. It was a true return to (2002) form for BMW, at a badly needed interval, so any mention of how stubby, upright or out-of-calibration it was is called foul from here. BMW would do well to think back to the simplicity and ease of maintenance of these cars as it looks ahead. While I admire the brand and think the products are excellent, I am an unlikely customer due to high cost to acquire, high running costs, breathtaking depreciation and the coming-and-going sitings of these things everywhere you go. So the F30 is a nice car, it’s a real BMW, but something has been lost – at least they still make those wicked bikes!!

  • avatar

    hideous. I see why the 3 is the new 5 and the 1 the new 3.

  • avatar

    I’ve pointed out before that the front plate requirement would be a lot easier if the front plate were just a really high quality bumper sticker instead (and it can be more bumper sticker size, as opposed to license plate sized.)

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