Let’s Do It Like Last Time

How much does the 2017 BMW 5-series differ from its predecessor? Read on to find out.

2017 BMW 5 series design changes
2017 BMW 5 series design changes

Yesterday I moaned about the 2017 BMW 5 (G30) series’ lack of presence. It is, as many have pointed out, quite similar to the 2011 BMW 5-series (F10). How similar? How different?

The image above summarises the main findings. The process of redesigning a car has means and it has ends. The means are the physical forms and the ends are what those forms are intended to achieve. If I had been really rigorous I would have simply noted the physical nature (the means) of the change and left the commentary (about the ends) to this part, that is comments about what I think the changes are for.

The dimensions of the two cars are not the same but not very different. The G30 differs most from the F10 by being 36 mm longer. Some of the changes are there to enhance that:the more pronounced swage line running through the door handles (are they carried over?). The rear and front lamps stretch further along the body side too. There´s a pair of light-catching areas near the door sills; on the new car these reflect more light and have sharper edges. This points to the G30´s bodyside being a bit flatter overall. Running against these length-enhancing manoeuvres, one must

bmw-5-series
It´s the new one

note the crease that runs from the rear wheel-arch and goes up the bumper and then turns in the direction of the front of the car. This defines the bodyside in this area much in the same way the Honda Civic does it. This might be there to aid air-separation. It is located in what might be a flatter bumper and rear wing surface. Graphically, it seems to make the car shorter than a line heading back only. It does this by giving the eye a place to locate the end of the car, the vertical part. On the F10 there is no distinct point where the bodyside ends: it has a big radius.

Image:BMWdrives.com
It´s Bangle´s one. Image:BMWdrives.com

The glass house is apparently the same on both cars. I would bet that the DLO is identical and a lot of similar geometry was carried over. If it wasn’t, why did they bother? If you have to make a change, make one than can be noticed. There is, however, a feature line behind the Hofmeister kink that emphasises the chrome embellishment. It runs down to the shoulder line and then goes under the DLO and disappears somewhere in front of the door mirror. It’s a very un-BMW kind of detail. It’s the sort of conceit that is fine with a “mass market” manufacturer but strikes me as a flourish for the sake of it.

1972 BMW 520: wikipedia
1972 BMW 520: wikipedia

So, what do all these changes add up to? They do the same as usual: nothing new. The previous car was technically correct – all the features were there to make the car look long, low and wide. The new features do this too. What is different is the surfacing. Like VW, BMW has gone with a sharper look but not to the same extent as with the current Passat. I can’t say for certain what these changes were supposed to do over and above maintain the impression of length and prestige. I can’t easily sum up in a few words the character of the new car compared to the old one. I could guess what they wanted but I can’t say what they have achieved. Maybe it’s “sharper”. Is that it?

2017 BMW 5-series concept sketch: source
2017 BMW 5-series concept sketch: source

Above is a concept sketch for the G30. They lost that pointy feeling in the production car. The bodyside is flatter in the metal; the crease behind the DLO flows more clearly from there to the wheel arch and that is not so apparent on the actual car. The sill is also different. The zag on the C-pillar is also crisper in the drawing. So, it seems they were not in control of the design from sketch to 3D definition.

Having written all that, let’s go and find some BMW design commentary to see if they can tell us what all these minor adjustments were supposed to do.

This from the BMW press-release: “The seventh generation of the BMW 5 Series Sedan will cut a sporty, elegant and stylish figure when it hits the roads in markets around the world in February 2017.”

The BMW blog says this (it’s verbatim): “BMW took a bit of heat for the 7 Series, when it first debuted, for it not being as exciting, luxurious or opulent as it should have been. So BMW set out to create a new 5 Series exuded athleticism, luxury and elegance” So, the new car is supposed to exude athleticism, luxury and elegance which is what, one assumes, the last car needed to do as well.

Here’s a bigger chunk of text from the blog, with some comments in between: “The new BMW 5 Series will make a mature, confidently stylish and dynamic impression at every opportunity.” Mature, stylish and dynamic are the key words. Is this distinctively mature, I ask. And was the last car not also mature? “The formal and precise design combines presence, aesthetic appeal and functionality in equal measure,” said Karim Habib, Head of BMW Design.” I am not sure about formality; again, the last car did this. They seem to be saying form and function are balanced and, again, this is pretty much a general design goal. The options were that is looked much nicer but worked less well or that it looked worse than this but functioned even better. This compromise might be something to do with packaging and aerodynamic needs or, par for the course. “The new 5 Series is longer (36 mm), wider (6 mm) and taller (2 mm) than the outgoing F10-generation car. But while it’s physically bigger than the outgoing model in every way, it looks and seems leaner, tighter and more muscular. BMW definitely nailed the athletic look it was going for.” The leanness could be in the way the horizontal lines are more defined (the sills and the swage); the tightness is in the surfaces which are in some places flatter; I can’t see any more muscularity. It’s pretty much as before in that regard.

“It’s far more muscular and athletic looking than before and is certainly up there with the Jaguar XF, in terms of athletic styling. “For the first time, the new BMW 5 Series Sedan brings together two traditional BMW design elements which are normally separate from one another. The swage line turns up as it heads rearwards, moving from shadow to light and sweeping up the Hofmeister kink in its path rather than continuing into the rear. This upwards motion lends the car a forward-surging character, and the expressive, swooping surface imbues it with an undeniable muscularity,” said Habib.” So, that is what it is supposed to do. I can’t say I saw that. Did you?

If you look at BMW´s own stated view, the content is quite generic and would for many model changes. With such incremental adjustments it was hard for them to do anything else but try to claim the car looks better as opposed to being merely different, which is just what it is. The final effect is that the car looks like an alternative version of the F10 rather than moving the game along. The same sideways movement is seen in the current Mondeo too.

