BMW has a new styling direction. Heaven help us…
I had been my intention to ignore the introduction of the new BMW Z4, given that last year’s concept Z4 had already lent a strong inkling as to the direction BMW were taking. Couple this to the götterdämmerung afflicting BMW’s FIZ under the tepid design leadership of Adrian van Hooydonk and the last scintilla of doubt had already ran screaming from the building with a fit of the vapours.
When BMW announced the unlovely 8-Series earlier this year many of us marvelled at how it was possible to get a close-coupled Gran Turismo’s styling so hopelessly awry. We now know this has been no abberation. Because painfully aggressive as the Z4 concept shown last year might have been, the sight of the production version illustrates that it was by comparison, a masterwerk.
Anyone with a shred of talent and a set of magic markers to their name can tell you that a front engined, rear-wheel drive roadster format amounts to a car-design open goal. Instead, what BMW have managed is to create one which makes the current Mercedes (R231) SL appear lithe. A car for whom the entire precept of fundamental proportion appears to have deserted it. How is this possible?
BMW stylist, Calvin Luk outlined the Z4’s design philosophy (if that’s not too dignified a term) to Autocar’s Rachel Burgess this week. Describing it and the new 8-Series as embodying BMW’s “new design language“, he tells Burgess that it is defined by “minimising line work“. Sorry, did I misread that? No apparently, he actually did say minimising. Heavens above!
Because to this pair of cynic’s eyes, Mr. Luk appears to have simply obtained Mr. Gorden Wagener’s surplus to requirements lines and creases as a job-lot and given the poor unfortunate Zed both barrels. One can only hope he kept the receipt.
Luk speaks of “major lines coupled with softer lines“, which is one thing when you have an uncompromised concept to play around with, but rather falls to pieces once you find yourself shoehorning them onto a considerably more constrained package. Because the uncomfortable fact is that the production Z4 sits on a platform which has been optimised by and for Toyota, and is therefore a good deal shorter and perhaps taller than that which BMW might ideally have employed themselves.
Because of these constraints, Mr. Luk has no option but to gloss over the basic lack of proportion, the puny dash to axle ratio, the gargantuan front intakes, the plump looking rear. What he does say is quite telling however: “The wheelbase is slightly shorter, but we’ve brought the driver forward a little to bring the focus back to him/her. Before, the hood was a bit too long. It’s still a long bonnet, which identifies it as a BMW roadster, but it’s a little shorter than before.”
Mr. Luk is aided and abetted here by the fact that Ms. Burgess appears either not to have noticed, or felt disinclined to ask any uncomfortable questions. Questions like: In what way is this car likely to encourage customers back towards roadsters? And if it fails to do so (which seems rather likely), how many more dedicated two-seater sports cars are we likely to see before the motor industry as a whole decides to definitively recalibrate the concept around the now-inevitable crossover SAV?
Perhaps I over-react. However, the fact that the end result is so embarrassingly ill-wrought is entirely within BMW’s purview. Knowing the production car would be so compromised by its package, they nevertheless elected to show a better proportioned concept to preview it. They also chose a needlessly aggressive styling theme, one which could only appear somewhat ridiculous once it had been applied to the production package.
BMW clearly didn’t set out to deliberately hobble the Z4’s case – that would be nonsensical. But one thing we can be certain of is that by producing the Z4 as is, not only have they emphatically failed to advance the cause of the two-seater at a time when buyers are deserting the format like never before, its formal dishonesty is more likely to hasten the format’s demise.
All that time, money and effort for this. What a pointless exercise.