Zed’s Dead

BMW has a new styling direction. Heaven help us…

(c) BMW UK

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.

Concept Z4. (c) steemit

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?

This turkey ‘ain’t gonna fly buddy…(c) motoringresearch

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.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

24 thoughts on “Zed’s Dead”

  1. And this BMW version of Hot and Cold Sensual Purity is coming at exactly the time that Mercedes is dialling back on overt Wagner stupidity, and designing somewhat better looking cars again. Whoops.

    That said, I don’t think these cars are designed for “us” (sorry if that’s presumptious) any more. The needs and expectations of the Chinese and even to a lesser extent American market are so divergent from Europe as to be almost inscrutable. In China, the object is to sell a car with the right badge and the right (high) price, with sheet metal so overwrought that knockoffs can’t copy it. In America, where all volune-chasing foreign marques seem to need to fill the vacuum left by GM if they want to succeed, the premium is instead placed upon visual aggression, badge snobbery of course and accessibility. In a market with lots of elderly buyers and lots of, um, portly buyers, longer-lower-wider doesn’t cut the mustard any more, even for a roadster.

    Given all the above, and since BMW is now resolutely a volume brand, perhaps they have made the calculation that it just doesn’t make sense to sell anything more than a tarted up Supra, just as it never made sense for GM to sell Cadillacs that were anything but tarted up Chevies.

    1. Whoops, Wagener was autocorrected to Wagner there, sorry. Not say that Mercedes recent history has not been positively Wagnerian in its tragedy.

    2. With a front-wheel drive MPV, huge volumes of 3s sold, and now a car platform-swapped with Toyota, BMW´s credentials are pretty shot. You´d have thought BMW had the cash for an exclusive platform for a vehicle that would be core expression of their values. They could have sold it for at least 8 years as this market is stable – as long is it was a pure car with good dynamics it´d have sold pretty much like the MX-5 which is another stable-kind of product.
      Also, this BMW is a horror to look at. It´s not Aztek bad so much as crass.

  2. Parallels with Malaise-Era Detroit abound. None of the German big three have yet reached their Cimarron moment, but we’re getting close.

    1. The difference is that the Malaise-era cars were quite badly made and inadequate. Woeful as these BMWs are, they are still more than acceptably assembled and often go like stink.
      The Cimarron moment is something like this: BMW ties-up with Toyota and redbadges an Avalon as a 5-series. I can´t imagine them doing that. Wha is your notion of the Cimarron moment today?

    2. Sorry if this ends up posting as a duplicate, I have been having trouble with WordPress lately. My original reply was:

      Yes, I suppose I should expand on that. Here in Europe, BMWs are perceived as high-quality, reliable cars, which are as you say well put together and fast if nothing else. Well, there’s no arguing with “fast”, but the well put together bit is, in my experience, perceived very differently across the pond. Americans drive more miles in harsher climates and (typically) don’t service their cars as frequently. When they DO service them, they understandably balk at exorbitant dealer prices. Look at any American motoring website or popular youtuber’s comment section, and the general American perception of BMW reliability is right in the toilet. I think it’s been building since the VANOS debacle, and has only been exacerbated by the electronic complexity of new cars. When you then factor in high service costs even for something as humble as a 2-series active tourer, then a brand has it neither way in the premium/volume dichotomy. People wonder the point of spending more money on a car that’s actually *less* reliable is, at least in the states where the car does the job of public transport and will therefore always be viewed as something of a white-good, even a BMW.

      When I referenced the Cimarron, I confess that BMW is not the most salient example, since they have only just started dabbling in platform sharing with the Supra. Who knows whether an Avalon will one day become a 5-series, after all if they did it to a halo car then why not with something more mundane? Where we are seeing GMesque Deadly Sins (thank you Paul Niedermayer) right now is at VAG. An A4 is not AS similar to a Skoda Superb as a Cimarron was to a Cavalier, but nonetheless the shared platform is blatantly obvious. When you have a range of cars which are mechanically very similar and differentiated primarily by styling (with the premium models often not being much better) and perceived quality and electronic doodads, both of which are often perceived in the vital US market as indicators of higher parts costs, then you have a problem. Admittedly VAG doesn’t send it’s cheaper cars stateside, and is already working to uglify it’s Skoda range to artificially push buyers upwards, but at the end of the day you can only sell a badge so far when 1.) The core capability of the underlying vehicle is the same as a lesser vehicle and 2.) The styling is so abhorrent that there is no desire to purchase the product based on its emotional resonance. It really is just selling the badge.

      Maybe I should have said “their Chrysler TC by Maserati moment”?

    3. When BMW shoves an M badge on that 2 Series Active tallboy contrivance, that will be their Cimarron Moment. One cannot have such a moment on a platform shared with an entirely different company. It must accomplish the feat entirely from within its own product lines and pretend that what you’re seeing isn’t what you think it is even as it is. It helps when you announce it to a disbelieving public to use PR types previously employed selling clothes washing detergent or toothpaste because they can deeply believe the rubbish they are given to read and professionally know nothing about anything . Ex-White House Press Secretaries are greatly sought after for such roles, I’m led to understand.

