Musings on the Motoring World

The big BMW kidney grille was a long time coming

After months of going through the five stages of grief, the worst fears of BMW commentators have come to fruition. The sixth-generation M3 and second-generation M4 have been blessed/cursed with a supersized interpretation of the BMW kidney grille.

Many are acting as though the massive grilles is the biggest betrayal to what BMW design stood for. That is a strange accusation, considering BMW has angled itself in that direction over the past six years.

The beginning of BMW’s big grille trend

Many would blame the gargantuan set on the 2019 facelifted 7 Series’ prow as the starting point from which BMW’s iconic nostrils started flaring up. Though it was the first production model to have its breathers enlarged, it owes it inspiration to the 2014 Vision Future Luxury Concept car.

Like many concept cars from bygone times, you might not remember the Vision Future Luxury. It made its debut at the Beijing Motor Show, and probably got lost in all the deluge of car launches. However, if you glance at its admittedly handsome mug today, you would immediately single out the 2019 7 Series’ breathers.

More than a Hommage

It wasn’t as though the Vision Future Luxury was a lone outlier. A year later BMW continued to tease its love for bigger grilles with the 3.0 CSL Hommage concepts. Despite its oversized and elongated kidney grille arrangement, fans were ecstatic. Many of course, passed it off as BMW paying homage to the racing legend. Nothing but a harmless tribute, but shame if they weren’t going to build it.

It was the same case with the Vision Next 100 Concept, unveiled a year later at BMW’s centenary. Like the 3.0 CSL Hommage, many also saw it as a tribute to BMW’s early cars. Though in retrospect, the Vision Next’s kidney grille design bears a haunting similarity with those on the current 4 Series, just rendered in a smaller scale.

From the Vision Next onwards there was no turning back. The i Vision Dynamics concept of 2017 and the iNEXT concept of 2018 began embodying BMW’s “big ideas” in more ways than one. Of course, all this would come to a head with last year’s 4 Concept.

When reality hits

I did think that BMW was onto something with the 4 Concept. The concept was shocking but it showed promise. However, when the concept’s design was pressed and translated onto production sheet metal, things didn’t end up looking as sharp.

Credit where it is due, the second-generation 4 Series is as faithful to the 2019 concept as BMW could get it with the G20 3 Series platform. As it is with many concept cars, it was never going to live up to reality. In the 4 Series case, it is reasonable to believe that BMW might be overreaching in its capabilities of bringing design concepts to life.

MINI mistranslation

Case in point was the 2011 MINI Rocketman concept. With its non-existent overhangs, big headlights, and taut form, the adorable concept extolled the virtues of its famous progenitor. Pundits were excited that MINI was going to finally make a small city car that lived up to its namesake. MINI, on the other hand, had other ideas.

Three years later, the Rocketman had all but faded from memory. Instead, its styling cues would live on the third-generation of BMW’s MINIs. While the Rocketman’s bulbous headlights and puffy cheeks fitted its shrink-wrap shape, it looked bulbous and awkward when applied to the bigger MINI. A result of this is that the third-generation model never quite continued the taut and muscular appearance of its predecessors.

Jumping the gun in design

It is the same story with the Vision Future Luxury, 3.0 CSL Hommage, and even the 4 Concept. A big kidney grille design can work if the rest of the car was designed around it rather than having the grilles grafted onto an existing design or body.

BMW’s design crime isn’t the grilles itself. As the last four concepts have shown, when designed properly it can look stunning. However, the unfortunate reality in this case is that BMW might have gotten ahead of themselves. The company should have waited for a new model cycle or further fine-tune its design language to the limitations of what they can achieve in production.

A more optimistic interpretation of the 7 Series and 4 Series big kidney grille design is that it is a teaser of better things to come. If that is the case, it would be interesting to see where BMW will take its design direction from here.