Micropost: Two BMWs

BMW have presented the G20 iteration of their long-running 3-series saloon. Autocar very kindly put images of the new car (blue) up against the outgoing car (not blue).

2019 BMW 3-series and the outgoing car: source

Last night as I was writing my comprehensive and thorough report on the 2018 Paris Mondiale, it occurred to me that I might do a new/old comparison of the car. I also considered doing a short design review. I didn’t because I had the intuition it would be rather too much work to say anything about something so slight. And here is Autocropley’s image of the new (blue) and old (red) cars.

New (blue) and old (red): source

While some might find VW’s evolutionary approach to the Golf a little dull, they handle it much better than BMW have done here where, again, we see a design that resembles an equally plausible idea from the time they designed the F30. The front bumper has more sculpting and the horizontal division is gone. And there’s a bigger, more faceted grille. The new car has lost the irritating panel gap between the bonnet and grille. The lamp has a messy-looking tooth and is inferior to the F30’s approach. Which one is 2012 and which one is 2018? Both.


The G20 has an extra straight section above the corner of the Hofmeister kink. It makes it hard to perceive the Hofmeister kink.


Author: richard herriott

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

19 thoughts on “Micropost: Two BMWs”

  1. Mais Richard, c’est un peu Sochaux, non? Autrement, vous avez complètement raison.

  2. Well, they haven’t totally ruined the 3 series, so we should be grateful for that. The bonnet shutlines are tidier, but the lamps and front bumper are needlessly messy and that rising character line along the lower side of the car is puzzling.

    The new grille treatment is upsetting so I won’t dwell on that.

    One could probably write an essay on the C pillar alone – particularly, the management of the Hoffmeister kink and ratio of sheetmetal to other elements. This detail is so important to the character of a BMW, and is another reason why I am not sure the current design team really know what they are doing.

    More fundamentally, the new 3 is apparently lighter than the old one and no bigger. This is a relief.

    1. It couldn’t get bigger, could it?
      The changes are mostly nuances. They are not consistent and you could say most of both old and new are interchangeable.

    2. Hold on there. “Body weight drops by up to 121 pounds, depending on model, while wheelbase and front and rear tracks increase by 1.6, 1.7, and 0.9 inches, respectively. Overall length grows 2.9 inches, width by 0.6 inches, and height by half an inch”. That’s a bigger box.

      It looks about as expected – uninspired and messy. My fervent wish is that BMW fit rear dampers that actually attempt to control body movement on large undulations, together with a rear bench that has more than 20 mm of foam over its underlying hardness. Having spent half an hour back there on a 2015 F30 428i, I was unimpressed with the comfort and hefalump whoopee ride. My sister-in-laws 2006 3 series is far superior in that regard and has a blatty little smooth six cylinder engine to boot. Those good times are past, I’ll bet, despite BMW’s protestations that this new 3 G20 is back to being the dynamic leader of its class.

    3. Bill, thanks, I stand corrected. The new Three has grown in size a bit, but thankfully not by much.

      Autocropley has a photo of the car on the Paris show stand, taken from some distance. It really isn’t instantly recognisable as a BMW at all – as others have said, it could be a Lexus or something else.

      There are contributors on DtW who are far better qualified to talk about the specifics of the design, but to me it seems that BMW has lost sight of what makes a BMW look like a BMW.

  3. The Hofmeister area of the new car looks strange indeed. There are too many elements that don’t match: it seems that the outline of the door has a different curvature than the trim piece outside of it. The actual glazed area is bordered by another non-matching kink. I’m sure Richard could tell us more about this via Gestalt theory.
    Another strange thing is the more or less continuous line formed by the trailing edge of the C-pillar, the leading edge of the rear light and some features (edges? hard to see here) on the bumper. I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t look right and makes the rear end look heavy and sagging.
    The grille… oh my…

    1. Simon, I believe Bangle’s E60 5 series was the first car to have such a visual effect at the rear. You and Jacomo are quite right, the thinness of the Hofmeister kink is somewhat odd. And slapping this narrow-greenhouse to the sheer slab of the sheet metal at the rear is… quite ungainly.

      This character line that rises from the rear doors is a trope which was used on the third generation Lexus IS, but on that car the line extended past the rear wheel well and met with another line which ran on the rear bumper. The third generation Volvo S60 also had similar ornamentation on the rear bumper. On this BMW the rising line doesn’t meet with anything, if it was supposed to align with the panel gap of the rear bumper then perhaps a large group of individuals made an error on the CAD model. Or couldn’t be bothered to notice such a detail

    2. I´ve added an image to the article.
      This can be diagnosed as insufficiently considered design. In 1987 Siemens and BMW sponsored a symposium in Munich on “Semantics In Design”. Do you think they are doing this kind of thing now?

    3. Thanks for this addition, Richard. I can see it more clearly now, and it’s not as unmatching as it first looks. But, let me recapitulate: we actually have two kinks here. But because this is not enough, these are repeated four-fold: on the inside border of the glazed area; on the edge of the door; on the grey trim very close to the door; on the outside border of the trim piece. So BMW has actually invented the Hofhofhofhofhofhofhofhofmeistermeistermeistermeistermeistermeistermeistermeister kinkkinkkinkkinkkinkkinkkinkkink. (to be fair, of course earlier kinks have already been repeated on glass, trim and door, so it’s not quite as bad as I made it look)
      It’s as so often in current car design: a lot of features, but nothing for the eye to hold on; no clarity. Compare this to BMW designs from the eigthies: a lot of straight lines and one clear, nicely rounded kink.