  3. It’s been said before, but if BMW management were to sanction a joint-venture with another manufacturer, they really ought to have thought twice about it being an emotional product like a roadster/sportscar. They would have been far better served (reputationally at least), producing something like this themselves. After all, it isn’t as though there were no precedents to refer to. Witness the Mazda/Fiat JV. Does anybody find the Fiat Spider a convincing product?

    This whole business reflects poorly upon BMW management and betrays a shocking lack of judgement on their part. Can anyone imagine a Von Kuenheim or Reizle sanctioning something as ill-wrought as this? It suggests that BMW’s core principles have been deemed no longer relevant amid this mad, senseless dash for growth. I expect the Z4’s career to be nasty, brutish and short.

    1. Getting this kind of automobile so wrong in terms of styling is akin to a chef serving the finest of Piemontese winter truffles with a healthy helping of ketchup – it should, theoretically, be all too easy to come up with something mouth watering, yet in either case, the end result is only enjoyable to the those with the grossest of palates.

      Under these circumstances – and as with the new Eight series – BMW needn’t have bothered. This Zed will neither worry Porsche, nor will it rekindle motorists’ romance with the open-topped sports car. Moreover, it will not do the BMW brand any good.

      What an utter waste.

  4. There is a difference between the FIAT/Mazda and BMW/Toyota projects in that the 124 is clearly an MX-5 with modified bodywork and FIAT engines. At least the 124 looks pretty good, but I could never buy one because I hate its inauthenticity. I’d sooner have a “proper” MX-5.

    The Z4 is genuinely a joint venture and I don’t think the shared platform would be a big problem if it looked great and was a genuine rival to the Boxster in handling and performance. However, it looks terrible (to our eyes, at least) and will probably be fast but lacking in finesse.

  5. There is a difference between the FIAT/Mazda and BMW/Toyota projects in that the 124 is clearly an MX-5 with modified bodywork and FIAT engines. At least the 124 looks pretty good, but I could never buy one because I hate its inauthenticity. I’d sooner have a “proper” MX-5.

    The Z4 is genuinely a joint venture and I don’t think the shared platform would be a big problem if it looked great and was a genuine rival to the Boxster in handling and performance. However, it looks terrible (to our eyes, at least) and will probably be fast but lacking in finesse (compared to the Boxster, at least).

  6. I was distracted when I made the first post and forgot I had done so. If you look at the time, you might guess what had distracted me…

  7. I was working at The Rover when Bernhard Von Pickelhaube launched the Rover 75 and promptly summoned his inner U-Boot to torpedo the product and the company that had produced it.
    BMW had decreed that The Rover could only do front drive, as they knew that Rover could give them a run for their Deutschmarks and thus had to be hobbled from the outset. Despite it all, the 75 was pretty good in a half-timbered Chesterfield slobbering bulldog kind of way.
    Rover then delivered R50. New Mini. Frank Stephenson on the outside, Tony Hunter on the inside and Wolfgang Reitzle as the wheel-man. Home run.
    Shame they couldn’t follow through in the years that followed. The BMW SNAFU strikes again.
    Range Rover? Rewrite the luxury 4×4 rulebook. The sell out to the Septics who in turn would sell to Tata. Ta Ta credibility, hello X rated ugliness. SNAFU!
    BMW got rid of CB to replace him with a singularly unchallenging, unimaginative also-ran. The best Bimmer of late was orchestrated by Fabio Filipino and penned by the boys from Turin.
    The BMW board are doubtless delighted that car culture in the Orient is currently slightly impressionable and myopic, so bling and overwrought tat continue to reap many Yuan for the Bayerische Mullwagen Werke.
    However, the Chinese are in the vanguard of the next chapter of the automobile story. Their attention will shift to what comes next from within faster than the BM board can collectively change their lederhosen.
    BMW need to get off their death by disastrous design trip and rediscover their engineering roots in order to meet the challenge of the twenty first century in a way that guarantees their survival.
    Adrian? Aux wiedersehen pet!

  8. much as we despise and are saddened by BMW’s styling direction, i would very much like to reserve judgement on their engineering prowess. granted, perhaps not having as big a gap as they did before, driving dynamics remains mostly best in class over a multitude of vehicle types and sizes (as it has been for decades), engine efficiency and technology remains very much at the forefront of the industry (as it has been for decades – and i would like to not talk about reliability, which has never been their forte to begin with). there are rumblings above about this shared platform with the upcoming Supra — but was there something that i missed? even as a person who isnt a fan of BMW’s particular brand of driving dynamics, im quite certain this car wouldnt disappoint in that regard, or has anyone driven the thing and given it the thumbs down?

    1. A few journalists have been treated to a drive in a prototype and have reported favourably. So it sounds promising. Indeed the inline six gives it an inherent advantage over a Boxster 718.

      However, they’ve also ditched the classic BMW dials inside (a paragon of legibility) for a modish digital display. Personally, I still choose to wear a watch with an analogue face (despite ever more sophisticated digital watches being available) and likewise I would choose proper analogue dials as well.