Methodology: My Google image search featured a lot of noise. In among the pictures of the 5-series there tended to be other BMWs (3s and GTs and 1s) and various generations of the 5-series. Bangle’s one was easy to spot. The others less so. Shockingly, I had to check if I was not in danger of using the wrong image entirely. 3-series and 7-series appeared in the welter of images and I had to look cautiously. I knew there was something wrong but not what.

Eventually I found reference images to be sure I had nabbed a F10 and a G30: the Truth About Cars ran an article some time back pointing out the similarity I am discussing here. They placed the two cars vertically whereas I’ve placed them nose to tail, which is a more plausible arrangement in real life.

Caveat 1: I placed the two images side by side and tried to match them for scale. I can’t be 100% sure that the cars are identically scaled as there is no common pair of reference points. Caveat 2: the cars are not both on a neutral background and nor are they the same colour or photographed under the same lighting conditions.

F 10 dimensions: 4899 mm long, 1860 mm wide and 1462 mm tall.

G30 dimensions: 4936 mm long 1868 mm wide and 1479 mm tall.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

16 thoughts on “Let’s Do It Like Last Time”

  1. “If you have to make a change, make one that can be noticed.”

    Why? So much that is good about design is registered at a sub conscious level. In the case of a well-established design such as the 5 series, surely the aim is to make it noticeably new whilst also instantly recognisable… consciously one would recognise it as a BMW 5 series first and foremost, without being able to pinpoint exactly how it has changed.

    The F10 was, for me, by far the weakest 5 series so far in terms of its design – weak and blobby at the front, instead of sharp and distinct. The G30 is better but that crease on the C pillar is indeed unfortunate. BMW does seem a long way from its Bangle high point, or indeed the classic motifs of the 1980s. At least the side ‘ventiport’ is functional – designed to expel air from the front wheel housings, I believe.

    1. As a designer I can reply by saying a lot of design is not subconscious as well. From the middle distance the G30 is ordinary: neither strictly formulated nor flamboyant. The sketched theme didn’t end up being realised.

    2. “Noticeably new whilst also instantly recognisable”: I agree in principle. But have they achieved this? I don’t think so. For me it’s not noticeably new, and while it’s instantly recognisable as a BMW, I’d have to take a very close look to know if it’s a 3, 5 or 7. Many manufacturers suffer from that evil today, but BMW more than Mercedes or Audi.

    3. Yes Richard, no disagreement there.

      BMW have teased us by suggesting they might return to the ‘shark nose’, reverse rake front of the classic 70s and 80s models. Perhaps aerodynamics or pedestrian safety make this impossible, I don’t know.

      Certainly, there is no current model which will be remembered as a classic – the last great BMW design, in my view, was the E92 coupe, which is simply terrific. The current 6 series – generally liked, it seems – does nothing for me at all.

  2. The profile image of the F10 you used shows an M5, Richard. The standard F10s didn’t feature any side vent at all.

    I can still remember when BMW was under heavy fire for its cars looking too dissimilar – this was the E38/E39, late Claus Luthe period. While I shared some of that sentiment back in the day, I must stress that I’d never mistake an E39 five for an E34. This new Five, however, looks like a facelift. As did the current Three series at first (which I quite like, nonetheless). Meanwhile, Mercedes have abandoned the policy of setting ist E-class apart from the other saloons. I guess homogeneity pays off in this day and age.

  3. With question marks over demand, manufacturers are increasingly loathe to rock the boat by imposing controversial styling on their heartland models. Love or loathe it, the F10 was one of the most popular 5-Series ever; whether that is a testament to the leasing deals BMW offered on it is debatable.

    In the meantime, manufacturers are sparing the glitz for their CUVs. Looking at PSA, the 308 looks as if it received barely 50% of the styling garnish loaded upon the new 3008 CUV. Nobody wants to buy a car that looks like the lesser cousin of another in the same showroom. Strangely, Citroen seems to have grasped this, throwing Airbumps on everything.

    1. Based on my unrepresentative survey among BMW owners, the F10 was actually considered a return to form after the hiccup of the E60 by the majority.

      As proven by the i3’s lack of success, BMW and an avantgarde spirit don’t seem to be going together that well.

    2. The i3 was always going to be a tough sell, being a comparatively expensive car. Perhaps BMW’s engineers and accountants need to pay more heed to their stylists, as both the G10 5 Series and i3 both looked far better on the drawing board.

    3. Interesting to hear Karim Habib being quoted here since he is one of van Hooydonk’s principal lieutenants who has recently abandoned ship for reasons unknown. Perhaps the atmosphere under the be-fringed one is becoming as stultifying as the car designs themselves? Since I have yet to see a G30 in the flesh, I should perhaps hold fire, but I’m not expecting to be anything but wildly apathetic.

  4. When was the last time a manufacturer introduced a new model that’s the same size or smaller than its predecessor? Can anyone remember?

    1. That’s a good question: generally in the 80s alot of US cars got smaller as they went to front drive unibodies. Those were drastic changes too: feet chopped off Rivieras, Eldorados etc

    2. I believe (though would need to check) that the latest Astra is marginally smaller than its predecessor. And it weighs less too, but is claimed to offer at least as much accommodation for passengers and luggage.

      All very welcome.

    3. The 2012 Peugeot 208 was the first time in Europe I remember a manufacturer making a plus about the new car being shorter (83 cm, not insignificant when looking for a London parking place) than its predecessor.

  5. Sean, I think you mean 83mm? Eight tenths of a metre is quite a lot to lop off the length of a small Peugeot! 😉

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