About-face: BMW's Design Language Is a Product of Our Time, So Expect More Grille in Your Future

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
about face bmws design language is a product of our time so expect more grille in

There’s little doubt that BMW’s design language, at least since the dawn of the 21st century, reflects the prevailing culture of the day. In the 2000s, the brand’s Chris Bangle-penned cars hosted all the eye glitter and booty action a viewer could handle, perfect for an era in which My Humps became an unlikely top hit.

Fast-forward a decade, and the designs of Bangle’s protege, Adrian van Hooydonk, are a perfect representation of today’s social media-led outrage culture. Big, gaping mouths screaming into a void filled with other, equally prominent mouths. We’re in the age of the big mouth, drowning in the polarization that rises in its wake, but van Hooydonk has no intention of reeling in Bimmer’s ever-expanding grilles anytime soon.

Speaking to Autocar, van Hooydonk addressed the brand’s design direction ⁠— a path most recently illustrated by Bimmer’s hungry-looking Concept 4 Series Coupe (seen above and below, cloaked in red). Like the recently refreshed 7 Series sedan and new X7 crossover, it too boats kidneys so swollen, bystanders might reach for their phones to call 911.

The brand’s design boss seemed to say that it’s better to be talked about in unpleasant terms by a subset of pissed-off superfans than it is to not be talked about at all.

“I’m not a psychologist but I know BMW is a brand that not only has customers, it has fans. They know our entire design history and have strong opinions on that,” van Hooydonk said on the sidelines of the Frankfurt Motor Show. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing, it means we have really connected with these people on an emotional level. Okay, I know that there might be some discussion with fans because they’ve grown to love what you’ve just done and you’re changing it already.”

It was at Frankfurt that BMW hinted at the next 4 Series with a slinky coupe bearing an oversized version of the brand’s trademark kidney grille. Like other recent Bimmers, this concept’s frontal openings have grown morbidly obese, reaching for the floor and the sky all at once. Love it or hate it, it’s something to notice.

“As a company, you have to keep moving,” he continued. “The minute you start standing still, you become an easy target. The market is very competitive now, more than ever. But the hardest thing to do is make changes while you are successful. If you are no longer successful, people will immediately start saying you need to make changes, but then you are in panic mode.”

Few design features are as noticeable as a car’s grille, and as BMW moves towards simpler, more expressive designs, you can expect the grille to do more of the visual heavy lifting. Of course, you’ll eventually reach a point where you’ve used up all remaining real estate (as seen with Toyota’s latest Avalon). The Lexus brand, also a fan of gaping maws, is probably working on a spindle replacement, having taken the design probably as far as it can.

Already fused in the middle and growing in width and height, BMW’s signature kidneys can only go so far before they either stop being an instantly recognizable brand element, or simply run out of room.

[Images: BMW Group, Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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3 of 52 comments
  • Jeff S Jeff S on Oct 11, 2019

    Add curb feelers and gold plastic Limited name plates along the fender skirts, opera windows, landau roofs, turbo badges, and wire wheels covers with spinners.

  • Boff Boff on Oct 12, 2019

    I look at those vile grilles and what springs to mind is "What's Up, Doc?"

  • SCE to AUX I charge at home 99% of the time, on a Level 2 charger I installed myself in 2012 for my Leaf. My house is 1967, 150-Amp service, gas dryer and furnace; everything else is electric with no problems. I switched from gas HW to electric HW last year, when my 18-year-old tank finally failed.I charge at a for-pay station maybe a couple times a year.I don't travel more than an hour each way in my Ioniq 1 EV, so I don't deal much with public chargers. Despite a big electric rate increase this year, my car remains ridiculously cheap to operate.
  • ToolGuy 38:25 to 45:40 -- Let's all wait around for the stupid ugly helicopter. 😉The wheels and tires are cool, as in a) carbon fiber is a structural element not decoration and b) they have some sidewall.Also like the automatic fuel adjustment (gasoline vs. ethanol).(Anyone know why it's more powerful on E85? Huh? Huh?)
  • Ja-GTI So, seems like you have to own a house before you can own a BEV.
  • Kwik_Shift Good thing for fossil fuels to keep the EVs going.
  • Carlson Fan Meh, never cared for this car because I was never a big fan of the Gen 1 Camaro. The Gen 1 Firebird looked better inside and out and you could get it with the 400.The Gen 2 for my eyes was peak Camaro as far as styling w/those sexy split bumpers! They should have modeled the 6th Gen after that.