      My prediction is that proper instruments will be seen as the ‘premium’ choice once every volume car has migrated to a digital dashboard.

  9. The Z4 is awful twice over – awful because it is somehow worse than its predecessor, and awful because it shows such a poor understanding of BMW’s design heritage that it makes you genuinely fear what might come next.

    If it was a Kei car – something about the same size as a Daihatsu Copen, say – you might think ‘well ok, the proportions are all wrong but BMW were working on a car with a tiny footprint’. But this is really, really bad.

  10. I am trying to think of a set of joint-venture cars where at least one of the offspring doesn’t look at best compromised or at worst like a dog’s dinner. I find it hard to believe, though, that the mighty BMW, with all it’s ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ heritage, allowed itself to play second fiddle to the design and engineering brief in this collaboration with Toyota.

    If you read the comments in the article from this month’s Car Magazine (other monthly titles are available) on the imminent Supra, there is something in there from that car’s project manager which suggests that there was a hell of a lot of tension around the development of this collaboration. It seems like both sides were going nuts with each other and then there was a defining moment when each side realised that they had differing objectives. That’s classic ‘joint-venture cock-up’ territory (I’ve dealt with my fair share in my time in financial services). Post that Damascus moment, each team headed off in their own direction around an agreed core matrix of technologies. Both cars will use a version of the BMW in-line six as seen currently seen in the M2 and M3, hence also using gearboxes designed for that engine. Core vehicle electronics will therefore be BMW-sourced, which also suggests that controls will have to be those of BMW. This then suggests that the dash-architecture will be essential that of a BMW …

    So, I am struggling with ideas that BMW designers were compromised by having to be tethered to a Toyota brief. This sounds a bit like BMW’s designers realising that their car looks a mess and Toyota’s much less so (we are yet to see unfettered pictures of the Supra, but everything that has been teased so far suggests that it’s much more cohesive and fir for purpose). Hence, I think they are getting their defense in early as they can see what’s coming at them. I just hope someone creates a clean sheet at BMW – if this is their new design brief, it’s going to be a long 8-10 years!

    1. SV: there’s a super idea for a study. Which joint venture side won and who lost? Were there ever win-win deals and how many were lose-lose deals.
      You are right to suggest many tie-ups are a failure. Did anyone say “Acclaim”?

    2. SV: I thought the Focus mk2/S40 mk2/Mazda 3 mk2 shared platform turned out well for all parties involved (in all aspects eg product diffentiation, styling, dynamics, powetrain etc). And perhaps the same generation fiesta/mazda2 combo too, but less so. But still pretty decent nevertheless.

      Thoroughly agree – i can’t imagine BMW playing second fiddle in this JV either. If anything, I would imagine Akio giving strict instructions to learn as much as possible _from_ BMW in this collaboration. I doubt there was anything TMC imposed down BMW’s throat that they would not have wanted themselves. And as for shared goals for a roadster platform, whoa, this, like the design brief, should be straightforward enough for the engineering teams to put into their heads. It’s not a hellish mess of compromises (like making a luxury limo drive like a sports car anyone?). And since the platform is already destined accommodate an I6 engine with the same transmission, driving the rear wheels, with mutual goals of keeping weight down, CG low, stiffness high, I struggle to think what BMW had to compromise.

    3. @Richard, as is probably obvious, the subject of mergers, acquisitions, partnerships, collaborations and joint ventures is an area of interest for me on a number of levels and would make an interesting piece of research – albeit I suspect one that is well trodden. To your throwaway remark, I don’t consider the Acclaim to be a collaborative venture in the sense that the parties involved did not agree to develop the car together from the outset. The Acclaim was a stop-gap licensing agreement, whereas XX/ HX was properly collaborative and (as a result?) more of a dog’s breakfast (notwithstanding the fact that I like the original 800 and thought the interior to be particularly successful).

      People will have their own definition of failure, but I don’t consider the Acclaim to have failed per se, certainly not in the ARNA definition of the term.

      @Millions, I’d say that the collaboration between Ford and Mazda is a good shout in terms of being successful, and the Focus/ Mazda3 and Fiesta/ Mazda2 were all fine cars – maybe the fact that Ford held a share (20% from memory) of Mazda helped. That said, Mazda’s efforts subsequent to its detachment from Ford have not suffered from the loss of ‘Henry’s’ input. More curious was Ford’s collaboration with FIAT on the KA Mk2/ 500 where the benefit seemed to be completely one-sided. FIAT also did well out of collaborating with Suzuki on the SX4/ Sedici (nice little bit of wit, that, deriving Sedici from 4×4). In fact, the more I think of it, FIAT has relied on JVs and collaborations – and been quite good at it – over the decades.

  11. Terrible, terrible proportions. Furthermore, Mr Luk dared to post a video of the rear on his Instagram, which makes the car look nit dissimilar to one of those lawnmowers with a humongous insectoid abdomen for grass storage. Ugh.

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