    4. Simon: yes, that´s it in a few words, a lack of clarity or an organising concept. They took a clay model of the old car and smeared the shapes around a bit.

  4. It’s not really a shark nose anymore is it? Peugeot managed to design one onto the e-Legend (with a hint of reverse angle in profile), but BMW seems comfortable having let this once marque defining feature slip without putting up much of a fight.

    From the side, the new 3 looks like a Lexus, from the rear the Giulia, from the front an animal with badly swollen nostrils. But, overall, no hint of progression or what we used to call ‘surprise and delight’.

    1. You can’t design a car with a shark nose and meet pedestrian protection regulations at the same time. You have to prevent the pededstrian from getting under the front of the car at all cost, therefore you have bumpers reaching deep down and far forward that act as a shovel and lift the pedestrian over the reverse rake front an on the bonnet.
      At least BMW finally seems to have mastered the art of desining a bonnet with integral soft pedestrian landing area without need for the bumper to reach up to bonnet level, something Audi already did with their 2008 A4 B8.

    2. Dave, I would have thought that there would now be some innovation or development in chassis/ body design and engineering which would have got around that design issue by now – I remember how it was an argument put forward a decade ago. It doesn’t have to be a full-effect shark-nose, it could just be the essence of it (which is what the e-Legend – and yes I know that’s a concept – has managed to achieve).

    3. You have to hit the pedestrian’s body as far down as yu can on order to push away his feet so he falls on the bonnet instead of getting trapped under the front of the car. To get there you invariably have front spoilers or equivalent that reach low down and far out to get the victim at his feet or ankles. The e-Legend doesn’t have this shovel effect nose and in addition has a protruding bumper, so probability is high that a pedestrian would be hit at knee level, making him fall away from the car and getting trapped instead of landing on the bonnet.
      Post-Banglification, pedestrian protection regulations are one of the biggest challenges to car design (next to oversized designers’ egos and management unwilling/unable to reign them in) and are responsible for many seemingly stupid features.

      At least to my eyes, the Peugeot looks like the centre section of a Nissan Skyline with a Pug 305 bonnet and a Matra 530 LX rear section. With no hard drivetrain underneath, the bonnet doesn’t need to be as absurdely high as on some other current cars like the BMW Three in order to offer a soft landing area but the bumper design never would make it past the crash test phase.

  5. That C-pillar and Hoffmeister Kink arrangement does look very awkward. The straight section that Richard pointed out spoils the fluidity of the curve and makes it look like two rather jerky changes of direction instead. This is exacerbated by the fact that the plastic filler piece that makes the “curve” is clearly separate from the door frame (and looks really cheap). I think what BMW was trying to do was to slim down the thick black double frame around the DLO, which is a clumsy detail on the current F30 model. They succeeded in this, but created a new problem at the C-pillar as a consequence. Could the Hoffmeister Kink not have been formed by the rear door window frame instead, rather than requiring the plastic filler piece? Probably too expensive to engineer, and possibly hazardous when the door was open?

    Regarding the grille, the comparative photos surprised me by how relatively uncorrupted the shape of the nostrils on the current model is. As for the new one…yikes! 😲

  6. Looking at the pictures for the umpteenth time today (hey, it’s either that or rewrite next year’s business plan for it’s 5th iteration in the last 3 weeks …), my conclusion is … given the sum total of how different/ progressive the new car looks over the old, WHY DID THEY BOTHER? The investment must have been well over £1bn, it’s a new platform for pretty well everything (even if the core matrix is shared with the 5), and for all of that, it looks like last year’s car with a (bad – in most places) face-lift. The grille really does look like it’d the old one that has received an overdose of collagen! Such a waste of an opportunity.

  7. The Spada B.M.W. five series, especially in Touring form, was the last product to bear the kidneys to truly respect the marque. Progressive design. Zero excess.
    The object of discussion is a sad thing.
    Needless over-complication of surfaces and details conspire to create an object that does not flow. Harmony is replaced by « events » that distract the eye almost to the point that the sheer lumpiness of the thing is forgotten. Almost.
    The front wing line compared to the Y zero of the bonnet serves to pinch the front of the car and to some extent camouflage the height dicatated by the in line engine. (Scaglione mastered this trick with the Arnolt-Bristol, which was powered by a B.M.W. designed straight six..) The plot is lost with the mass of the body side, hence the clumsy « camouflage by odd reflections of light » to distract. The DLO is curiously arched in profile and combined with the hollow sill the poor beast appears hunched like a constipated pooch.. The squinty eyes in the pointed nose do little to dispel the unfortunate image.
    The Peugeot e-legend, which, since being advertised on prime-time television this week in France is quite the talk of the town, gives something of a lesson in how to use simplicity and elegance to get people’s attention.
    Ignoring the trend to reference suppositories as a form language suited to autonomous cars, Peugeot have sought inspiration in their past and have captured some of the sensuality of Prime Pininfarina. This is fused with what we could reasonably expect an automotive lounge/cockpit to look like for tomorrow’s enthusiast.
    It is just a concept, it could be the future.
    Looking at the dicke drei, it can’t come soon enough.

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